September is mental health awareness and suicide prevention month.
Suicidal depression and suicide itself come with a stigma that we haven’t found a way to overcome. I don’t talk to my friends and family about my continuing struggles with depression because they wouldn’t understand. Very few people I know – including two of my spiritual leaders – know the truth about my demons. I have PTSD from the severe bullying and abuse I took as a kid and the further targeting I lived with as an adult; all I want is a sense of purpose. To be able to do something decent with my life, something that means more than just making money. There are many times when I’ve asked myself if I’m really only in public safety so I don’t feel like I’m completely worthless.
When you spend your entire youth listening to everyone around you tell you that you’re not enough, it’s impossible to believe you have any worth.
It doesn’t help when you hit adulthood and things don’t get any better. The guys who write for the Rhino Den have been writing a series of articles about suicide among veterans. Peter Nealen talked about needing a sense of purpose, and despite the fact that I’ve never deployed, I know that need. Many vets just don’t know how to live outside of the structure of the military. Some thrive on the belief that they’re doing something good, serving a higher purpose. I feel that in public safety. Many of the men and women I work with feel it as well. Four of my friends have committed suicide in the past five years. Three of them were from police and fire departments that I work closely with.
Even when not suicidal, depression is a deep, dark hole that crushes you. All you can think of is what’s going to go wrong. You don’t want to get out of bed much of the time. You don’t want to go out and do anything or see anybody; you don’t want to even attempt to be social. Sometimes you force yourself to just to know that you’re still human. People who know will tell you to “just snap out of it”, as if it’s that simple. As if you’re making a conscious choice to live in pain. For me, at least, it’s as if people are pushing and shoving me while I fight to stay on my feet, teetering on the edge of a cliff – and it sometimes gets to the point that the bottom of that cliff looks more appealing than the fight to avoid falling.
I am alive because I fear having to answer to G-d more than I fear my worthlessness. It doesn’t dull the pain in the least. There are days when all I can think of are the many moments where my social ineptitude has been painfully obvious. There are days when I’m afraid that I’ll never be given a chance to prove myself. As angry as I get at my friends who have ended their own lives, I have to say that I also understand where they were when they left so abruptly.
There are people who like to make a scene by saying that they’re suicidal. They actually enjoy the emergency response they get when they tell someone they want to die. I don’t write this to say that I am suicidal…I write it to bring attention to an issue that far too many people fear because they don’t understand it. It’s not just gay youth who are depressed and suicidal. Veterans and public safety workers are often at the highest risk for depression and suicide.
Telling someone to “get over it” or “snap out of it” is the worst thing you can say. Educate yourself. Those who need that sense of belonging, worth, and purpose are often the last ones you’d expect to find standing on the edge.