I was 4 years old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Aside from being one of my earliest memories, it will forever be the moment when I realized that bad things could happen that my parents (the center of my world of safety) couldn’t prevent. 38 years later, on 9/11/2001, my children came to that same realization. They were 4, 6 and 8 years old. And in that same moment, I came to the realization that as a parent, I couldn’t protect my children from pain, from the cruelties of life, from inexplicably bad things happening to good, innocent people.
Little did I know that this was just the beginning of what would be a very private and terrifying journey of really bad things happening to my sweet, beautiful, innocent children. Our private battle was not against assassins or terrorists. Ours was against a faceless, shapeless entity called ‘mental illness’. Perhaps that is why it was so terrifying – we couldn’t get our arms around what it was, we couldn’t make it public enemy #1 with posters and presidential speeches and military forces from around the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not minimizing or making light of the horrific tragedy that is as raw and fresh today as it was 13 years ago. I’m pretty sure that almost all of us know someone who knows someone who died that day. Or we ourselves experienced the devastation and loss of a loved one.
I will however, openly plead guilty to the fact that I am using this day to give platform and voice for another tragedy that annually claims nearly 40,000 lives (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm). Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and 90% of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness (http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/suicideprevention/suicidefacts.asp). Coincidentally (or not) this week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and yesterday (9/10/14) was National Suicide Prevention Day.
This morning, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed wondering which of the numerous pictures in memory of 9/11 I should adopt for my profile, I felt conflicted. My profile and cover pictures were about Suicide Prevention Week. It felt wrong, disrespectful of this national tragedy to NOT change to a 9/11 theme. But it also felt wrong to push aside something that was so woven into my everyday life, personally and professionally. What to do?
I flipped to my Instagram feed (I’m only there on the advice of one of my daughters, and was later admonished by another daughter to ‘not follow’ her). There, at the very top of the long list of pictures and cute comments, was one from my daughter (she had later decided it was okay for us to be connected on this form of social media). But it wasn’t the picture that grabbed my attention as much as it was the words she wrote underneath:
“Today, 9/10, is #SuicidePreventionDay. This day is a very important day in not just the world of mental health, but everywhere else as well. It is a day where people speak up and feel that it’s “okay” to talk about what they have been through. A day where they can help others without being judged. Mental illness is so incredibly real and it’s affecting so many people every day. It’s not only an extensive and difficult process, it’s a battle. It took everything I have and everything my family had and more to help me win my battle. My battle lasted more than 8 years. I am so glad I was able to keep fighting. However, some people feel they cannot. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem that is unfortunately used more often than it should. Therefore, I want to challenge you all to make every day suicide prevention day. Do your best to listen and understand what it means to be suicidal. Express your support as often as you can. Even through something as simple as a tweet or a text to someone who is struggling. Suicide is 100% preventable. The smallest acts of kindness and support make a world of difference. Extend a hand and show your support, every day of the year. #SuicidePrevention365 #EndStigma #SupportandUnderstanding.
Call it idealistic, call it simplified, call it whatever you want. From a teen who spent half of her life in the grips of mental illness and nearly became a statistic, I call it #amiracle, #soproud, #forevergrateful.
So today I hold in my heart the loss, the pain, the memories of 9/11/2001. On social media, my profile picture remains the same. I don’t like having to choose, but I’m going for the underdog whose voice is slightly muffled today. #EndStigma