When we mention famous names such as Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Kate Spade, or Anthony Bourdain, we feel totally perplexed but also not too surprised at yet another celebrity suicide. On one hand, we wonder how a person with a such “perfect life” could possibly want to end theirs. On the other hand, celebrity suicides are really a societal reflection of a much larger problem.
The reality is that following high-profile suicides, suicide rates increase. The popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, a teen drama about a high school student who takes her own life, was criticized by suicide prevention experts who were concerned that it would cause a spike in suicide rates among teens.
This is called the suicide contagion effect, and it’s a real issue plaguing our society. The more suicides that occur, the more people are “inspired” to take their own lives as well.
Suicide rates in the United States have increased by about 30 percent from 1999–2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2016, 45,000 lives were lost to suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the US. (1)
Experts believe that the rising trend in suicides is a public health issue—a cultural problem that needs to be addressed before we’ll start to see a decline in suicide rates.
More than half of the 45,000 people who committed suicide in 2016 did not have a known mental health condition. Yet most people don’t go from perfectly healthy one day to suicidal ideation the next. Clearly, there is a discrepancy between the help that people need and the help that they are getting.
One in every six adults will experience depression at some point in their lives. Statistically, that means that you, your best friend, one of your siblings, or one of your parents will be affected by depression. (2)
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can affect anyone at any time—so why is it that this subject is still taboo? Why is that many people who have depression are ashamed to ask for help? How can we lift the stigma and take it for what it is: a mental health condition that—just like any other health condition—sometimes requires therapy and medication?
Time for A Change
After the death of her husband, Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, Talinda Bennington wanted to do something to make a change—to spread awareness around mental health issues.
Talinda co-founded The Campaign to Change Direction, which aims to “change the culture of mental health in America so that all of those in need receive the care and support they deserve.”
The campaign reminds us to check in with ourselves and with our loved ones. It encourages us to focus on emotional well-being. It emphasizes that even though a person may seem fine on the outside, they may not be—and it’s okay to not be okay. Some people have to work at their mental health every single day, and that’s okay too.
The Five Signs of Emotional Suffering
The Change Direction movement aims to spread awareness so that we can all look below the surface. Just because a person looks okay doesn’t mean that he or she is. These are the Five Signs that may indicate that someone is in emotional pain.
- Personality Change. It may happen suddenly or gradually, but the person will start to behave in ways that don’t fit his or her personality or values. The person will just seem “different.”
- Agitation. The person seems uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody. This may express itself in problems controlling temper, inability to calm down, or explosions of anger.
- Withdrawal. They withdraw or isolate themselves from other people. They may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities they used to enjoy. In severe cases, the person may stop showing up to work or school.
- Poor Self-Care. The person may stop taking care of themselves or engage in risky behavior. Personal care may decline, and you may notice poor judgment on his or her part. For example, personal hygiene may deteriorate and the person may start abusing alcohol or illicit substances.
- Hopelessness. The person seems hopeless or overwhelmed by his or her circumstances. They may think the world is better off without them.
If you notice any of these signs in yourself or in a loved one, it’s time to check in and offer help. Visit www.changedirection.org/ to find out more about what you can do to help.
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Mental Health and The Workplace—How to Talk to Your Employer About It
The workplace can be difficult to navigate for those struggling with mental health. In reality, any institution that requires consistent schedules and set hours can almost break a person struggling with a mental health issue. The ups and downs—the good days and the bad days—are unfortunately not in sync with our work schedules.
If your boss isn’t aware of your mental health struggle, it may be time to say something. A little disclosure can go a long way, and your boss may surprise you with compassion, understanding, and leniency.
Decide in advance exactly what and how much you would like your boss to know. Go into the conversation prepared. If you want your boss to know about your mental health situation but don’t feel like talking about it directly, there’s a solution for that, too. These tips can help you get the outcome you want from the conversation.
- Don’t expect the worst. Considering how common mental health conditions are, it’s very possible that your boss is well aware of issues like depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Assume that he or she will be understanding.
- Set a goal. Come prepared with one or more specific goals in mind that you believe will help you cope. Suggest adjustments, such as working from home a few days a month, taking time off for treatment, flexibility in start and finish times, or maintaining distance from topics or people that may trigger you.
- Get a doctor’s note. If you want your employer to be aware of your situation but don’t know how to start the conversation, have your GP write a letter explaining what you want to communicate to your boss.
Keep in mind how common mental health conditions are. Remember that your boss is human. Shoot your boss an email asking for a private chat, and let them know!
Healthy Habits of Emotional Well-Being
Check in with yourself regularly—whether it’s daily or weekly, make sure everything is good by you by following the Healthy Habits of Emotional Well-being from the Change Direction website.
- Take Care. Make sure to eat well, to get enough sleep, and to exercise often. These are essential to our mental health.
- Check-In. Your body needs regular checkups, so why shouldn’t your mind too? Talk to a doctor, a counselor, or a faith-based leader to make sure you’re doing well emotionally.
- Engage. Make sure that your relationships are healthy and that you’re connected and engaged with the people you love.
- Relax. Do things that bring you happiness: be active, meditate, garden, dance, cook, sing, love—whatever relaxes you and makes you feel good.
- Know. Be aware of the Five Signs of Emotional Suffering, mentioned above.
How to Get Help
If your mental health is suffering and you don’t know where to turn, talk to your GP. He or she can refer you to a mental health professional in your area.
If you are located in the US, use these helplines and resources:
- Crisis Text Line. Text SIGNS to 741741 for anonymous, free counseling
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 1-800-799-4889
- Veterans Crisis Line. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 1-800-799-4889
- Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text 1-800-487-4889
If we all work together to lift the stigma of mental health conditions, we can open up a nationwide discussion, making those who struggle, feel understood. We must learn the signs of emotional distress so that we can help ourselves and those in need. Through education and knowledge, we can learn how to lift other people up, empower, and strengthen in ways that are quite literally life-saving.