Not Alone – A Story of Depression, Suicide, and Hope

by Seth Allard, Zero Suicide Project Manager

Below is a true-life story from a member of our community who is also a suicide attempt survivor. This story is given to us by a compassionate person who wants our community to know, that while this experience may not relate to everyone, feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts are not uncommon. Depression, suicidal thoughts, and experiences with suicide can touch us all. Depression does not segregate and isn’t biased – It effects everyone. If, during or after reading this story, you feel anxiety or feel that you need support, please seek help from our Behavioral Health Department at (313) 846-6030 or contact your current mental health provider. If you or anyone around you are having suicidal thoughts, call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or text 741-741. Please continue to read below the story for more information on mental health and the power that you and your community have to recognize and help each other seek and receive the support that you need.

We all have difficult times in our lives. At that given moment it is hard to cope with the situation with no bright side of a conclusion. In that moment your heart is racing, having confusing thoughts and even trying to come up with an escape. Escape you may ask. What type? Are you meaning suicide? While suicide and mental illness to some may be taboo, or even something that should be a hushed topic it shouldn’t be at all. While writing this real case scenario that happened as long as 21 years ago, still lingers in thoughts but also serves as a purpose that I am truly a suicide survivor.

Recalling back, being a youthful high school teenage student, I wasn’t so popular with my classmates but had a small circle of friends. I was living in the mental reality that things weren’t so truly normal. You had your typical cliques, bullies and what you would call outcasts. Yes, I was one of those outcasts. It wasn’t truly as I was hoping to land in but it was fine by me.

Growing up at home was a different story. I went to school like nothing bothered me putting on this fake smile. The home front was what I was scared of more than school. Having individuals who never really supported you and also bashing you never helped. There was no encouragement or praise. Praise was a sin. Always bashing you for your faults was truly a common inspirational hymn around home. That was where the depression grew and I sank. I sank into a deep hole burying myself alive and trying to climb out. It was the quicksand to my mental reality. I knew I had to seek help. It’s truly remarkable when your child (myself) comes and asks for help knowing something is wrong to only be brushed away with, “oh you will get over it and it will go away.” With no help in sight, it grew worse and worse until the day that I began harming myself. I hurt myself more and more, which eventually led to me having physical and emotional scarring.

You are probably wondering what the reasoning was behind this? Depression has no reasons, it could be from happy and bad times or even both. Looking back at this and growing into the adult I am now, I am not ashamed to talk about this as it made me stronger and appreciative that I have living to do. Being a survivor gave me the compassion to talk about this and advocate for helping those who seek help and that mental illness shouldn’t be a stereotype, a stigmata, or even taboo. As human beings we all have feelings, we have compassion and we all have ways to help someone even if it’s a quick phone call, a shoulder for someone to cry on, or even little nice gestures like telling someone hello. We truly do not know what anyone is going through.

It is extremely important to listen to and understand the stories of fellow community members who have experiences with depression, anxiety, and suicide. From this powerful and open story, we take away many lessons, thoughts, and areas of further guidance – guidance for ourselves as we navigate our own mental health, as we help those around us. We also receive insight on how we can think about and discuss mental health, depression, and suicide in our families and communities. By sharing our experiences, we learn that we are not alone – or as alone as we may believe – when it comes to challenges to our mental health and wellness. Depression and anxiety are commonly linked and the most common mental health issues faced by Americans.

We must not be judgmental when those near us come to us for support. Instead of being dismissive when someone shows signs of depression or talks about their emotional difficulties, try to listen and be supportive. It is very important to not talk over someone, or begin “solving” their problems, while someone is sharing their story. Recognizing a person’s pain and experiences can be an affirmation of their experiences, and is one of the most important steps in gaining trust and helping somebody who is coming to you for support.

It is easy to dismiss signs or symptoms of depression – he/she is just tired, irritated, having a bad day. It can be easy to walk past someone or not pay attention to each other’s words, mood, and emotions, and as a result, we miss an opportunity to recognize the need for help. Sometimes a person’s crying out comes in the form of a whisper, substance or alcohol use, bent shoulders, self-isolating, or many signs that are not thought of as obvious indicators that help is needed. When we see signs or symptoms of depression, we must ask in a nonjudgmental way if the person can share his/her story. How are you feeling? Can you tell me how things are going? Do you want to share what is making you feel this way? Then we must listen to that story, and be supportive in helping our loved ones and friends receive information, resources, support, and care.

We must be especially mindful that those around us may be thinking of suicide. We cannot allow our fear of asking questions like, “Are you thinking of suicide?” to overshadow the need to ask such important questions. If you need support in approaching a person about thoughts of suicide, seek a qualified mental health provider, counselor, or someone who has received training and is experienced in discussing mental health for advice. Feel free to call the Lifeline (see number above) to ask for support or contact the Behavioral Health Department at AIHFS to receive information and support on how to approach your friend, family member, or coworker in a supportive, but direct way.  

We must believe, and help others to believe, that there is Hope – Hope that even if we are experiencing deep depression, and even if we have thoughts that the only way to escape mental suffering, that there is a possibility of healing and strength. This is not the same as simply stating, “You’ll get over it” or “you’ll be fine.” Hope is the belief that there is something to live for. There can be a better tomorrow. There is a road to recovery.    

