Depression is not a character flaw. It is not a weakness. Having depression doesn’t mean a person is too cowardly to face their challenges. Depression is an illness. It is a medical condition like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, a broken bone, or any other physical ailment. Would you avoid getting medical treatment for a broken bone just because you were embarrassed that you fell down and got hurt? Of course not. So why are people so reluctant to treat their mental illness?
It’s because of the stigma. Somehow it is shameful to suffer from a mental health disorder. Young men are especially vulnerable to that feeling and are reluctant to share their pain with anyone.
Sadly, sometimes the only way out of that pain is suicide. Suicide is not the desire to die. It is a desire to end intense emotional pain.
Talk about it
We can fight the stigma by talking about it. And we have to listen. Listen carefully. Pay attention to changes in behavior or mood. Talk about them. Teach kids that talking about their depression is like talking about feeling sick to their stomach. Talking about it helps adults know about the problem and take action.
Do you ever talk about breast cancer? How about breast cancer prevention? Do you realize that because people have been talking about it, researching it, and working hard to prevent breast cancer, the number of people who die from it has dropped 40% in the last 30 years? All because people stopped being afraid to talk about women’s breasts!
If we talk about mental illness, do more research, find ways to pay for mental health care, and educate men, women, and children about how to treat it, don’t you think we will see a reduction in suicide rates? Yes! So please talk about it! And stop the stigma.
To learn more about preventing youth suicide, read A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K–12) or contact the author Theodora Schiro.
A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12) was created as a resource for educators who want to know how to get started and what steps to take to create a suicide prevention plan that will work for their schools and districts. It is written from my perspective as a school principal and survivor of suicide loss, not an expert in psychology or counseling. I hope that any teacher, school counselor, psychologist, principal, or district administrator can pick up this book, flip to a chapter, and easily find helpful answers to the questions they are likely to have about what schools can do to prevent suicide.