It wasn’t hard to raise our hands for help when we in grade school. Most of us didn’t want to be seen as ignorant or clueless, so we had little shame in requesting help when we got stuck or needed a little extra time understanding abstract concepts.
But somewhere along the way, it gets harder to ask for help. This can be especially true when the help we need deals with our mental health.
How do we raise our hands for help when we feel mentally broken, emotionally void, and depressed?
How do we raise our hands for help when we suffer from something inside of us that’s not as visible to others as would be a broken leg?
Like most fans of “Parts Unknown”, the suicide of celebrity chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain on June 8th of this year stopped me in my tracks. Immediately, a high school poem called “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson came back to me:
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,We people on the pavement looked at him:He was a gentleman from sole to crown,Clean favored, and imperially slim.And he was always quietly arrayed,And he was always human when he talked;But still he fluttered pulses when he said,“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—And admirably schooled in every grace:In fine, we thought that he was everythingTo make us wish that we were in his place.So on we worked, and waited for the light,And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,Went home and put a bullet through his head.
When Anthony Bourdain took his own life, it dawned on me how Bourdain seemed to have everything going for him. But what most of us never saw was his underlying and, likely, untreated depression.
We know about Bourdain’s suicide because he was a public figure. But most people who take their own lives are not celebrities. They are you family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. According to the National Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 123 people in the United States alone take their own lives each day. If don’t have a family or friend whose life has been touched by suicide, you are rare.
Please know that you are never alone.
As a former crisis counselor, I’m no stranger to suicide. I’ll let the experts in psychiatry determine if suicide and suicidal behavior is a disease. But what I do know is that the disease of untreated depression is present in every suicide. Suicide is the permanent, terminal path some people take when the weight of unresolved grief, sorrow, depression, mood disorders, and other emotional maladies becomes too much to handle.
Depression impacts 6.7% of the population.
If you suffer, you are not alone. By that, I mean two things. First, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 16.2 million adults in the United States have suffered at least one major depressive episode. Women and adolescents are hit the hardest (8.5% and 10.9% respectively). That means you can probably throw a rock and hit 8 or 9 people from where you sit who also suffer from depression.
I am one of them. After the death of my father, my daughter, and my life-long best friend, Jeff within months of each other, my mental health rapidly deteriorated. I never missed a beat at work. I kept my Richard Cory face on for the most part. I had duties and obligations, and I attended to them all…even though I was an empty shell on this inside. Accustomed to functioning on 6 hours of sleep quite well, I found myself staying in bed for 12 hours at a time. I had no joy in my life. I gained 40 pounds. I isolated myself when I wasn’t working. I wanted to stop hurting, stop feeling.
Depression (and other mood disorders) can be treated.
Knowing that you are in abundant company doesn’t offer solace or a solution. But you are not alone, because help is available. Just raise your hand if you need help! If you have good insurance, find a counselor today. Talk to someone. If you don’t have insurance, go to Mental Health America to find free resources in your area. If you feel like you are at the end of your emotional rope, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or call them free at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day. Ask HR at work if they offer an Employee Assistance Program for employees to receive free, short-term, confidential counseling.
Don’t be afraid to offer help to someone you suspect is suffering.
Don’t let fear of rejection or embarrassment prevent you from getting involved. Don’t wait for that friend or family member to raise his hand. Depression is a progressive disease, and those suffering the most might not be aware that they are slipping further away. If you know someone who needs help, reach out to them today. Tell them what you’ve observed and why you’re concerned. Make specific statements like, “I want to help. What can I do for you right now? I care about you, and I need to know that you are okay. Can we go together and talk to a professional?”
I am blessed that I had a wife and friends who saw the changes in me and did not “let it go” or assume that I would just “get passed it.” They talked to me. They urged me to take a step and talk to someone. And thank God, they did. After suffering for too long, I found a counselor and started taking constructive steps to confront my grief. Talking to someone about what my losses helped me to process my tragedies and gave me a reason to keep going. Labeling my emotions and expressing them safely and shamelessly helped me to work through my grief in a way that I would not have been able to do on my own.
You are not alone. And you don’t have to go it alone.
Raise your hand if you need help.