Lastly, there are times when we, as friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, feel a sense of guilt or responsibility for the mental health challenges and anything that may have happened as a result of a person’s depression, anxiety, or mental illness. Did I do enough? What else could I have done? Where did I mess up? Is this my fault? These questions and feelings of self-blame are common after losing someone to suicide or after a loved one attempts suicide. It is very important, at that point, to seek support from a counselor or somebody with training and experience in discussing these thoughts and feelings.

To receive training in Mental Health First Aid or Suicide Prevention, please contact the Zero Suicide Project at zerosuicide@aihfs.org or call 313-846-6030.

Maintaining Mental Health during COVID-19

By Michael Carroll, LLMSW

Edited by: David Garcia, LMSW

The world has changed suddenly for many people in the past weeks. Between schools being closed, the lack of supplies at the store, and financial uncertainty, it is enough to make anyone feel stressed. Add to that, we are inundated with prophetic news coverage estimating that we may be just at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The fear can be paralyzing at times and no one goes untouched by this current crisis. It is important to recognize that stress does play a pivotal role in life. I doubt many people would go to work if the stress of having to pay bills was not something on their minds. This is an example of healthy stress. It is necessary for humans to complete tasks, especially ones that can be redundant in our everyday lives. These every day activities can become problematic when stress and worry consume too much of one’s thoughts. This is the place where stress can develop into symptoms of anxiety or panic. While everyone responds differently to stress and worry due to their chemical makeups, we are all feeling anxious due to the current health situation. There are some simple things everyone can do to ease their burden.

It is important to take a step back and gain healthy and realistic perspectives. Human beings have made it through similarly scary situations in recent history, ex. 9/11 and school shootings. At the time, things seemed dire, but people rallied together to overcome through these crises. Human beings are resilient and have weathered difficult events throughout time. Consider how you would reflect back on your life after the COVID-19 quarantine a year or two from now. Yes, things are uncertain now and no one knows how this will turn out but we will be stronger in the end. Many people are in the same situation, doing their best to keep themselves and their families safe. While no one can predict who is going to get the virus, there are some things everyone can do to be proactive about it. These include washing hands frequently, practicing social distancing, and being active. Staying home is extremely important especially if you are starting to feel sick. Above all else, everyone should take a moment to take a deep breath and remain calm. There is a pandemic, but most of us cannot stop it. However, we can take measures to ensure it does not spread. People need to continue to living their lives, even if it is six feet away from each other.

Outside of being proactive, a good self-care routine can help tremendously. Exercise can boost your mood, promote good mental health and going for a walk is a great way to break up your routine. Getting outside and appreciating nature can be a relaxing activity for many, provided people are practicing social distancing. Additionally, be mindful of your diet which can affect your mood. So eating well is extremely important and should include fruits and vegetables. Staying home can be a stressful activity, especially for a few weeks at a time. Keep in touch with friends and family through the phone or video calls can be a source of support. Staying in regular contact with loved ones can help people feel, connected, informed and reassured of the health status of their family members. Another thing that people should do is staying available and interactive with their immediate family or other housemates. Enjoy this time together at home. Together catch up on your favorite shows, play board games, and appreciate the time you get to spend with your household. Surely, everyone has wished they could had stayed home while they were getting ready for work in the morning. Take advantage of this break from work. Find something that takes everyone’s mind off of these troubling times.

 

Lastly, it is good to stay informed, but limiting exposure to the news can help one maintain their sanity and limit their anxiety. This is not to say ignore the coverage completely, as public health announcements can be beneficial or lifesaving. Be mindful about how the news is affecting your mood or the moods of others and focus attention elsewhere if it becomes overwhelming. Take time to do those activities that are pleasurable or relaxing.

It can be intimidating to talk to children and teens about this health crisis. Their world has been equally affected and disrupted. Schools are out with some question about whether they will begin again this school year. When you talk with them, talk to them at a level they will understand, have actual facts and listen to what they say and how they say it. Ask how they are feeling and emphasize that it is okay to feel upset, anxious, depressed or afraid. Be ready to share your own feelings. Help them understand that the orders to stay home are to keep everyone safe, it’s not a punishment. Remember, moods can be contagious. If a parent is calm, that will reverberate throughout the home and it can be reassuring to kids.

Uncertainty can be scary during this time. Use techniques such as taking some deep breaths when feeling stressed or burned out. There is a breathing exercise called 4-4 breathing. Slowly inhale while counting to four and exhale while counting to four. Doing this a few times while concentrating on your breath can help one stay in the moment and relax. When you are washing your hands, staying home, etc…, think of the fact that you are doing the utmost possible that you can, to help yourself and your immediate household be safe and healthy. The world will continue to turn despite this pandemic. While this specific event is new to mankind, crises and epidemics are not. I have faith that humanity will make it through this pandemic. In the meanwhile, remember to be compassionate towards others. Keep calm, wash your handsfrequently and practice social distancing. As the band, The Police said, “Don’t stand, don’t stand so, don’t stand so close to me”.

Miigwetch,