This week I wanted to write about a topic that is near and dear to my heart: mental health. I know we think that it gets a lot of buzz these days, but it really doesn’t get near the attention it deserves.
I was perusing Feedly when I found an article that stood out to me entitled “Can Social Media Help to Stop Suicide?” Think article is written by a doctor, who completed an online study of depression in college age people. With her team, then analyzed the signs of depression and suicide from social media sites. They are trying to think of a system to help recognize individuals who are about to harm themselves and provide support. They want to make an automatic text reader within social media sites that flags keywords associated with depression and suicide to notify a help hotline. Their problem is that misspelled words or clever phrases with a deeper meaning will not be caught. I support this idea, but recognize that so many times people won’t be outright with their feelings.
The article states, “The stigma of depression undoubtedly contributed to its most severe consequence – suicide. Some patients avoided treatment because of the fear of being ‘found out’, and untreated depression then worsened and led to suicide. Some families learned that a loved one had depression only after suicide had already taken place.” As much as I would love to say that we live in a world that is accepting and understanding towards people who suffer from various mental health disorders, we do not. We have come a long way, but there is still more we can do. It is heartbreaking to know that people who suffer from mental illness do not always have a caring support system that can help by simply being there. It doesn’t take much to let someone know that you care. You don’t need to know “the right words to say” because there are none. To a person who suffers from depression and mental illness, there is no prepared speech that you can conjure up on demand that will magically give them meaning for their life. What you can do, is just offer support through a kind and judge-free ear, or if the person does not want to say anything simply sit with them. Everyone goes through moments of sadness in life, but to a person suffering with depression it can be isolating and lead to despair. Today in my English 336: Victorian Poetry class we discussed a poem called “Carrion Comfort” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. During our discussion it came up that emotional and mental pain is much worse than physical pain. With physical pain, one can reach a limit where the body simply cannot take any more pain and the person either goes into shock, blacks out or dies. Emotional pain is different because it can be more severe and last longer, even waxing and waning like ocean waves. This kind of pain knows no limit. There is no end for someone to reach and “tap out” like physical pain, except death. Obviously that is not a solution we want people to take, but to some it seems like the only way out. Those feelings of extreme sadness and isolation can lead to severe depression, which can become despair. Without help and support, the person who despairs may choose suicide as a last resort. If you ever find yourself in a situation where someone is revealing these types of feelings, please know that your response can be life-changing. Just be there for this person, regardless of how well you know them or how busy you are. This person has chosen to tell you because they trust you and they need help.
This paragraph is from the above article: “For the past five years, my research team and I have contemplated a future where depression and suicide are changed by social media. With open disclosure of depression symptoms on social media, one could identify those at risk early and offer resources or treatment, all based on a pattern of Facebook posts. We came up with two main ideas. First, we thought that since young people have an average of 500 Facebook friends, surely one of them could make the connection and offer help if depression was displayed? But more research revealed that these were largely social-media friends and not real-world friends. If people didn’t interact with each other much beyond passively watching an acquaintance’s status updates once in a while, they were unlikely to take the effort to actually reach out and ask if everything was OK.” We always think that if we notice someone’s behaviour like this someone else will too, and they will step forward to help them, so then we don’t have to. What if that’s not the case? Should any of us really risk that? No. Always assume that if someone is talking like this that no one else has offered to be a support system for this person, and step up yourself. Please don’t laugh it off if someone brings this up because you never know what they are hiding below the surface. Be supportive and open if they want to talk. Say that it is okay if this person needs anti-depressants, counselling or any other form of help because it really is okay.
Mental health is something that I care about quite a bit. I want my family, friends, colleagues, students, and even strangers to feel that I am approachable if they want to discuss this or need someone to be there for them.