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Challenging Stigma

By Elizabeth Henry

 

 

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Henry

 

 

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. When reading statements like that, it can be easy to tune out and think that this subject has little to do with you because often those who struggle with suicide and depression are reduced to statistics – static statistics.  But the numbers represent people – real people made of flesh and blood who are living, fighting, and struggling, like you and me. Take it from someone who is all too familiar with the subject. Yes, I have struggled severely with depression and suicidal thoughts. I wonder how many of us struggle with these things and don’t know how to talk about it.

To Write Love On Her Arms is an organization that seeks to remove the stigma surrounding topics like depression and suicide. Before we move on, let’s define stigma: “a mark of shame or discredit” (merriam-webster.com). Suicide is a preventable cause of death but not if we feel like we can’t talk about it. Two-thirds of people struggling with depression do not get help. I believe this is largely due to the stigma surrounding the topic. There’s this misconception that to admit struggle is to our shame or discredit, or that to admit struggle is to admit defeat. But this could not be further from the truth. Honesty is not a sign of weakness but of strength. It takes courage to reach out because it takes courage to admit struggle. And it takes courage to fight and to believe that life is worth fighting for.

Today marks a significant day for me. It will be three months to the day that I lost my Dad to suicide. It also happens to be World Suicide Prevention Day. Here I have the incredible opportunity to reduce the stigma using a real-life example – my Dad. The stigma says that to struggle with depression or other mental illnesses means that you are crazy or that something is seriously wrong with you. But my Dad wasn’t crazy, he was a very normal guy; he was an easy-going and funny guy. He was smart and talented. He was a hard worker and a family man and he was a (young) grandpa of six, beautiful grandchildren. He was quite organized and responsible, in fact, my Dad had a perfect driving record—he never had a ticket his entire life! And he suffered from depression.

Nobody knew that he was struggling with suicidal thoughts until it was too late. I share this not as a sob story, but to encourage you with the truth that you are worth fighting for. Your life is worth fighting for. If my Dad could take it back, I know that he would. I will be sporting a t-shirt on Tuesday that reads, “You cannot be replaced.” I’ve always believed in this message—and I do now more than ever. Let’s break the stigma that keeps beautiful people bound. My hope is that today you will know that you cannot be replaced, and that life is truly worth fighting for.

Take Action! The number one cause of suicide is untreated depression. Suicide is the most preventable cause of death, but prevention requires us to reach out. How can we reach out? Take a mental health screening to determine your own mental health needs and recommend that friends and family do the same.

Go to http://www.mentalhealthscreening.org/screening/?keyword=Wellness to make sure your mental wellness is secure, and then help a friend by referring them to the link.

Written by Elizabeth Henry

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