Tag Archives: mental health

Suicide as a Human Right: What We Can Do to Support Folks Who Consider Suicide

January 20th, 2020

We live in a world that is inherently traumatizing. There is no life on Earth in which trauma does not exist within. There are people murdered everyday, there are people dying that have no food, fires spreading and killing entire towns of people and wildlife. In a world in which things like this happen multiple times a day, it is impossible for me to blame people who want to kill themselves.

When I say I cannot blame anyone for having the urge to die, or for choosing suicide over living, I am not saying it doesn’t break my heart. I so heavily relate to the feeling that not being alive would be an upgrade from living on this planet.  What I am saying is that suicide is, and should be recognized across the board as, a human right. No one chooses to be brought into this world. Who is to say that we don’t maintain the right to live, or die, on our own terms?

My issue with most “suicide prevention” organizations is that suicide always being an option is not openly spread to folks. What is pushed instead the statement “You don’t want to die, you just want to escape your pain,” which completely negates the fact that for a lot of folks, life is pain. There are many folks who actually want to die, and telling them they don’t simply invalidates their experiences and shuts them off to discussing how they really feel.

What the organizations who push the message of preventing suicide should be saying is something to the tone of “Suicide is always an option, and we should not blame or shame folks who choose to die on their own terms. There is something very powerful, however, about knowing the option is always there, but choosing to live despite.”

No one wants to feel like they cannot escape. A statement I also disagree with spreading is “Everything gets better. Give it time.” That is a dangerous assumption, for unfortunately, lives can and do get worse for some folks. Sometimes escaping abuse, neglect, or your own demons just simply doesn’t happen, and it is unfair to tell people that they don’t have the power and the option to leave.

I’ve lost two of my best friends to suicide. Both under the age of 22. And as much as it hurts me that they are gone, and I miss them every day, I cannot get behind making people stay alive for the comfort of others around them. People say “you have so many people who love you” but when you grow up in environments in which it is ingrained in you that you shouldn’t love yourself, it makes life very difficult. I tell people often I want to stop living for others and start living for myself, but as someone who has endured lifelong trauma and degradation, it is still such a challenge to even like myself.

I’ve been fighting hard to love myself, and to put myself first. I know so many other people who are too. Since we live in a society in which, the vast, vast majority of folks have been taught that they are not good enough, through actions and through words, it is hard sometimes to believe anyone can love themselves.

Trauma is a human trait in which all of us have a piece (or 5) of. Instead of shaming folks for leaving, a better idea, a healthier idea, is to acknowledge trauma as a uniting force, and well as a systematic failure within all systems that need to be broken down and rebuilt.

 

Maxxwell LaBrie (pronouns: they/them/theirs) is a young adult whose passion for peer advocacy and youth voice fuels their dedication to writing. They are a psychiatric survivor and a certified peer specialist who thrives to support young adults in all avenues and through any struggle they face. They also serve on the Youth MOVE National Board of Directors.

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We always wonder why

November 19th, 2019

Nobody talks about wanting to die. There’s a dark stigma around it, like it’s a contagious disease. It’s as if by talking about it, we have something to lose, when in reality, if we don’t talk about it, we’ll continue to lose many lives. We’re always surprised when somebody dies by suicide. We wonder where the signs were, we wonder how no one noticed something was off. We wonder why. We always wonder why.

Some days, I wake up and the thought of having to go through the motions again become almost unbearable. Get up, shower, try to eat breakfast, go to work, try to have a social life, go to bed and think about how much I don’t want to do the same thing day in and day out for the rest of my life. It all seems so tedious – especially when I’m also dealing with constant anxiety and treatment resistant depression.

There are even days when I just want to die. I’m not saying that I’m suicidal. I don’t have a plan of action. I haven’t written my final goodbyes. I’ll be honest – I don’t even think I could bring myself to do it. The thought, though, is almost cathartic in a way. It’s like looking forward to taking a nap after you’ve woken up too early for a breakfast party that you didn’t even want to attend in the first place. When I’m at my lowest, I constantly think, “I didn’t want any of this. I didn’t ask to be born.” Often, I’d rather face the pitch black of uncertainty than deal with being depressed and crying myself into an uneasy sleep night after night.

