Breaking the Stigma

Contributed by Tracie Keller, LPCC-S

I won’t be another person who says, “I never saw it coming.

He/she didn’t seem depressed.”

But he/she had it all.

Mental health concerns do not discriminate. Some, like depression, can come on hard and fast, and swallow people in its wake if not treated. Mental health concerns are not about circumstances in life; what you have or what you do not. They are about brain chemistry, past trauma experiences, genetic factors, and environmental factors. When hope is lost, this, coupled with mental health issues, can lead to suicide.

Hope is a powerful thing. With it, we can take risks. Without it, we are paralyzed. We give up. Hopelessness can swallow a person up, and is a major component of major depressive disorder. I believe that the difference between a person who has thoughts of suicide verses that person who acts on these thoughts is hope.

This week, two well-known individuals in popular culture—Kate Spade, the famous designer of all things happy and bright—and Anthony Bourdain—author, chef, and recent activist for the women’s movement occurring in Hollywood and our general culture—both died by suicide. Before them, however, there have been many more influential people in our culture who have succumbed to mental illness. In 2014, Robin Williams, beloved comedian and actor took his life.  In 2017, Chris Cornell, lead singer of the popular band Soundgarden took his life. Just two months later, Chester Bennington, of the band Linkin Park, ended his life.

What I hope to accomplish in writing this post today is that there is not a “look” for mental illness. One does not walk around with a “scarlet MI” on his/her shirt, nor are symptoms always as obvious as we may discuss as a culture. I believe that we are doing a great disservice to ourselves by perpetuating this belief that mental illness is visible and that particular people do or do not “fit” the mold that are these complex illnesses.

If hope can keep others alive and engaged in treatment, let’s work to spread messages of hope in our communities and greater culture. For every person that is taken too early from us as a result of mental health issues such as depression that lead to suicide, let’s discuss openly our own experiences in knowing or being one of those persons who got treatment, decreased symptoms, restored hope, and kept going. Let’s discuss our own mental health struggles in everyday conversations and own what I call our “human-ness,” that beautiful messy part of our experiences in living that make life interesting and challenging. Let’s stop spreading this stigma that suicidal experiences—whether ideations or thoughts, past attempts, or current thoughts around—shouldn’t be named or brought to light. These things should be talked about. Suicide prevention researchers across the globe have discovered that asking these tough questions and having these tough conversations actually helped decrease risk of acting on suicidal thoughts. Lesson: talking openly about suicide actually saves lives.

If you, or someone you love, names that they are having thoughts of suicide, listen. Take these statements seriously. Listen more. Offer or seek help—professional help. Mental health issues are treatable. In case you or your friend need immediate support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you live in the Columbus area, Netcare Access offers 24/7 phone support at 614-276-2273. Hope is out there. Together, let's work to break the stigma.