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mental health mondays :: alarming

we have a huge mental health problem. it can be solved and that will take work on a lot of different fronts. people are killing themselves in astounding numbers. people are killing themselves at a greater rate than at any time in the last twenty years and the situation is getting worse. relationship problems, financial struggles and [or course] mental health issues all contribute to the staggering rise, along with a number of other factors. there are no rules about who kills themselves, although there are some groups where the risk is higher.

improving mental health care, reducing the desperation that financial struggles can cause, and finding effective ways to deal with problems like substance abuse take time because they require larger scale action, but relationship-building is something that is built from the ground up. so while we're all calling for change on a larger scale, it is at least somewhat mollifying to know that we can do some things that make a difference without having to wait.

two celebrity suicides in the last week, two people who seemed to be winning their battles with bipolar disorder and addiction have come as a shock and, for those with mental health issues, such stories are immensely frightening. when i talk to people about my own past urges, i liken suicidal thoughts to have a snippet of a song stuck in your head: they seem inconsequential or annoying at first, but then build until it feels like a cement truck parked on your head. a dark thought enters and rattles around and it seems like something that you can control, but when you're ill, the balance of power tips quickly and you realize too late that you don't have a way of just expelling it, that you can't assert control over your own thoughts. that evil little thing can stay in your brain for weeks or months, or it can overwhelm you in a matter of hours and there is very little protection when that happens. even for the wealthy. even for those in a happy relationship. even for the privileged.

many, many people in my extended network have posted on social media virtually begging people to reach out to them if they are feeling suicidal or depressed. others have plaintively responded by stating the sad truth that the more depressed a person is, the less likely they are to reach out. the key then seems to be making honest, meaningful communication the standard for those we care about.  so that "reaching out" is just what happens on an ongoing basis, from both sides.

reach out when you're panicky and desperate. reach out when you're worried about someone and want to do anything you can to help. those are both important things. but even more important is reaching out just to make a connection that can let you can grab hold of when you're dangling. and be choosy. none of us have the time and energy we'd like to help and support others. making judgments is necessary and most of us will make mistakes on that front. that's not a reason to stop trying.

this is a suicide risk assessment checklist. it's used by medical professionals but, for once, you don't need to be a professional to use it. just keep it on hand. look at it. think about who you know who meets the criteria for either the long- or short-term group. think about how you relate to the descriptions. are you drifting? is someone you care about? you don't need to quiz anyone about their state of mind to know how at risk they are. and it can only help if we all just get used to trying to recognize the signs as part of our regular interactions with each other.

p.s. :: i've seen a few instances of people getting upset at others for not placing content or trigger warnings on posts about suicide. please, please, please don't do this. one of the major components of the battle against mental illness and suicide is that they are so heavily stigmatized, that getting people to talk about such things is incredibly difficult. demanding that people issue warning statements before bringing up the subject reinforces the idea that suicide is something that people should feel wary of discussing because it makes others upset. i know that that isn't the intention. i know that people post vile, ignorant, stupid things about suicide and mental illness because they want to seem shocking or rebellious. those people are pathetic and deserve your scorn. suicide needs to be discussed, without guilt and that isn't happening because it's upsetting. please.  

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