Shift the Focus

A year ago, a dear friend of mine lost his long battle with depression and died by suicide.

I always imagined that someone I loved committing suicide would make me angry. But of all the complex feelings that I have had, anger has never been amongst them. While I mourn and suffer because of his choice to end his life, I also understand why he chose to do so. His death is a testimony of our failure as a society. He spent most of his life dedicated to helping others with mental illness because he understood how deep those struggles effect you. Despite all his training and years of experience as a psychiatric nurse, he was not immune any more than anyone else.

Paul had ADHD and because of that he suffered RSD. All his life, he was told that he was not good enough and he had woven that message into a part of his self identity. Despite all the good things that he accomplished, he was only able to see his short comings. Why? Because society taught him that being neurodivergent isn’t good enough. It didn’t matter that he was an amazing father and husband. It didn’t matter that he was a brilliant mentor. All he could see was that his heart felt too much and that he spoke too loud.

He dreamed of a future that allowed people like us, the neurodivergent, to be who we are without judgement. He spent years working hard to make that future a reality for his neurodivergent daughter. His love was blinding. There was no task too great or too small for him to take up for those that he loved. In one of the most difficult times of my life, when I doubted everything within myself, he believed. Instead of seeing me as socially awkward, he saw me as socially creative. With this view of me, he imagined a future where I could shine and he helped me build it.

I argue that this world needs more people like this. There needs to be more people building others up and imaging a shining future rather then trying to shape them into a predefined normal they can never achieve. Society needs to redefine the way that we think about normal and the way that we think about socially interacting with others. As the numbers of those with mental illness rise and more people commit suicide every year, how can we conclude anything other than our society is failing to properly support those within our community?

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages. Every day, approximately 130 Americans die by suicide. There is one death by suicide in the US every 11 minutes. Suicide takes the lives of over 48,500 Americans every year. There is one suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts. Nearly 800,000 people die by suicide in the world each year, which is roughly one death every 40 seconds. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-24 years. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Clearly, these numbers reflect a social failing. Having meaningful social connections is the number one method to prevent suicide. When people feel that they are socially connected and belong to their community, they are much less likely to commit suicide. Thus, suicide interventions need to shift focus. We need to stop trying to fix the person that is feeling isolated and depressed. Instead, we need to fix our society so that all people feel safe and welcomed within their community.

Let’s build a future where all people can belong.

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