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“I’m not surprised…I get that”

Today’s blog discusses suicide which may be triggering to survivors or to the family and/or friends of victims. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please seek support. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day or reach out to one of the other resources listed here for assistance. 

“Y’all, did you know that in June, 11% of adults seriously considered suicide?” I asked flatly at a physically distanced, neighborhood swim party this week. I had just walked over to the vegetable tray and with a fistful of snacks, sat back in my seat and waited for the reactions. It was the fourth or fifth time I had repeated this statistic today, and though I work in the mental health space, I hadn’t yet talked about it with anyone at work. I wasn’t worried about them.

This report released this week by the CDC found that of the 5,412 Americans surveyed, more than 10.7 % of them had seriously contemplated suicide in the past month, and that a quarter of those respondents had symptoms of anxiety or depression. It’s not a surprise – professionally – but for the first time in my life, it didn’t only feel like a statistic that I needed to do something about, it felt like I was the statistic that needed help. I knew so many of those statistics, personally. My feelings echoed in the responses that I heard today, each time I shared this grim statistic.

  • “I’m not surprised. This isn’t how any of this is supposed to go.”
  • “I’m not myself right now, so I can see how people feel that way too.”
  • “Maybe they just didn’t want to deal with virtual kindergarten.”
  • “If Michelle Obama is struggling, then.. what hope do any of us have?”

I responded with, “I mean, it’s not like you have to worry about me, I’m OK but yeah, I get that.”

This week, I sent my children back to school, virtually, which means they didn’t go anywhere physically. They’re still here. We’re all still here. We have a patchwork quilt of solutions, aimed at supporting their mental and emotional wellness as well as encouraging their love of learning. As much of the country prepares to teach our children, at least partially online, there is still a persistent and significant technology and internet access gap across U.S. households. I have both, reliable internet and devices for every day of the week, and still…I get that.

In moments when I find myself spinning, I tether myself to the world by finding hope in the work of young people. That fact remains true today but my heart breaks for the 25.5% of 18-to-24-year-olds included in the CDC report that said they had seriously contemplated suicide in the last month. I look at my daughter, navigating an unknown entry into her academic career, attempting to connect with her kindergarten teacher from behind a screen, and I can’t help but think of the young people that have waited their whole lives for that acceptance letter, first game, or next step that now has them wondering what comes next. I know what comes next, and I know that for both my children (and all of our children) the future is hopeful, more just and will bend towards a new, more inclusive definition of community and still…I get that.

Drawing inspiration from young leaders across the country, I take my children to protests, inviting them to declare that Black Lives Matter, and praying that theirs is the last generation that has to make the case. Even though I’m white and my survival in this moment is afforded to me largely because of the color of my skin, my financial security, and the zip code I live in, I am acutely aware of the dual pandemics that are impacting the mental health of so many in the Black and Latinx communities. Both groups are disproportionately affected, with the CDC reporting 18.6% of Latinx Americans and 15.1% of Black Americans seriously considering suicide within the past month. I am fairly certain I am not going to die, from COVID-19 or at the hands of another person because of the color of my skin, and still…I get that.

Because I get that, so deeply and personally, sometimes I feel every part of my heart, body, and mind are tired. But I persist and will say to anyone who will receive it that there is power in sharing your story, naming the struggles, and reminding other people that they are not alone. 

There is a stigma to mental health that is so pervasive and engrained in us, that it will take everyone – from Lady Gaga to the kindergarten teachers behind the screens – to undo it. We all must play our parts. Second, once I’ve named – for myself and everyone else – that it’s okay to not be okay – I have to do something about it. For the neighbors sitting by the pool, for the people reading this note, and for the world. I am fortunate to know some people that have been put on this earth to keep other people alive and it’s an honor and a privilege to share their work. Here are a few of their resources I encourage you to turn to for support (for yourself or a loved one):

You don’t have to worry about me, because I have to worry about us and that will keep me going and…I get that, and I’m grateful for it every day. Please worry instead about caring for yourself, your loved ones, your community, anyone or anything…and help us all survive. 

 

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