I’m finding that this is a fairly common train of thought – especially in my peers. We’re exhausted, overworked, underpaid, unfulfilled, overmedicated, undermedicated, stressed out, angry and depressed. There’s not enough time in a day to get everything one wants and needs done. By bedtime, we’re so frazzled that we’re overtired, our thoughts going a thousand miles an hour, with nowhere to go except around and around. That’s not good for anyone’s mental health, and it can seriously start to bog anyone down. I can’t tell you how many of my peers have ‘joked’ about killing themselves just to ease the stress of living. Maybe the thought of suicide hasn’t been in the forefront of their minds- but it’s definitely there.

When you type ‘not suicidal’ into the Google search bar, the first three suggestions that come up are:

“Not suicidal but tired of life.”

“Not suicidal but wouldn’t mind dying.”

“Not suicidal but wanting to die.”

This tells me that there are a lot of people, like me and my peer group, who are feeling the exact same way. It’s comforting, knowing that I’m not alone in my existential dread, but it’s also concerning. As a nation, we’re still not talking about suicide, and we’re certainly not addressing mental health. Not to mention that treatment for anyone who’s considered “high functioning” with mental health needs is almost non-existent for young adults/adults. Most of my friends hear the same script from their providers, “Okay, you’re depressed and having some minor suicidal ideation… but you’re out of bed, you’ve combed your hair, ate half a piece of toast, and you’re going to work still… so I’m going to prescribe you this antidepressant that’ll make you groggy and confused when you wake up, and let’s see how you’re feeling in a month!” Are we supposed to take that seriously if they’re not taking us seriously?

I don’t know how we fix this. Maybe we don’t. But! We can make it better. We start by having real, open and honest conversations about wanting to die, and we stop judging people and telling them that they’re weak. We start listening and stop threatening to send someone to the hospital every time they curiously utter the word ‘suicide.’ Be a friend. Be kind. Be supportive. Now, if you’re thinking that you can’t do this alone and you’re afraid to talk about it, don’t worry. I’ll start the conversation – my name is Chandra, and some days, I want to die.

Chandra Watts is our guest blogger. She is our Youth Development Specialist and draws on her own life to change how the world sees mental illness.  She is one of the founding members of Youth MOVE Massachusetts.

 

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When I call it sibling spillover, other parents nod their heads

October 9th, 2019

“That’s okay”, my 9-year old son said, “I can read the rest myself.”

Reading had been one of our sacred times.  His older brother, who had meltdowns several times a day, was not allowed to come in and disrupt bedtime reading. It was a hard and fast rule.  My 9-year old and I read books far beyond his reading level, as his interests ranged widely, but he was catching up.  Still, it was our special, untouched time together and we cherished it.

This night was a hard one.  My older son came down the hall, right up to his brother’s bedroom door, crying and raging.  He flung himself on the carpet, never crossing the threshold, but we could certainly hear him and feel his intensity.  He was still revving up and this meltdown would continue for a while.  So my younger son dismissed me, sadly but firmly.  He then finished the chapter by himself.  I hadn’t realized that he could.  He’d been pretending the book was too hard.

He told me the next night he didn’t need me to do anything but say goodnight.  “I won’t hear how the story ends,” I said.  “I’ll tell you,” he responded. We never read again at night together and I felt a pang each night for months.

This is the way it goes for the siblings of children with mental health needs.  Their parents are torn and there are days they get scraps of attention when they should get big swaths of it.  They learn how to meet their own needs, often before they are ready to.  Like my son who sent his melting-down brother and me away so he could have a quiet bedtime, they often choose what works over what they need or really want.

My younger son played soccer for a number of years.  There were home games and away games as well as practices during the week.  Although I dropped off and picked him up from practice, I attended nearly every game, a promise I made to myself.  Sometimes we would be in the car together or with teammates as we drove to away games and talk about anything except home life and his brother.  Other times, he would commandeer the radio and play whatever he liked, loudly. It was a kind of oasis in time, where we could pretend we were just another mom and son with no other worries.  He relished that time when he had his mom all to himself.

Parents share openly the impact of their child with mental health needs on their time, their finances and even their ability to work a full time job. We describe how our child’s needs are so outsized that it demands every scrap of time, attention and resources we have to try to meet those needs.  It also impacts marriages, relationships with relatives who don’t “get it” and sometimes longtime friendships.  But those things are about us, how we feel, adjust and cope.

The impact on the other child – or children – is something we often have little control over.  Our child with mental health needs may scream threats at their brothers and sisters, disrupt their lives and make them scared and angry.  We can feel powerless, guilty and saddened.  We don’t have easy remedies.

