While 129 Americans take their own lives every day, it was the twin-thunderbolt suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last year that brought the mental health issues underlying these tragedies to a feverish, though regrettably unsustained level of national discussion.
This week marks the anniversary of these deaths, and their posthumous celebrity may lead to considerable media coverage. Renewed focus will predictably showcase suicide causes, trends, national mental health policy and calls for de-stigmatization. Then again, there may be no coverage whatsoever. Regardless, remarkably little will be offered in the way of actionable tools and resources those affected can use long before a crisis occurs.
Locally, regular events like R U OK, CLT? have opened the door to start important conversations, but more can always be done.
After coming out publicly with my own battle with clinical depression, I was overwhelmed by the number of the people that reached out to me to ask how they could have helped. And, while I didn’t move to harm myself, I didn’t want to live with the pain I was experiencing. I completely understand how people can make a very permanent decision to a temporary — and treatable — problem.
An all-too-routine response by family and friends to crippling depression, suicide attempts and tragic suicides is, “I could have acted if I’d known what to look for and what to do.”
The best and most effective intervention comes well before there is a crisis. With some basic knowledge, exposure and training, each of us can become better equipped to make critical referrals and a crucial difference in someone’s life.
Dr. Alyson R. Kuroski-Mazzei, CEO & chief medical officer at HopeWay, a nonprofit provider of mental health care and education programs here in Charlotte, noted that drastic and sustained changes in regular behavior, isolation and unusual breaking of commitments (flaking, as the kids call it) can all be potential signals indicating people may be depressed or in trouble.
“Don’t be afraid to ask someone,” she says. “You might say, ‘Lately, I’ve noticed you have seemed (fill in the blank),’ or ‘I noticed you’re not showing up, doing fun things. You’re sleeping a lot.’ With teens, don’t assume behavior is general teen angst. Ask how they are doing. Be present. Figure out a way to spend one-on-one time with the teen.”
On May 21, Mental Health America of Central Carolinas hosted the 5th Annual Wake Up for Wellness! breakfast. The nearly 500 attendees heard Carolina Panthers Hall-of-Famer Steve Smith Sr. as the keynote speaker.
Smith shared the story of his own battle with depression and the feeling of being broken and alone despite the support of a loving family. He said he came to think of himself as broken or flawed, and even though he had tremendous success on and off the football field, there was still a void in his life.
“We always say our children need to be listened to,” said Smith, who attributes his recovery to therapy and the support of others, “but what happens when children aren’t listened to is, they become adults that aren’t listened to.”
Smith called on community members to act. “Sometimes water is thicker than blood. These conversations must happen beyond closed doors. It’s past time where mental health issues are addressed at meetings and breakfasts, we need to get down in the mud and the dirt where people are hurting and do something.”
How can you act?
Here are three programs MHA offers in our community:
- Mental Health First Aid – An interactive eight-hour training session introducing participants to risk factors, warning signs and intervention techniques. Programming is available for adults and adolescents.
- QPR/ Suicide Prevention – This Question, Persuade, Refer prevention program teaches participants about the nature of suicidal communications, what forms these communications take and how they may be used as the stimulus for a QPR intervention. More than 300 Butler High School students took part recently as part of MHA’s ongoing community outreach.
- ParentVOICE – For caregivers of youth with emotional, behavioral or mental health concerns. Resources are provided to help navigate education, child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Parenting skills and a support network for those facing the sometimes-overwhelming challenge of parenting are also available.
Many folks with depression are reluctant to seek help due to the stigma associated with mental illness and, as in my case, a deep fear of what treatment and care in the hands of professionals may look like. Often, those most in need of help avoid seeking it for fear of the unknown or misconceptions of how they’ll be supported.
Take the first step and make the call.
“Get a proper diagnosis by a psychiatrist or licensed mental health professional,” Kuroski-Mazzei says. “Do not simply rely on primary care doctor recommendation or medication. A diagnosis displays differently in different people. Every case should be treated individually. Get someone help when they are ready to receive it.”