I have been reading a lot about mental health diagnoses recently, learning about how one person’s mental illness impacts the entire family, friends and co-workers.
This is especially true in the military community, where families endure the stresses of multiple moves, deployments and reintegration; the alienation that comes with being away from family and friends, and helping their loved ones overcome various levels of trauma sustained in battle.
Traumas are not always visible wounds; repeated rotations into war zones where one does not always know who is the enemy and who is the ally can take a toll on even the most resilient warrior.
I have also been sharing a lot of that information on my social media pages, because I feel that sharing information is one of the best ways to reduce the stigma of mental illness in society.
These shares have caused enough concern for me that I have had friends and family reach out through messages or phone calls to make sure I am okay. I am, but this year has been a particularly rough year for our daughter, even though she is currently doing well.
If I was suffering, I should be able to talk about that without feeling ashamed or afraid of being judged, labeled or stigmatized.
I say this because my daughter has battled depression since before she turned eight years old. After her father’s third deployment , she began to retreat into herself. Sometimes, I had to lay with her until she fell asleep, often waking her from the grips and screams of night terrors. She became obsessed with thoughts of her father’s death or her own, and her imagination created imagery that was so vivid and detailed that she would be paralyzed with anxiety or panic as the visions of death invaded her childhood daydreams.
Her struggle increased as the deployments got longer. She had always been gentler and more sensitive to stimulation than other children. The depth and breadth of her emotions were often times more than she knew how to handle from the time she was very young, and she is only now learning how to manage the intensity of her emotions and empathy for others.
- After many specialists, she was diagnosed with clinical depression at age 11 — a psychiatrist recommended that she begin taking Prozac. I left the doctor’s office in tears. Anti-depressants at 11 would change her and put her at a higher risk for suicide. I couldn’t do it; I called the doctor and begged for another solution. He offered his counseling team, but the waiting list kept her from being seen until two months before we were set to move overseas.
- By the time she was 13, my daughter had such severe depression that some days she could not get out of bed. She began self-harming in order to make herself feel something other than the emptiness that seemed to be slowly taking her away, breath by breath.
- Her anxiety levels at school became so elevated that she would become physically ill and I would have to bring her home. Most days when she came home, there would be nothing left for her to give, having spent all her energy just trying to make it through the day. She would often cry herself to sleep.
- On really bad days, my child would sometimes crumble into a meltdown of emotion with me yelling, crying, whispering, reaching or fighting with her, against her demons, in an effort to try to help her. Eventually, I left my job in an effort to be there for her. I made trips to the school, begging the guidance counselors to help me help her. It wasn’t until she was 15 and I sought out the assistance of the Adolescent Support and Counseling Service coordinator that we were finally able to get help.
Our most recent move was the hardest move we have experienced as a family. The pressure of sharing space with another teen, a new school, a new city, and a new climate– combined with the incredible feeling of loss she experienced when she had to leave behind the place she considered home and the friends she considered family became too overwhelming.
At 16 our loving, artistic, funny, caring vibrant daughter lost her will to live and had to be hospitalized for a week after she left school and disappeared into the woods for over four hours. Since then, it has been a bumpy road to recovery, filled with doctor visits and social work referrals, counseling sessions and lots and lots of time, love, and patience between all of us.
People who are suicidal have been known to reach out into the void, seeking someone, anyone who will see that they are suffering. Sometimes social media has been the void into which they scream, in the hopes that they hear more than their own echo yelling back at them.
With social media, we have the capacity to communicate and stay in touch with or keep tabs on people we know and love, but our hearts and souls are left feeling empty. Clicking a button or making a comment on a page somehow tricks us into thinking we are connecting and communicating, allowing us to check the socialization box on our to do list without having to produce much effort.
Our minds, thumbs and eyes are actively engaged, but our bodies and our souls are often disconnected from that interaction. Intrinsically, something within us– the deep, ancestral part of ourselves that craves and thrives on having a pack or a tribe is left wanting and empty.
We live in a world where we are more connected to our projected selves and images than we are to our inner lives or one another.
Real experiences, face to face interactions, and truly getting out and experiencing the world around us is the only way we are going to be able to reconnect to our primal selves and create communities that feel real, that help us feel whole.
I personally understand the need for awareness in Suicide Prevention. In the military community alone, each day more than 20 veterans end their lives by committing suicide. That’s more than 7,300 per year — more than double the number of people who died on September 11, 2001.
That number in itself is devastating and does not include the latent number of suicides committed by military spouses or children. In 2014, the annual number of deaths attributed to the United States reached an average of 40,000 people.
40,000 –A number that is devastating and yet, suicide has become so pervasive in our global culture that we now have to have a designated day to talk about it. Why aren’t we talking about it every day?
The truth is every day should be Suicide Prevention Day.