Yesterday a young man in our hometown committed suicide. This drives home the importance of mental health. From what I understand his father passed away four years ago. Today the grief of his mother and brother and other loved ones has been amplified exponentially.
The community will gather around in the coming days in support like they always do. But we need to remember that the grief does not end after the funeral. That’s when the real healing takes root or stalls out. We need to continue to check on those that have been traumatized for many years to come.
Those with depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, PTSD, or all the other many forms of mental illness are everywhere around us and they’re not going to raise a brightly colored flag to let you know that they are hurting.
You can live in the same house with someone and see them every day and not recognize the signs. Sometimes they are the life of the party. Sometimes they are the star football player, or the head cheerleader. Sometimes they are the quiet kid that doesn’t bother anybody in the back of the classroom. Sometimes they are the angry kid always looking for a fight, trying to get life before life gets them. Sometimes they are hard-working fathers consumed with debt and responsibilities.
Sometimes they’re the frazzled moms that just don’t get a few minutes peace day after day. Sometimes they are the elderly living down the street with their pets as their only company, dreading the crushing lonelines pressing in on them more and more as the years go by.
Sometimes they’re the addict trying to mask their pain with drugs or alcohol. Sometimes they are you and sometimes they are me and sometimes they are our own children. Sometimes they are soldiers and veterans and police officers that have seen more devastation and wickedness than the human heart and brain can process alone.
Sometimes they are the preachers that take the responsibilities and burdens of the congregations upon their own shoulders day after day until they begin to lose sight of the light themselves.
Sometimes they are simply people with chemical imbalances in their brains that don’t allow them to naturally feel hope or joy anymore and they need medicine as well as therapy and prayers.
We cannot predict or prevent all suicides. But we CAN look people deeply in the eyes and say how are you REALLY doing? “I’m fine” sometimes means a person doesn’t know where to begin to tell you about their pain or they don’t want to bother you. We can stop telling people to get over it and suck it up when they are hurting. We can stop telling them to grieve or heal on our timetable. We all have different coping skills and even our own coping skills come and go depending upon what stage of life, faith and health we are in.
We can stop making people feel guilty or ashamed or weak because they can’t handle things on their own. We do that by gossiping about how weak someone is, by criticizing them, by teasing them and not recognizing that they are not really laughing. Sometimes tough love is not the answer. Most of the time tenderness and mercy and patience are the answer.