Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2017 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry
Amy was the founder of Project Semicolon, an incentive-based suicide prevention movement. By “incentive-based” I mean that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people have tattoos, t-shirts, jewelry (me), and wall decor sporting semicolons. The meaning behind this symbol is simply that semicolons are placed where sentences could end, but the author chooses to continue anyway.
This symbol is deeply personally meaningful to me. There are times it has reminded me to focus on life. On bad days I wear the jewelry; on better days the sentiment resides in my heart.
For the past five years, my voice has joined those of thousands of advocates, trying to make a dent in the world’s understanding of mental illness, especially major depression. Yet repeatedly among the majority of my friends and acquaintances I hear and read a steady flow of stigma.
This is discouraging, however at least I have a voice. Millions do not. What is it like for those who struggle in silence? Well, let me tell you.
People suffer and are afraid to talk about it because they will be mocked. Rejection and dismissal loom very near. This sounds like, “I was depressed once. I get it.” “You’ve no reason to be sad.” “Get up! You’re so lazy!” “You just want attention.” Within religious circles judgment can be based on ignorance of the facts. “You can be happy if you choose to praise God.”
Indirect stigma can seem more benign but cuts deeply. “Sally is seeing a shrink. She’s such a schizoid.” “I wish I had OCD so I could keep my house clean.” “Dan is using depression as an excuse to take time off right when we are so busy! He could be here if he wanted to.”
Sadly, Amy recently died by suicide. It’s heartbreaking, and for us who face her disease, it is especially so. No one was more surrounded by the semicolon movement than she. Amy knew what to do, had a profound voice, and yet suffered silently anyway. We will never know why, but I can come close.
Symbols, rhetoric, platitudes, and even knowledge are not enough to prevent suicide. What is absolutely necessary is access to appropriate medical care. In a crisis, doctors and medical personnel in a hospital setting will keep a person safe until the depression is more manageable.
Amy and millions like her did not “commit” suicide, they died by suicide which means the disease of depression proved fatal to them. Suicide prevention needs for us to understand this and be alert. Suicide prevention requires that a society embrace the facts and no longer deter people from treatment. Suicide prevention is communities insisting on access to mental healthcare.
Suicide prevention demands we relinquish our (mostly irrational) fear and learn to talk about mental illness and suicide. Our nonjudgmental involvement and unhesitant response can save a life. Do we see a loved one who has a mental illness and encourage them to find treatment? Do we offer to help find that medical care?
Dear Amy Bleuel. I did not know her, but greatly miss her presence in the world.
Today’s Helpful Word
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.