I first realized the deep impact on my younger son when he was only four.  His then-7-year old brother had wild rages where he overturned furniture (how could one small adrenalized boy do that, anyway?), threw whatever was near his hand and maintained this for up to three hours.  My little four-year-old learned to run to a special play area at the foot of his bed, shut and lock the door and pull out the toys he could only use during the be-safe-now times.  He did this several times a week, at least.  One day, a friend asked a question about his brother.  “My brother,” he told her, “is a very good boy who does very, very bad things.”  He also said he was afraid his brother would hurt his mom.

Therapist are quick to diagnose siblings with depression, anxiety or even, PTSD.  Those may all be accurate, but when I talk to other parents, I call it sibling spillover.  I‘ve never had to explain it.  Hundreds of parents have just nodded their heads and told me how their other children have been profoundly affected by the one with mental health needs. And by our inability to give the undivided attention and resources they often need.

We develop strategies, however, like going to soccer games without the other brother with mental health needs. We parent one way for one child, another way for the other.  We look for experiences where the sibling without needs can feel smart, brave, talented and whole.  We love unconditionally and extravagantly.  Mostly, it seems to work.

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No bra or no visit, which one will you pick?

April 15th, 2019

I survived my son’s teenage years the best way I could. I read a ton of books, went to multiple therapists to get help and reached out to other parents.  When he was in residential, I talked to another mom asking if she found it hard to have a child in a placement like I did.  Sometimes I felt the stigma, the shame and blame of feeling like it was all my fault and people were judging me.  One of the hardest days was when I had to show up with him in court on a felony charge because his impulsive behavior caused damage over $250.

I was too strong to be humiliated. I was a mom who loved her kids and just would not allow it. Humiliation was not something I was going to feel when raising children who needed more treatment, help with trauma caused by a dysfunctional systems and therapeutic work with me as the mother who would try hard over and over again.

But then it happened. Humiliation came in a way that I could not ever have planned or prepared for.

My son needed substance use treatment, mental health treatment and a kind of supervised housing that didn’t seem to exist.  Instead, he ended up arrested again and in jail awaiting trial.

I arrived at the jail on a visiting day, feeling very nervous. The same kind of nervous feeling that I’d had when I visited him in residential, in the hospital or went with him to court.  I smiled at the other people who were also there waiting to visit their loved one. I noticed I was the only white person. Everything I have read is true again. Racial disparities show up immediately as people await to see their loved one.

I have all the filled-out paperwork in my hand, ready to show it. I have checked off all boxes answering their questions.  Have you committed a crime? Are you a citizen? When and where were you born? I go through the line and pass through the metal detectors, ready to get on the bus which will take us to the visiting area.  I am still nervous and scared.  I will be okay, I tell myself. I have been scared before. I will visit, cry and then say goodbye.

A week later, I get ready to go back. Okay, I tell myself, I can do better this time. I remind myself not to bring in my wallet, but take my keys, so I won’t have to store things in a locker this time. I see some of the same people and we share a smile and say how are you.  But this time something is different. When I arrive I am immediately told my paperwork is not done correctly. The guard at the desk looks and comments to the other female guard, “See I told you the inconsistencies are everywhere.” I smile only inside my heart and think immediately to myself, “wow.” But I remain quiet as I wait.

When I get in line, my experience takes a huge jolt.  I walk through the metal detector and am told immediately, “Do it again.” I don’t understand – my keys are not in my pocket, my rings are off, shoes and jacket go through so what’s going on?  I walk through again. This time the guard demands, “Do you have any undergarments with wires?”

“I have a wire in my bra,” I say. She looks at me and states, “You can’t go in with that on.” I immediately explain, “I was in here last week and they did not mention that.”  She looks at me and says, “Take it off or no visit.”

What!!! Are you kidding me? No bra or no visit? Is this for real? I am immediately humiliated and I want to sob. I want to scream and I am so embarrassed but more than anything, I want to see my kid. Instead, I am quiet and go to the bathroom and take off my bra.  I am wearing a white shirt, which would have been the last thing I’d have picked if I knew this was going to happen.  I put it back on, and am completely shamed, humiliated and feeling like a disgusting woman. I walk out and everyone is looking at me walk through again.  The guard takes my bra out so everyone can see.

