A friend of a friend committed suicide yesterday. This is not his failure; it is ours.
We, as a community, have let him down in the most painful of ways. The chaotic state of the world (pandemic, politics, environment) is incredibly stressful. Some, like this young man, are not handling it well. Sadly, he successfully hid his distress and his actions were surprising. We didn’t figure it out until it was too late. And we all are damaged by his loss. We can and must do better.
This stress surrounds us, assaults us, damages us. It is having profound effects on everyone. Even those who normally feel strong are feeling it.
It is no longer enough to just keep an eye out for signs of failing mental health in those around us. We must proactively hunt it down and fight against it. Or, we’ll suffer more losses.
Winter approaches and with it, darker times. This compounds the problem.
Let’s commit to watch out for each other. To actively probe those around us to see how they are doing. To not hold back just in case we are wrong and create an uncomfortable situation. If we push too hard, we might feel a bit embarrassed. But, if we don’t, we risk feeling grief and perhaps guilt.
This is made all that much harder by the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Personal contact and casual proximity are risky. Electronic alternatives are cold and easily abused.
To counteract this, if you can, reach out to people around you for more “just because I love you” conversations. Share what’s going on with you, even if there are a few rough spots. Be curious about what is going on with them, both good and bad. I like talking about things I enjoy or I’m grateful for because it tends to inspire both the speaker and the listener. If you are more transparent than normal, it may inspire others to open up. But, be careful to have no agenda besides enjoying a bit of honest, personal, human-to-human communication so that there aren’t any feelings of manipulation. I’ve recently had a few chats with family members who I haven’t seen or been with for a long while and it was wonderful; one of the best things that happened that day. Highly recommended as a mental health break…
For everyone dealing with the new reality of communicating with your team via Zoom or other video services, make a point of requiring everyone to turn on their cameras at least once in a while. Mental illness likes to hide out and only sharing your disembodied voice in a video call is a GREAT way to cover up the uncomfortable truth that may be written all over your face. By making it a standard practice, we can rip off that mask. People may feel more vulnerable but those who do are precisely those who we should pay more attention to.
I’ve lost more than a few people in my life to suicide and have seen a few others teeter on the brink. I’m committed to doing the work to make sure I don’t lose any more. Join me.
Footnote: Apparently, I’ve confused people with my original Facebook post. I appreciate all the wonderful thoughts sent my way but I didn’t know the young man – he was a friend of a friend. I think his passing is a “canary in the coal mine” event and will hopefully wake us up to the risks we face. It inspired me to write this piece to bring attention to the pressures on our individual and collective mental health. And it is certainly not to blame anyone for his passing – I’ve lost people close to me and know how difficult this issue is for everyone involved made worse when we try to help and that still doesn’t work…