The stigma related to suicide is often thought of as a uniform idea, but it's important to think about the different ways it manifests so we can better understand how to approach it. Does it look different for men and women, for instance? And if so, how? (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
When it comes to the stigma associated with suicide, you may think of the shaming. But on the other end of the spectrum, there's romanticizing suicide. Although it may seem harmless, romanticizing suicide can be just as damaging as shaming it, and we need it to stop.
People underestimate how powerful compassion is for getting through tough times. Sure, facing hard realities is a necessary part of recovery and tough love can be beneficial. But, ultimately, I believe it's the power of compassion that'll help us through the hardest moments and that it's the most beneficial to those with mental illness and their loved ones.
If I were to ask you to picture someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, what would you imagine? My guess is someone wearing dark clothes with a haggard expression and overall looking like he or she are down on his or her luck. The image of someone who seems to have it all together might not come to mind at all. But, like mental illness, suicidal thoughts aren't reserved only for those whose circumstances "warrant" it. Suicidal ideation can and does affect anyone at any time, even when life is otherwise good.
In recent years, the mental health community has been working to phase out the term “commit suicide” because of the negative connotations that are attributed to it. It really came on my radar two years ago when I attended a suicide prevention walk in St. Catharine's, Ontario and spoke with Denise Waligora, who works with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Waligora shared with me the stigma associated with the term "commit suicide" and how it was associated with crime and sinfulness (Talk About Suicide to Erase the Shame of Talking About Suicide).
There is a stigma around suicide that says suicide is selfish. Despite all the conversations everyone has started about mental illness, despite any awareness campaigns and openness from people who have struggled, suicide is still a touchy subject (#SU4MH). It’s avoided and it’s looked down upon. Most commonly, suicide is called selfish. How can someone kill themselves and not think about the people left behind? How can someone only think of their own pain? But the idea that suicide is selfish is a product of stigma.
On Oct. 28, 2013, Justin Eldridge took his life. He left behind a wife and four children, and the never-ending question of "Why?" He had served more than eight years serving in the United States Marines, including an eight-month stint in Afghanistan. He was 31-years-old.
In this two-part series, I speak with former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, D-RI, about mental health stigma and the work he and others are doing, not only to combat stigma, but to bring research into brain disorders and illnesses to the forefront. Kennedy is a co-founder of One Mind for Research, a group dedicated to brain disorder research. In this interview, Kennedy speaks about mental health stigma; the role his uncle, President John F. Kennedy played in bringing about treatment to local communities, and the role of post-tramatic stress in the "astronomical" suicide rate of today's veterans.
Tomorrow morning, I get the wonderful opportunity to address the future directly. I will be a part of The Royal’s anti-stigma project titled ‘Is It Just Me? Conversations in Mental Health’ that addresses hundreds of high school students on the topic of mental illness.