When you sit down and think about it – really think about – the most potentially nefarious, destructive, and widespread class of conditions known right now is mental illness. Over the course of their lifetime, 46.4 percent of adults in the U.S. will be diagnosed with some sort of mental illness. That’s someone’s mother, someone’s friend, someone’s husband, someone’s daughter, someone’s doctor.
Look at that number: 46.4 percent. That’s almost half. So you’d have to work REALLY hard not to have a person with mental illness in your life.
I was diagnosed as bipolar when I was 15 years old. I’ve had three suicide attempts, one hospitalization, and done three intensive outpatient programs. This is not a badge of honor. This is not a cry for attention. This is my life.
My first suicide attempt was in eighth grade. I was 13 years old. No one knew for years. There was no hospital. There were no adults. There were no therapists, doctors or professionals of any kind. But every once in a while, I look at the tiny white scar on my wrist, and I cringe. I remember what happened, and I get very disappointed.
The second attempt was in the start of college. I was attending a two-year college, and I had overdosed – just slightly - on sleeping pills. For years, I denied that it was a suicide attempt. I told myself that I just wanted to “sleep it all away.” Years later, I realized they were the same thing. A permanent solution to a temporary problem. That overdose was the first of two. I remember the hallucinations, but not much else. I remember crying a lot. My boyfriend – who I’ve been with for eight-and-a-half years – left a local jazz performance he was in and walked to my house to sit with me until I feel asleep at 4 a.m. Then he snuck out. My parents didn’t know about that one either. I was at least in therapy at that time, though. I was being treated for my bipolar.
The third attempt was another overdose. I was away at college in Northern New Jersey – dorming. It was late at night one weekend, and I was one the phone with my boyfriend after I overdosed. It’s amazing how many times he comes into these stories. I was hallucinating again. He and my best friend convinced me to call the Student Counseling Center on-call number. I did, and in minutes, campus police were at my door. An ambulance was downstairs and I was in the hospital down the road. I remember the criticism from one of the nurses very well. The ridicule and the sharp tongue about not trying to kill myself was scathing. But I denied that as a suicide attempt, as well. I claimed it was an accident. I accepted that one a lot more quickly. I accepted it a few months later when I ended up in a psychiatric ward for a week.
That was the first year that I had signed up for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)’s Out of the Darkness walk in New Brunswisk. My guitarist at the time had been making a team for a few years. I joined when I heard about it and had every intention of walking and making it a big part of my life.
That first year, I didn’t raise any money. But I still signed up and publicized.
My guitarist came to visit me in the hospital. A lot of people did. People called and visited that I never expected to. I really learned who my friends were. However, there were people that didn’t show their faces that really should have. That was a stab to my heart.
I was released from the hospital two days before the AFSP walk. I called my guitarist when I was released, and I talked to her about it. There was no way I was going to be able to be there. She informed the coordinator, and they sent good wishes.
My AFSP journey did not begin on a very good foot.
Every year, 36,000 lives in the U.S. are lost to suicide. I ran that risk three times. How many times have the people you loved or you run that risk?
This is not something to be shunned. They are not doing something wrong. They are not irresponsible. They are not stupid.
These people need help. Instead of giving them your anger and your admonishment, how about you give your love and understanding to get them back on their feet? Try understanding someone with mental illness today. Try going to someone with depression and saying, “it’s okay.”