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Opinion: Let’s Have a Conversation About Mental Health

Less than half of people with a diagnosable mental health condition in the U.S. receive mental health treatment.

My gut checked up into my throat.

A cocktail of nausea and anxiety approximating the feeling I get when the blue lights of a cop car appear in my rearview mirror set over me.

But on this recent Sunday morning in January, there was no loud bass-heavy cop voice telling me to pull over. I wasn’t in my car but rather sitting in my home office with a screaming hot cup of coffee.

My discomfort was triggered by a text message, a friend informing me of a suicide of someone I once knew but had lost track of.

She was a well-known media pro, her highly visible career started in Charlotte several years back, and she had many, many friends here. After a time, her talents propelled her to an even larger, more prominent gig in radio out west.

This woman was beautiful inside and out; she was young — 37 years old — and by all appearances faced a promising future blooming with opportunity.

Yet the inner demons she faced overtook that promise, cutting to the quick all that would be hers.

One in five people will suffer at least one serious episode of depression during their lifetime.

Just seven months following the twin thunderbolts of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides and attention surrounding depression and mental health issues underlying these tragedies have unsurprisingly faded from the public consciousness.

Yet the suicide rates are not abating. The United States experienced a nearly 30-percent increase in suicide rates between 1999-2016, according to a report from Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released days after the deaths of Spade and Bourdain.

The report showed the national suicide rate climbed to 15.4 per 100,000 people in the United States. In 2016, nearly 45,000 individuals died by suicide in this country. And despite the international media reporting, a brief rise in suicide prevention hotline calls, and a “this-time-it’s different” vibe following these stark examples of a sharply rising national health trend, most Americans remain without fundamental education and resources for life-saving intervention.

Research shows one in five will suffer at least one serious episode of depression during their lifetime. After I opened up and publicly shared my personal experience with depression, dozens of people reached out to me to share that they too had battled the same foe. They also told me how important they felt it was to hear from others sharing their story and how encouraging they found my words.

Suicides leaves most friends and family members of the departed in a state of grief-filled disbelief. Taking one’s life doesn’t make sense to those thinking clearly. The anguish and pain of depression can leave those who are suffering so despondent, exiting the torment by any means possible can seem a viable solution.

After relocating to Charlotte 18 years ago, I experienced a series of life events that threw me for a major loop, from which I almost did not recover. And while I never felt like I wanted to kill myself, I knew I couldn’t live with the agonizing pain and ever-present black cloud that entombed me like a shroud.

The author, Michael Solender.

I was lucky. I had a series of interventions that led me to get help, treatment and experience a full recovery. Six months of hell yielded way to a new awareness of triggers and my making lifestyle choices to put me on a path to wellness and good mental health.

Recently I learned of a fantastic local resource: HopeWay, a nonprofit residential mental health facility in south Charlotte that has a caring and well-trained staff that is there to help. They have education programs and resources for families, individuals and those in crisis.

Currently less than half of people with a diagnosable mental health condition in the U.S. receive mental health treatment, according to the CDC.

This. Must. Stop.

The stigma surrounding mental health issues needs to be eliminated so those battling with the illness can be encouraged to seek help when they realize they are not alone.

Don’t be the person who asks what they could have done the next time you learn of a senseless suicide. There are steps each of us can take, right now to reverse this trend.

Another powerful resource in our community is the Central Carolinas chapter of the national organization, Mental Health America.

MHA promotes mental wellness through advocacy, prevention and education in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties. Here’s how their resources can be immediately accessed:

Suicide prevention training: Arrange to participate in a QPR (Question, Persuade, and Refer) Training session. Eight out of 10 people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions. People who talk about suicide, threaten suicide or call suicide crisis centers are 30 times more likely than average to take their own lives. This training can be offered in as little as an hour and provides tools for crisis recognition and intervention. MHA can bring this training to your workplace, church group, or organization.

Access and refer these mental health screening tools:  These free, confidential online screeners evaluate for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD and other mental health disorders. There are tools for parents and youth and are access points that lead affected individuals to appropriate resources for help.

There are also other ways to get involved and share your story. One way to do this is with a new monthly series at The Evening Muse called R U OK, CLT?, an event dedicated to ending the stigma around mental illness using music, comedy and conversation. The kickoff event on Feb. 19 will focus on women’s mental wellness.

If you have any other resources that can be of help, leave them in the comments section below. Together, we can make at the very least make a dent in this tragic problem facing so many people in our community. 

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