Before I get to the primary topic of this post, it would be amiss if I did not mention that today is World Mental Health Day. Today my call for you is to “speak up.” There are three ways you can do it:
- If you are struggling with a mental health issue, please speak up and get help. You don’t have to make your struggle public to start getting help. Tell your significant other, a parent, or your doctor. The sooner you get help, the sooner you will get better. Being sick, mentally or physically, is out of your control, so don’t believe you are weak for suffering or seeking help. Don’t know how to get professional help? Read this.
- If you are struggling with a mental health issue and have reached a point to where you feel comfortable sharing with others, speak up publicly. Tell your story. The more we talk and hear about mental health issues, the more we reduce stigma and help people get help.
- If you don’t struggle, you may know someone who does. Speak up to them and ask if they are okay. Ask them how they are feeling. There are more resources here to guide you.
Let’s work together to change and save lives!
Now I’m going to talk about why this day is personally significant to me.
My childhood best friend was Jared. We met the summer before fourth grade, and while we didn’t live in the same neighborhood we were close enough to ride bikes to each other’s houses through a trail in the woods. We had similar interests (we were both really nerdy kids), although he was more of the “I want to ace this test” than my attitude of “an 89.5% rounds up to an A so why bother for a better score?” He was super smart and graduated valedictorian of his class.
We were best friends through the better part of high school. Our senior year he went to Germany as an exchange student; we had little contact that year since there wasn’t much of an internet back then. He came back and decided to do a “formal” senior year of high school (which I tried to talk him out of – just go to college and move on!), so we were only together for a summer before I moved out of state to start my college career. We drifted apart geographically (especially after college when he moved across the country), and over the years contact between us waned. But every time we talked, it was like old times and we picked back up where we left off.
On August 11th, 2018, nearly two months ago, Jared took his own life.
After typing those words, just now, I had to pause. Just as I did when I got the call. I’m not emotional right now; I’m reflecting on the shock and grief I experienced in August.
Since my own mental health struggles exploded nearly two years ago, we had only spoken once or twice, and it was rather brief. I never told him about my depression, and he wasn’t very active on social media to see any of my public posts; I suspect he never knew of my struggles. Likewise, I did not know of the struggles that he had experienced for a few years.
I do not know what he was struggling with other than he was dealing with depression. I do not know the issues he faced in his life, real or perceived. I know he was getting some sort of treatment, but I do not know if he was persistent with it. But I do know that he was a victim of suicide, and that means he was dealing with insurmountable pain. While I do not understand anyone else’s circumstances, I do understand that pain. It hurts to know that someone else had to endure that pain and felt that suicide was the right choice to find resolution. Jared wasn’t selfish or weak. He died of an illness – a mental illness.
I do not feel guilt over Jared’s death. We were not in close contact, and there would have been no known reason for me to reach out to him.
In his honor, would you please speak up, however appropriate for your situation, just as I urged at the beginning of this post? You can and will save lives, and it may be your own life or the life of someone close to you.
Today, October 10th, 2018, would have been Jared’s 40th birthday. Happy Birthday, Buddy. I wish you were still here to tell you in person. You are missed.