“Death is not the greatest loss in life, the loss is what dies inside us while we live” – Norman Cousins.
A close friend shared these words in a Facebook post and then a little over two months later he was dead. Suicide. In light of the many opinions shared following his passing, some of which had me wishing I could strike their sources across the face and shove them down a hill (anger is a real emotion), all I could think about was how severely depressed he probably was so that he felt he had to put an end to his life. Although common, suicide is still taboo; a factor which blinds most observers from grasping that the majority of cases are a symptom of mental illness.
Schizophrenia, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety, paranoia. These and a whole host of other mental issues are often stigmatised, and ridiculed by society through the use of derogatory names and mean-spirited jokes. It happens to such an extent that too many sufferers become ashamed and defensive leading them to endure their troubles in isolation. The media doesn’t help and does a poor job of educating and providing realistic information around issues of mental health.
Movies and television series too often perpetuate negativity through stereotyped character archetypes which paint the impression that people with mental disorders are all violent psychopaths bordering on demonic possession who should all be dressed in a restraint suit and locked away. We are starved of images and messages which portray people with mental illnesses positively to show that a normal life is possible regardless of a person’s mental condition.
I’m not crazy, I have a mental condition
Any person who claims immunity against insecurities in whatever form is both dishonest and delusional. Granted there are some among us who have such an immaculate handle on their insecurities that they appear void of any. However, there are those whose level of control is so poor that they even end up repelling people who care about them. The unifying factor is that from time to time we all get tormented by a shrill voice in our heads which aims to disarm us of our self-confidence and replace it with self-doubt and sometimes self-hatred.
The voice can nag so persistently to the point where its victims resort to alcohol and other substances just to numb and silence it. The problem with such alternatives is that they are temporary and tend to accentuate the issues one is fleeing instead of presenting amicable solutions. For most mental health sufferers, in spite of their skills, accomplishments, friends and family or even looks, when they are haunted by that unfriendly voice it intensifies their sense of helplessness, loneliness, anxiety and paranoia to the point of self-harm.
A large portion of society is ignorant of the fact that some psychological loads weigh on the subconscious and manifest themselves in subtle yet substantially damaging ways. For example: a child who grew up in a sexually hostile environment may unwittingly grow up to be a promiscuous adult because (s)he suffers from PTSD but is unaware of it. We tend to focus only on the surface and fail to probe into and examine the sources of unusual behaviours. The vicious cycle is such that sufferers react to the judgemental gaze of society by engaging in riskier and even more dangerous acts. Conversely, demonstrations of support and empathy create a safe space where victims can reflect and be inspired to make aims to abandon destructive behaviour through treatment or whatever helpful means best suited to them.
The Physical Toll of Mental Illness
One of society’s greatest oversights is that mental illness often associates with chronic physical conditions. When a person summons the courage to reveal that (s)he is suffering from depression for example, the news is often perceived to mean (s)he is simply ‘very sad’ and that it is a passing phase. The unseen horrors on the other hand, range anywhere from low-energy, lack of appetite and excruciating migraines, to high-blood pressure, diabetes and more. Not wanting to be a burden on others, a person battling mental illness will mask and continue smiling and give the impression-which they also believe to be true- that things are improving. The reality is that to make people understand a pain which is physically felt but is not visible is hard and mostly garners superficial attention. In the event that the pain is attended to, the mental health aspect is unfortunately often by-passed.
The world is overly consumed with casting judgement upon black sheep within the flock. Because of this, it fails to notice the pressures it mounts on those minorities, until something drastic happens. In total I have lost three friends to suicide and the grief brought on by the latest episode compelled me to start thinking deeply about possible factors which lead to it. As human beings we are naturally wired to protect ourselves from harm which leads me to believe that people who commit suicide never really want to die. No one chooses mental illness; the discrimination and stigma which it attracts are uncalled for and cause frustrations and other negative spins which can prove fatal. I hope humanity will evolve to a point where we’re more sensitive to each other’s psychological well-being and circumstances and strive to learn more about each other before we draw mis-informed conclusions.
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