EDITORIAL: Reflecting on National Suicide Prevention Month

September 13, 2020

Content Warning: This article discusses mental health and suicide. If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7. 

The counselor looked at me from across his desk, hands folded, and asked me what I needed to talk about. Anxiety engulfed me as I sat in thought, considering what to tell this man. 

“I’m just really depressed.” 

“I know I’m only 15 but I think I actually have a mental problem.” 

“Nevermind, it’s nothing.”

“I’m just sad,” I eventually said quietly, tears welling in my eyes. I hadn’t expected to cry, least of all in front of a middle-aged man who already looked annoyed that a random student was taking up his time. 

And then the tears wouldn’t stop spilling. I blubbered something about having no motivation, never ending dread and sadness and feeling like I was eternally living in Picasso’s Blue Period. 

It’s been five years and I don’t remember exactly what he’d said to me after that. He responded with something about how every student my age at the time felt like this, I probably wasn’t clinically depressed and I eventually would be okay. 

According to the Dave Nee Foundation, around 30% of adolescents report symptoms of depression, with 15 being the average age of onset. It’s unclear whether my high school counselor knew this or not and I blamed myself for not explaining the inner workings of my brain well enough to make him understand. Thankfully, I had family members who had noticed the shift in my personality and provided me with a therapist who I’ve now been seeing for the past five years. She diagnosed me with depression and anxiety, with a more recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. But I wonder how many other students my age went through the same experiences as I did and didn’t receive adequate resources. The Dave Nee Foundation also reports that 9% of high school students have attempted suicide in 2019.

Safe Colleges reports that suicide is the second highest cause of death in college students, with more than half of students reporting suicidal thoughts. A study posted in June found that COVID-19 has had detrimental psychological effects, so if you’ve been feeling worse than usual, you’re not alone. This past year has seemed overwhelmingly terrible, with the global pandemic, wildfires ravaging the West Coast and a perilous political scene. It’s unrealistic to expect that any person struggling with mental illness is handling anything well. 

To put it simply, I’m not okay. And that’s okay. 

It’s okay to go to therapy, even if it’s through telehealth services.

It’s okay to be prescribed antidepressants, mood stabilizers or both. 

It’s okay to feel sad.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.

It’s okay to admit you’re not okay.

It’s okay. 

When my parents or siblings ask how classes are going, I’m not sure what to tell them. My answer for everything lately has been “fine,” but I’ve been lying. Nothing is fine. It’s difficult to proceed with classes like everything is normal. After a close friend recently nearly died by suicide, I had to pause and think about how I’m not the only one struggling right now and we’re not only being faced with a pandemic, but a growing mental health crisis. 

While it feels that universities, the government, our jobs and our peers are attempting to move forward in life as normally as possible, we can admit that nothing about our current environment is normal. Many of us are grasping for things to do to lessen our anxiety and crushing weight of worsening mental health.

Some students shared self-care tips and little things that have personally helped them.

While self-care tips are no replacement for mental health resources, it’s still important to find things that work for you. Some of my favorite things to do are listen to music, regularly talk to my friends and schedule FaceTime movie nights, say no to things when I’m feeling overwhelmed, openly communicate with my professors about how I’m feeling, continue to attend therapy and find time to take short naps. 

While all of these things are a temporary fix, they’re no solution for a bigger problem. Many of us are struggling. Many of us don’t know what to do about it. And we don’t want to talk about it. For me personally, it’s embarrassing to discuss my struggles with depression and bipolar disorder. I feel like people will view me as fragile or incapable of handling responsibility. 

Creating an open dialogue is a step in normalizing something many of us are facing, but things like a lack of affordable healthcare, adequate housing, livable wages and the stigma surrounding mental health make it much more difficult to fix the ongoing mental health crisis.

Some ways in which we can destigmatize discussing mental health begins simply with our language. Instead of saying “committed suicide,” say “died by suicide.” Don’t describe attempts as “successful” or “unsuccessful” and don’t describe suicide as a “selfish” decision. 

While September is National Suicide Awareness Month, this isn’t the only time to raise awareness or reach out to people. The pandemic is not over and we’re not even halfway through the semester. Support is necessary throughout the year, and it’s even more necessary during our current climate. 

It’s okay to not be okay. Seek help through services like the national suicide prevention hotline or through counseling services provided by NKU. You are not alone. You will be okay. 

RESOURCES:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 1-800-273-8255 or text ‘home’ to 741741

NKU Counseling Services: For an appointment, call 859-572-5650. In the event of a crisis, call 859-572-7777. 

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