Are We Shooting Aimlessly Yet Hoping for Victory in the Last Seconds of the Game?
I hope that by sharing my story you will have an even deeper perspective into the desperate need for adequate mental health care in our communities, in our states, and in our nation. For too long we have separated physical health and mental health, and we have been unwilling to recognize the fact that they are intertwined with one another.
While we have made great strides in medical care for our physical bodies, we have largely ignored our mental health, not recognizing it as a medical condition. In doing so, I believe we have perpetuated a stigma of shame that keeps many of those who are suffering hiding in the shadows, afraid to let anyone know what is going on deep inside them.
Before losing my son to suicide, I was ignorant about this topic. I had preconceived ideas about the type of person who would do such a thing…and… what on earth was going on in their family? I mean, right?
Looking back, I am ashamed of my lack of compassion and my thoughts that were dripping with judgment. I did not understand that it has nothing to do with being a coward. I did not understand that it has nothing to do with being selfish or not caring about those that would be left behind. I did not understand that it could happen to any family… my family.
Shortly after losing my son, as I was wrestling with why and how this could have happened, I came across a quote that had a huge impact on me and my view. It says that “suicidal behavior is the result of a medical condition, it is not a sign of weakness of character.” (AFSP) Depression is real. It is nothing to be ashamed of. There is no difference between it and any other medical condition.
In our situation, we knew that Tommy was hurting, but we did not know that he was struggling with depression, it was undiagnosed. We did not know the depth of his pain. He kept it hidden and he did not tell anyone. I learned that we cannot assume that someone is just going through a tough time. We must ask questions and we must listen. It is hard to tell the difference between someone thinking about suicide and someone who is just going through a rough time. Unfortunately, Tommy never told anyone, and tragically no one close to him asked any questions.
Statistics say that 4 out of 5 will give clear warning signs, but what about the one who does not? That was my son. Looking back there were a few subtle signs, but even if I knew then what I know now, I do not know that I would have recognized it. The one thing I do know is that I should have been asking questions.
Suicide is an epidemic that is affecting the entire world. It has no regard for race, gender, where you live, or how much money you have. It is a problem that is all around every single one of us every single day. Because few are willing to talk openly about it, all too often we are dependent on someone else to recognize the warning signs. When no one does, it STEALS those we know and love when it may have been prevented… if we had been looking for it… if we had been asking questions.
I believe it is our perception of our circumstances that causes us to have feelings like fear, insecurity, guilt, anxiety, shame, and the list could go on and on. How we perceive things affects our emotions and our feelings, which are very real. But since our perspective can be faulty and we can have skewed views, acting on those strong feelings without stopping to look at it from another angle, before stepping to the side just a bit to see it from a slightly different view, can be disastrous and even deadly.
My Great-grandma used to tell me not to make mountains out of molehills, and I used to roll my eyes at her when she would say that, but it is probably the best advice anyone has ever given me. This principle is what makes my son's death such a tragedy. You see, he had a skewed view that evening, and what looked like a mountain to him at the time, was really only a molehill in disguise. He acted on impulse to strong feelings that were very real, but the tragedy is, the perspective that those feelings were based on was faulty.
If we want to change the way we live, then we’ve got to change the way we think. We need to change the way we think about suicide. We need to change the way we think about mental health.
What lies are we believing as a society? What views do we hold that are askew? What misconceptions have allowed us to get to the place where we have an epidemic of hurting people and no system in place to help them effectively?
My friends, our thoughts are powerful! What we choose to believe has the power to move the mountains that stand before us or the power to cut us off from the purpose for which we were created. The state of our mental health care system is a mountain, and if we want to move that mountain, we have got to change the way we think. If we want to move that mountain, we need an effective game plan.
I hope the following analogy helps drive home my point. My nephew, Andy Neff, plays basketball at Wright State University and during practice, they do countless shooting drills. They do these drills because they want to excel at making baskets. They train to shoot effectively because the team with the highest percentage of shots that actually make it in the basket, is the team that wins the game. Their training is designed to make them better shooters and they understand that if they want to win the game, they cannot just shoot aimlessly.
While I believe it is vital to know the warning signs of someone in a crisis, if that is our best hope for prevention, then I am not sure how much is going to change. Educating people about knowing the warning signs is very important, but as a prevention tool, it is kind of like being the basketball player who is aiming for the long shot, out past half court, while the clock is ticking down. You hurl the ball with all your might, hoping and praying it manages to go in before the buzzer sounds, but too many times you miss that shot!
I feel like that is what we are doing with suicide prevention and mental health. Yes, we are doing a better job raising awareness, yes, people are more aware of the warning signs, and yes, sometimes a life is saved by someone who recognized the red flags. But if that is the best weapon we have in our arsenal against this epidemic, y’all we are not going to come out on top of this. We are going to lose at the buzzer over and over and over.
This is a multifaceted problem and there is no one size fits all answer. Please consider your perspective on this topic. Is your view askew? If it is, my greatest hope is that I have helped you step aside, even if it is just a bit, to see it from a different angle.
We need a game plan that promises a higher percentage of wins. Let's bring folks together on this, let's work together as a team to get creative and think outside the box to find new and better solutions for this great need. Lives are depending on it!
Remember TOM and that Together we can Overcome this Mountain!
Please check out the following Facebook post from March 1, 2019 about my friends at Dayton Children's Hospital ~They are boldly leading the way to Overcome this Mountain!
Friends ~ Check out Tuesday Talk with Dr. Greg Ramey every Tuesday at 12:30pm ET on Facebook and get your questions answered LIVE! @DaytonChildrens https://www.childrensdayton.org/the-hub/tuesday-talk-dr-ramey
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Quote: “Suicidal behavior is the result of a medical condition, it is not a sign of weakness of character.” AFSP, Out of the Darkness Walk
Quote: "You only change the way you live when you change the way you think." Chris Hodges, Church of the Highlands