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Mental illness needs everyone's attention


Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which equates to one person every 40 seconds. In 2016, almost 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died of suicide, reported the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is nothing short of shocking, alarming, and altogether sad. It also needs to be unacceptable and considered a public health crisis.

Working to destigmatize various mental illnesses has been an upward battle. Although the U.S. is doing far better than many places to destigmatize mental illness, there are still many improvements to be made. A report issued by the CDC in June showed that suicide increased in every state besides Nevada between 1999 and 2016, with an overall increase of 25 percent. This adds an additional layer of urgency to implementing potential solutions to save lives.

So what’s causing the uptick in suicide? There is a combination of different factors that are unique for individual situations. Some individuals have a history of mental health problems and suicidal thoughts, whereas others may experience a traumatic event and decide over a short period of time to end their life. These have in common the mental health aspect of suicide, which can be influenced by different factors. Leading contributors, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), include relationship issues and financial troubles. Access, or more importantly lack thereof, to resources for treating mental illness is a key piece in reducing the number of suicides and, by association, the overall quality of life. Funding research is also essential to finding new treatments.

Mental illness does not equate to suicide, nor does suicide mean that the person was diagnosed with a mental illness. The CDC did show that there are strong links between suicide and loss, substance abuse, physical health, and legal problems. Overall, mental health education and services can be improved to help people cope with these issues and more, regardless of whether they are diagnosed with a mental illness or have a history of mental illness. Coping with stress, difficult times, and lifelong mental illness can take many forms. Reading and writing can be ways to help people cope. Many people seek out the help of licensed therapists and medication to help them. Others may have a partner, close friend, or family member who they can rely on for support.

One key piece understanding and reducing suicide, addiction, and mental illness is that these things do not need to happen behind closed doors. It doesn’t have to be shameful. We, as a society and as individuals, need to be more accepting of people’s struggles and extend compassion to them. We need to check on our friends, even the friends who seem the happiest and who have the most going for them in their life. Suicide, addiction, and mental illness do not discriminate. These problems do not care what you look like or what your income is or how well you’re doing in your career, as seen by high-profile celebrity suicides, such as Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, and Kate Spade.

Adolescents and college-aged people are especially at risk for mental illness and suicide. College is stressful in itself, but it’s also a time when people are figuring themselves out, whether that be who they want to be friends with, who they want to spend their life with romantically,  what they want as a career, all of the above, and more. Behrend students have access to resources to help them on campus, most notably the Personal Counseling Office. The people in that office are wonderful and are here to help. The stairwell right next to the office dubbed the “Kindness Stairwell,” has sticky notes of positive messages and a poster above the landing with helplines for a variety of different specific issues. Take advantage of these resources. They’re confidential and essential.

Talking and being open about our issues is not only helpful to us, but to other people who may be experiencing similar things. It is easy to feel alone and not cared for, but I am here to tell you that someone cares and that you are not alone. I know convincing someone of that won’t be as simple as reading those words. In times of darkness, I write encouraging words over and over and over again in my journal. I may not believe those words at the moment, but it’s important to remind myself that I am loved, that I am important, that I do matter, and that I am enough. And you are all of those things are more too.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, which is even more common during the end of the semester when everything is due and there is so much pressure, please seek help. Please reach out. Also, check on your friends. Ask the tough questions and let the people around you know that you care about them and that you are there for them. If we all extend more kindness and love to the people around us while also supporting continued efforts to increase awareness about mental illness, I think that our society can begin to tear down the walls that keep us from helping each other and seeking help.