This spring I was keynote speaker at a conference in Chapel Hill, NC called “Cultivating Mental Health: Hope and Healing”. It was one of the highlights of my speaking career. The conference was filled with several hundred mental health professionals from the Research Triangle who were keen on offering clinical, therapeutic, and spiritual responses to the challenges facing their clients and patients.
Since returning to NYC, I have been deeply saddened to learn of the suicides of Kate Spade followed by Anthony Bourdain. These high profile deaths have raised the issue of mental health front-and-center once again. It seems that for some people, success, wealth or fame are not enough to fill the proverbial “hole in the soul”.
I’ve been pleased to see many responding to these suicides with great empathy. But still, many myths persist around mental health issues. In American society we seem to think that if one is strong enough, good-looking enough, wealthy enough, or successful enough, then deep-seated emotional needs somehow vanish away.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know this is not the case. If you could see the full reality of people's lives, you might discover some deep-seated unhappiness behind the seemingly bright and cheery Facebook or Instagram profiles.
So we self-medicate. We engage in behaviors that may be healthy in moderation but very unhealthy in excess.
We shop and run up our credit cards.
We drink too much because “one more can’t hurt”.
We pop an extra pill to numb the pain.
We jump from anonymous sexual partner to the next.
We lose ourselves and our sense of time in Netflix or apps on our iPhone.
We escape into religiosity, afraid our own negative emotions will betray a serene exterior.
We become a workaholic to avoid the tough relationship issues that we aren’t ready to face.
When all of the above doesn’t work we attempt to satiate the unmet existential angst with any number of other compulsive behaviors. Whether we shop, go for drinks, take a substance, or jump from hook-up to the next, these measures are not enough to bring the peace and fulfillment we desperately long for.
So what are we to do then?
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to blog on some specific topics that have come up in recent weeks-both from the conference in NC as well as from conversations with friends and family members.
But for today I’ll end this post with this:
If you think a friend or loved one seems unusually down or not herself, don’t wait for her to reach out. Most people who are in the throes of depression or anxiety do not have the wherewithal to advocate for themselves.
Pick up the phone. Call, text, or email. It only takes a moment to say “Hey, you were on my mind, how are you doing?” That check-in lets the other person know she or he is not alone and most importantly, doesn't have to go it alone anymore.
Who knows? You might even save a life in the process.
If you need to speak to someone now, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime, 24/7, to speak to a professional who can help: 1-800-273-8255.