The beauty of a Lifestyle & Travel blog is that lifestyle can cover so many topics,. When we aren’t traveling I can use my platform to bring other issues to the forefront. Today’s topic, Mental Illness, and the stigma behind it, is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.
Mental health is a huge issue right now. One in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year (statistics here). That is almost 44 million people in any given year. Let that sink in for a minute. Of all the people you know, one out of every five of them is suffering from mental illness, or has in the past. And often they are suffering in silence. The stigma of mental illness is such that people don’t feel comfortable sharing their suffering, nor asking for help. This needs to change….. it MUST change.
Out of the Darkness
In 2001 I joined my friend and signed up for the very first “Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk”. We flew to Washington D.C., and walked over 30 miles (was supposed to be 21, but there was a route mis-mark) to bring the stigma of mental illness and suicide “out of the darkness”. When we were done, we stood at the foot of the Washington Monument with all of the other walkers and prayed, cried, and cheered our success. My friend lost her Sister to suicide when she was 17. She had suffered for several years with mental illness before she finally took her life, and my friend was passionate about the cause, so I decided to join her. After that my friend made it her mission to do as many of these walks as she can. I joined her in 2005 in Chicago, and again in Seattle 2008. In 2015 I wasn’t able to walk, but I volunteer for the medical crew for another Seattle walk. This year I will walk with my Daughter, who is a mental health professional, along with some of her coworkers.
The raw pain of many of the people walking will forever stick with me. I will never forget the couple who took turns carrying a giant picture of their teen daughter who had taken her life in the recent past. They were determined that her death would not be swept under the rug. They were going to talk about it, about her, and about mental illness. 18 years later I can still see her face in my head. Which means that trudging on while carrying a giant picture of their beautiful daughter did exactly what they hoped it would. She has never been forgotten.
Why This is Important to Me
I am a nurse, and I see so much serious mental illness, some days it’s daunting. But, these are people and they deserve love and compassion despite their negative actions that are perpetuated by their illness. My Daughter sees even more of it then I do, and I realize that often her days play out like the movie Groundhog’s Day. The same scenarios play out over and over because there is not enough help for all of these people. Her compassion towards them, even though their behaviors are often very unappealing, is something the world needs more of.
On the other end of the mental illness scale are your average people, young and old, who are suffering. Anxiety is a huge problem right now for young people. I think the fast past digital world has really created an environment that perpetuates anxiety for them. And then there is bullying. Young kids are taking their lives because they are bullied relentlessly. The older population has to worry about healthcare, feeding their families, life in general. Many try as hard as they can to get ahead, but to no avail, they start to feel helpless and hopeless. There are so many scenarios that I could write about that affect the mental health of the average person. It’s heartbreaking.
Education equals Understanding
Suicide is often the response to what feels like a hopeless situation. What feels hopeless to those with mental illness may seem menial to those not suffering. If I can do one thing in my life, it will be to break the stigma of suicide and mental illness. When I hear people say suicide is a selfish act, it upsets me greatly! When a person is that sick, they cannot comprehend what it will do to those left behind. Their brains cannot reason that out. If you cannot understand that, PLEASE EDUCATE YOURSELF! I will include resources at the end of this post.
I'm on a Mission to Break the Stigma
My mission is what drives me to participate in the “Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk”. This walk raises money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) who provides resources for survivors, for family who have lost someone to suicide, and to prevention, which is teaching those signs to watch for. Their goal is to reduce the incidence of suicide by 20% by 2025. While I feel like this number should be higher, I also realize that this number has been increasing every year, so reducing it by 20% would be a huge feat.
If YOU would like to join the walk with us, please do so! Here is the link to sign up. More information about the Out of the Darkness Walk can be found at this link. If you would like to donate to my fundraiser, you can do so here.
I would love for everyone to join me in squashing the stigma of Mental Illness!! It takes a village, and you can be part of it!