DISCLAIMER: Please make sure you read week’s post before proceeding.
Quick question: if your friend or your sister/brother told you that he/she is depressed and was having suicidal thoughts, how much, on a scale of 1-10, would you believe them? What would you say to them? How would you handle it? Better yet, have you ever even thought about that?
The purpose of last week’s post is less the story itself and more the impact of it. I think of suicide to be like a stone thrown into still waters. Apart from sinking to the bottom, the stone also distorts the tranquillity that previously existed, creating a ripple effect that must be felt by every molecule of water. In the same light, suicide not only results into the loss of a life, but it effectively disrupts the lives of those that are left behind. And yet many of us still view suicide and mental health issues as very distant problems; problems that affect other families, other friend groups, other relationships. It could never be our own, right? Isn’t that part of the problem: the fact that we think of this a concept that is a reality for others, but we never imagine it being real for us? Isn’t the fact that suicide only becomes real to us when we are trying to piece together why someone we loved took his/her own life part of the problem? Must we wait for that moment to realize that it’s all real? Must we wait for that moment to realize that it could happen to anybody?
Without over elaborating anything, the point I’m trying to put across is our perception of suicide and the mental health issues leading up to it as something that can only exist for and affect other people ,not ourselves, makes it a lot harder to discern in time when someone we love needs help, it makes it a lot harder to be there for them, it makes it difficult to even understand what being there for them means; and most of all, it makes it harder for us, as individuals, to know and admit when we need help. The less we perceive it as an “anybody problem”, the more likely we are to belittle not only experiences those we love the most, but our own as well. Even worse, the less likely we are to educate ourselves and know how to best handle it.
Mental health issues and suicide are not “white people things”, they are not “for some people and not for others”, they are not a “western concept”. They are a human thing. They do not discriminate. They pay no mind to race, gender, social status, economic stability, religion, blah, blah, blah. They can affect anyone and everyone. And in the quest to look out for ourselves and our loved ones, we must view them as such. IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE. Nobody is “too strong”, to this or too that for it. It can be anyone.
We are the most mental health-conscious generation mankind has ever seen. But our consciousness is one that ends at just knowing rather than identifying with the problem. We know the problem exists, but we do not identify with it because we do not ever imagine it impacting us directly. It’s like white people and racism. They hear about it all the time, and some even realize that it is a huge problem. But they will never truly fathom it because it they will never feel as though it poses any threat to them. And I think that most of us see mental health issues that way. They exist but we do not perceive them as an immediate danger to us. We almost never take them seriously enough until it's too late. For me, that begs the question: how is all our consciousness helping if it has to get to those extents to be taken seriously? Okay, you are mental health conscious, but what does that mean? Do you know how to take care of your own mental health? Do you know how to look out for your loved ones? Do you know what the tell-tale signs of being in a bad mental space, depression, suicide, anxiety are? Do you know what to do when you or someone you love is in that state?
To put it simply, yes, we know about these things. That is good. It’s better than where we were 5-10 years ago. But what are we doing with that knowledge? Is it just knowledge that we have because these things happen to other people? Or are making actual use of that knowledge? Is that knowledge impacting our lifestyles? Are we learning how to look after ourselves and loved ones, and if push comes to shove, learning how to navigate those situations? For many of us, it’s the former. We should now be focusing on getting to the latter. We should be questioning whether or not we have created an environment in which these things are openly discussed, an environment in which our people know they can reach out to us. Are we taking care of ourselves and our loved ones? Are we educating ourselves? Do we know the tell-tale signs? Do we know what to do when we see the tell-tale signs?
The point is if we are to truly learn how to handle it properly, we, all of us, must first accept the fact that mental health issues can and will impact anyone. We must learn to identify with the problem as something that can and will affect us directly. Our brains are wired to quickly discern danger only from things we perceive as immediate threats. That’s why you immediately get a jolt of energy when you see a dog darting your way. But the fact that we give our mental health such a back seat means that we are very slow to discern when it is in jeopardy. We mustn’t have the “oh, could never be me…could never be him or her” attitude. We must instead be thinking “That could be me one day. That could be someone I love one day. How do I handle it? What do I do?” Mental health issues are not matters that we must think of as foreign to us, ones that we are exempted from. They are real. Anyone can be depressed. Anyone can have crippling anxiety. Anyone can fall so deep into a hole that they feel they have nothing to live for. For as long as you are a human being, you are prone to them, as are all the human beings you know. They may befall anyone of us at any point. The sooner we start to think of them as thus, the easier it will be for us, especially as an African society, to learn how to better navigate them. Your mental health and that of everyone around you matters. Learn how to take care of it.
With that being said, if you were looking for a “how do I navigate all this stuff” guide, I do not have it for you. But I do know this: mental health issues will not always be obvious. They won’t always manifest in self-harm or random break downs or spending days in bed or a lack of liveliness. Sometimes they (the mental health issues) will be full of live. Sometimes they will make you breakfast in the morning. Sometimes they will buy you flowers and take you to your favorite restaurant. Sometimes they will make sure you are happy and doing well. Sometimes they tell you everything is perfectly fine, and all is well. But one day, they will take the life of someone you love. I’m no expert, and I can’t tell you for sure why people take their own lives. But I am fairly certain that feeling as though they are suffering alone and no one can help plays a big role. That is why it is upon all of us to look out for each other. It’s on us to be there for each other. Be there for everyone you love, and make sure they know you are there. Check on your people on a regular basis. “Are you okay?” them repeatedly if you must. Create an environment in which they feel safe to talk about their state of mind. Create an environment in which they feel safe to reach out to you. Make sure that everyone you love knows you love them. Tell them you love and adore them every single day. Make it obvious. Make it weird. And most importantly, learn to look out for yourself as well. Learn to be aware of your feelings and your thoughts. Have people to whom you can reach out if needs-be. Life will get harder. On some days, it’ll seem easier to just curl up in a corner rather than go out there and face the world. On those days, we will need each other. We must start now.