When people think of illnesses that end in death, cancer is probably one of the first to come to mind. Awareness is at the forefront of public announcements, fundraising, and support rallies world-wide. Cancer sucks, and the loss I’ve experienced left a great sadness in my heart.
Many other illnesses end in such tragedy, and it is time to consider that mental illness is one of them. We talk about mental illness and death after suicide, but it seems beneficial to discuss the reality that before there came suicide, there was a mental illness. Just like before there came an overdose; there was an addiction.
The CDC reports (2016) near 50,000 deaths from suicide annually. With increasing numbers, we need to start paying attention. Why are suicides on the rise? While the U.S. sees a substantial increase in suicide rates every year, other countries experience a decline. Where are we going wrong?
Irresponsible Mental Health Care.
It took a decade for the U.S. to formalize a National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Yes, a decade. Our government moves slow. Still, with their valiant efforts, we have no affordable mental health services. Insurances get away with placing healthcare outside of routine coverage.
My medical coverage is phenomenal. I pay $25 for doctor visits, including physical therapy and other specialty visits. However, to obtain mental health counseling, I pay full costs until I satisfy my deductible of $3500. I have no coverage until I pay that amount out of pocket. By then, it may be too late for many individuals who have limited financial means. If it comes to food for a family versus a counseling visit, which will they choose?
Let’s consider emergency mental health care.
We experience suicidal thoughts and become a danger to ourselves. Our only option is to check in to an emergency room, which is an automatic $2000 bill for walking through the door and getting your temperature taken. That intimidates people immediately.
Then, you sit for hours, sometimes 24 hours, waiting for the one city-wide mental health assessor to appear. After review, you wait for an open bed in one of three facilities in your state that help those not of super-rich status. You transfer to that facility where it takes 24 hours for assessment and medication review. You join a group scenario before you ever meet with a doctor. After three days, they push to return you to the world without any real therapy/counseling, but with a handful of prescriptions to take to your nearest pharmacy. Their goal was to stop you from immediately acting out your suicide plan. They no longer require family discussions, so you share what you want to share. The value of additional information from those who know you best is lost because of privacy issues. They meet with you before discharge, ask for money, and send you on your way with more meds and referrals for doctors who can further hand prescriptions over but take weeks to begin correct counseling measures.
You leave the facility scared, with no solutions and minimal help.
What do we expect to happen here? Of course, suicide rates are exploding at every age level! We are putting band-aids on life-threatening illnesses and hoping for the best. What other life-threatening illness is treated with such irresponsible care for those who are willing to walk in and receive help. They say you can’t help someone until they are ready to receive and accept it. Well, walking in and admitting you are suicidal is the sign of readiness. The average three-day stay opens the door for repeat visitors, until they don’t survive and no longer repeat.
Suicidal thoughts come when all hope is lost, and death seems like the best choice for all involved. There is a dark place where people can’t be reached and are disconnected from reality on a dangerous level. There is no pain anymore; numbness renders individuals debilitated.
Nothing in this world matters because their truth is they do not matter. The sense of being alone in our minds is stronger than any external support system. Our thoughts have played on repeat over loudspeakers until they are all we hear. The inconvenience of our existence buries us in guilt and shame one shovel full at a time.
The faces we turn to show us they are frustrated, tired, and irritated in dealing with the broken soul of depression or other mental illnesses. Supportive words eventually come off as forced and have no support in them. Already filled with despair, our hearts and minds, hating ourselves, cannot handle the feeling that others hate our mental illness. That hate filters to loved ones despising us, even if it’s untrue.
The bottom is hopelessness. It cannot be reached with kind words or hugs. The time to listen has passed, the hopeless and suicidal person no longer wants to talk.
Before there came suicide, there was mental illness.
I don’t have have the answers to fix this crisis. In my perfect world, the conversation would be as loud as pink ribbon month. We would talk about bipolar and mental illness outside of terrorist attacks and mass shootings. If I had my way, we would have mental health facilities to walk into and receive immediate help with counseling and therapy, or inpatient care not predetermined with a three-day stay.
Mental health professionals would have extensive training in being able to assess and quickly have open conversations about purpose, hope, and acceptance of individuals as humans and not a patient number they see at 2:00 pm. I would establish affordable mental health care for all. Education in life skills and coping would be taught at home and within the education system. This list could go on and on.
You matter. Your life matters even when you feel it doesn’t. Depression fools us into false mental images. I hope to convey a message of self-worth and acceptance to all those who suffer alone. We must fight. We are worth it.