September 26, 2016
Ending the Stigma
Last weekend, I had the privilege of leading our 3rd annual Davidson LifeLine Student Leadership Team Retreat. As in the past couple of years, high school students from surrounding high schools gather to impact mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
So much great work was done, but I’d like to tell you about one of our activities. Groups of 4 were given a word: “Hope”, “Sadness”, or “Isolation”, and were instructed to wander around Davidson for an hour, capturing images that remind them of their word.
“There’s nothing sad or isolating in Davidson on a Saturday when there’s Farmer’s Market and the weather is beautiful.” “We had to ask someone to look sad.” “It was so hard.” But the conversation became rich when the student groups each presented a compilation with their images and music.
“What if someone is really sad even though they’re walking around smiling with their friends?” one said. “What if someone else didn’t come to Farmer’s Market because she had panic attack and it was too overwhelming to be in a group?” And what happens when someone in the group flippantly says, “I’m feeling so bipolar today” and someone’s dad deals with bipolar disorder? And another says, “I have too much homework. I’m going to kill myself?”
Words matter. What if the only time someone said “If I don’t pass this test I’m going to kill myself”, or “my anxiety is so high right now” was when that person was actually considering suicide or having an anxiety attack? If that were true, then those with mental illness would feel less minimized, more cared for, AND we’d be more likely to help them find resources.
One more thing that came up. One of the high school kids asked, “Why do we ask people, ‘how are you’ if we’re not willing to hear the answer or don’t really care”? This week, ask “How are you” and wait for the real answer. Let the person know, through spoken language and body language, that you really do care.
Mental Health America’s website says, “When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start way before Stage 4. We begin with prevention. And when people are in the first stage of those diseases, and have a persistent cough, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, we try immediately to reverse these symptoms.
This is what we should be doing when people have serious mental illnesses, too. When they first begin to experience symptoms such as loss of sleep, feeling tired for no reason, feeling low, feeling anxious, or hearing voices, we should act...more