Trigger Warning: this article contains frank discussions of suicide and depression.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. The message is all around us: the screens in the elevator banks and our inboxes are flooded with reminders to take care of ourselves, do yoga, sleep more, stress less. All incredibly important, especially considering the demanding industry we have chosen. Tight deadlines, difficult clients and a barrage of messaging that never seems to stop -- it can all get to be too much sometimes.
Those reminders are extremely vital. For me however, this time of year invokes different memories when related to mental health, unfortunately on the more tragic end of the spectrum.
Suicide in my life
In May of 1998, one month before high school graduation, as my friends and I were busy finalizing our plans for prom and the graduation parties that would abound, my best friend from childhood committed suicide. I was not yet 18, and just the day before thought that my biggest problem was choosing which sorority to pledge that Fall. My new reality found me writing her eulogy and helping to plan a memorial service. At that time, I had never encountered suicide, wasn’t familiar in the least. Our community was shocked, pained and scrambled for answers. My best friend Lindsay was beautiful, incredibly popular, a national honor student and the captain of the cheerleading squad. All of us, even those closest to her, thought that she had it all and we couldn’t fathom the depths of pain she must have been in. It has taken me the last two decades to slowly work through my loss of Lindsay. I am not there yet, and I’m not sure I ever will be, but find that even now, so many years later, her story is worth sharing if it can help someone.
Unfortunately, although unique to me, this is not a unique situation. Just under a year ago, the world was shocked and saddened when in the course of one week Kate Spade, the princess of prep, who taught the world how to “live colorfully”, took her own life; and (only two days later), the equally colorful Anthony Bourdain, who urged us to travel and understand the world through food, committed suicide. We never know what struggles a person may carry. Mental illness is the great equalizer, and anxiety and depression can find us all, regardless of wealth, beauty or other trappings of success. National Suicide Prevention Week is in September, but it’s important to discuss this crisis year-round.
What can we do?
Current suicide statistics are staggering. According to the Centers of Disease Control and the World Health Organization, globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-24-year-olds and takes the life of nearly 800,000 people. In the US, more people now die by suicide than in car accidents. But why such a big spike recently? Many theories abound, but most popular overall is that life is more stressful due to our constant exposure to negative news. Research shows that in our digitally connected society we are more socially isolated than ever before. In addition, preventing suicide can be difficult when 50% of people who take their own lives have never presented any mental health factors. With suicide being one of the ten leading causes of death in the USA, this is not a problem just for those individually affected, but an important issue for us all.
But what can we actually do about it? We can educate ourselves. We can listen and be a lifeline for a neighbor, a friend, a colleague, or family member in need. Offer our ears and shoulders to them, and take a cry for help seriously. Let them know that they are not alone in this struggle and help does exist. Here at Digitas we have extensive resources at our disposal as a part of our benefits program. Through Workplace Solutions and Health Advocate, help is available 24/7/365 and just a phone call away with trained counselors and medical professionals. We can all be more empathetic and loving citizens of this world. I know I wish I could have done something more and pray that Lindsay’s legacy can help others.
*If you or someone you know is feeling isolated or hopeless, call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.