What have I done to be humiliated like this? I look at her and explain that the comment that I heard in the check-in about inconsistencies is real and unfair.  Her comment to me was a smirk back.  Now my Italian/Irish temper is rising and anger hits.  I say, upset, “Why are we treated like this? I did not think this would happen when I came here to see my loved one did you? “Everyone else nods but is quiet again.  I am so upset and feel so humiliated.

Interestingly enough the next woman came through with a whole corset on and kept it on.

I am fuming.  Why are we taking off our bras but we can bring in our keys? Why are we given smiles when we are told that if we want to see our kids then we need to take off our bras?

Something is wrong when we treat moms and other relatives in a way that makes them feel horribly embarrassed.  I am a mom with a sick kid. I am a mom that deserves to be treated with respect. I am a mom that deserves to be respected and understood, not judged /characterized as part of the problem.

When can we work on being treated like people?  I want my visit so I will take off that bra for now. But I want things changed.

Meri Viano is our guest blogger.  She is the parent of two sons and a daughter who continue to inspire her blog posts.

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Alternative facts, fake truths and mental health: are you kidding me?

September 24th, 2018

When my son was 8 years old, his psychiatrist taught me to say, “My eyes don’t see that, honey.”   I said it when he confused his imagination and reality.  I said it when he wasn’t sure what was real.  I said it when he needed to know what was rock solid actuality and what was not.

His uncertainty about what was real had begun when he was in preschool.  Some days I would pick him up and he’d ask me to sing a song we had learned together in preschool class.  I’d say, “I wasn’t there, remember?”  He’d think for a minute, and sometimes he’d agree.  But not always.  It was cute but also a little worrisome in its frequency and his intensity about it.  It didn’t go away as he got older.  It simply changed into different forms.

He would insist that he personally knew characters in cartoons or on television.  He was quite sure he had lived events he’d only heard about.  Then came the day when the numbers on his math paper turned into piranhas swimming on the page.  It terrified him so much, he couldn’t touch the desk. He was eight.

He was a little boy with a big, scary mental health problem.  Sometimes the doctors said it was psychosis, sometimes they said it was mania.  Some even said he had a vivid imagination, but they stopped saying that after a few months.

He needed the people he trusted to say that, “No, there is no monster with one eye looking at us. That must be your eyes seeing things I don’t see.”  He needed people he loved to say, “That villain in the movie did not appear in the living room.”  Instead, I said that the villain was not allowed to leave the movie screen. He needed certainty and unshakable facts.  Without them, his fear and anxiety paralyzed or incapacitated him.

I never knew when a fact had to be verified for him and verified in the exact same way.  But I got good at it, keeping it simple with no embellishments.  I got good at telling him that the truth was the truth just as moms everywhere do.  Except we weren’t talking about little white lies that a child might tell, we were talking about something far more important.  He needed my certainty to become his so he could trust his world that day.  We all got on the same page on this, his teachers, his therapist, his doctor and his family. Without that, his anxiety zoomed to the stratosphere.

Not long ago, I saw someone I know on a national television show.  She has a brother with schizophrenia and yet she talked about alternative facts as if they were a thing.  A real live, acceptable, incontrovertible thing.  I looked at the television screen dumbfounded.  Yet, it’s easy to let terms like “alternative facts” or “fake” or “fake news” slip by us with an eye roll or shake of the head.  Or let them weasel their way into our vocabulary, like the person I saw on television.

Parents of children with emotional and mental health issues live with uncertainty and ambiguity every day.  We don’t know when our child opens his eyes in the morning how the day will go.  We don’t know if this service will actually work or that treatment will make a real difference.  We chafe against this kind of uncertainty but we learn to accept it (mostly) as part of our everyday life.

But we need all the knowledge, statistics and facts we can get. We hang on to them as we build our new normal.  We learn to discern true expertise and, when we find it, we are thrilled by it.  We might not always agree with it, but we respect it and are glad it’s there.  We don’t heap scorn or contempt on it as if it’s ‘only’ someone’s opinion, say about climate change or the value of a work of art.  We know that expertise is a close cousin to facts, yet not quite the same since it has the expert’s perspective woven into it.  That’s okay since we have our point of view too.

I’ve always been a huge believer in telling the truth even when it’s hard, inconvenient or unpopular. After my son began having problems I realized his mental health and his ability to trust depended mightily on it.  I also came to understand that my expertise was built on a combination of hard won knowledge and experience. There is a lot of value in both my expertise and the experts we rely on to provide care.

Truth is not negotiable for me or my son.  It shouldn’t be negotiable for any of us.  There isn’t any alternative.

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