Today is World Mental Health Day and this year, the focus is on suicide prevention. This seems oddly fitting because it has been a rough year in the armed forces and first responders community as far as suicide is concerned. In fact, suicide rates in the Air Force have been so alarming that our Chief of Staff Gen. Goldfein required all of the bases to have a tactical pause for one day so we could come together as a community and reflect as well as discuss how we can take better care of each other.
Every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide.
This past weekend my base had its tactical pause where we learned that the number of suicides in the Air Force has exceeded 100, which is more than any other year- and it is only October.
World Mental Health Day is a great day to reflect about mental health as a whole and raise awareness about the importance of being mentally healthy and resilient. There are so many discussions to have when it comes to today, but this is the one I am choosing to have.
We always ask: why? In fact, that was one of the things we discussed during our tactical pause. Why do people decide to kill themselves?
Let me be real right now. People who die by suicide don’t actually want to die. They just want their suffering to end, but they don’t see any other way out. That is why.
Their suffering could be caused by heartbreak, loss, stress, financial problems, a pre-existing mental illness, job problems… literally anything. There is not one single reason behind their pain and suffering. All they want is to not have pain present in their life.
The change starts with us.
Ever since I was diagnosed in 2017 with anxiety and depression, I have learned firsthand how it changes how people treat you. Some people treated me the same, like my husband, most of my family, and my close friends. Others act like I am a fragile little duckling, while others act like I’m totally insane and cannot function in society.
If we change the way we treat someone based on their mental health status, we automatically isolate them. As someone with mental illnesses, I can tell you that nothing is worse than feeling completely isolated.
What can we do? First of all, we can continue to treat them like a human being, even after finding out about their diagnosis. Kindness doesn’t hurt either! You truly never know what someone is going through and that is why I strive to be gentle and kind with everyone I speak to, even if they aren’t being very nice to me. I may politely tell them that they are not being very nice, but I won’t be mean back or lash out. You never know when someone needs a smile or just someone to talk to.
In fact, I was just talking about this last week with one of the trainers at work. She had told me that she greeted one of our members and asked him how he was doing, which he said good. Then after a bit, he came back to her and told her that he actually wasn’t doing so good. What did she do? She sat down with him and they talked about it. I know for a fact that meant the world to him and it probably turned his whole day around.
Always try to be nice to people because it could impact someone’s entire day. You have the ability to be the light in someone’s dark day. Why would you want to be anything different?
Sometimes, you need to ask.
It can be awkward and scary, but if you are worried about someone and their well-being then you might just need to outright ask them: “are you thinking about killing yourself?”
Thankfully I have never had to ask someone this, but I certainly will never be afraid to. I have been asked this before and it truly makes all the difference in the world because it is a closed-ended question. Either the answer is yes or no. It isn’t an “are you okay?” or “how are you doing?” type of question. It has the ability to open up a conversation.
Oftentimes, someone will say something like, “I just don’t want to be here anymore.” You can always ask, “what do you mean by here?” The word “here” can mean different things: in this room, at work, at home, or on this Earth.
Bottom line, if you are ever worried about someone, ask them. You could save their life.
It is not your job to fix them.
Let me repeat that again: it is not your job to fix them or anyone. However, if someone is thinking about killing themselves, it is critical to never leave them alone and get them to resources that can help them. If you are not physically with them but you are worried about their safety, call emergency services.
Above all, just listen.
People ask for help all the time, just not explicitly. If you notice that someone may be struggling, check in on them. Even your strongest friend, your hardworking coworker, and your typically loud sibling. If something seems off, your gut probably is not wrong. But if it is, then you at least just showed someone that they can count on you when life doesn’t go their way and they need someone to talk to.
On this World Mental Health Day, I encourage everyone to do some reflection and maybe even reach out to someone who seems like they are having a rough day, whether you know them or they are a total stranger to you. You can make a difference!
I wear a lot of hats: NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Weight Loss Specialist, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. A writer with a B.A. in English and Professional Writing. A fur mom and a wife. A mental health advocate and a septic shock survivor. An Airman and an athlete. I live in South Florida and am in love with the ocean. People can typically find me either in the gym or at home, writing or reading.