Recently the news has reported several young top athletes have suicided and then of course most recently, Naomi Judd. It’s astonishing and hard for others to understand why someone with so much going right for them, chose to end their life.
We see someone who is excelling in so many arenas and wonder why someone like that would end their life, yet “nearly three-quarters of young adults across the country believe ‘the United States has a mental health crisis,’ according to a new poll.” That’s a huge number of young people feeling that they are hurting and in need of help.
The stress we are putting on our young people is high. The standards of performance seem to rise each year. It’s no longer enough to get a 4.0. We need them to reach beyond perfection to feel like they are successful and yet, even at those points, they are still feeling they are falling short. Rudd from the Washington Post wrote, “many facing mental health challenges say they feel a sense of failure for not meeting that standard.” I can’t tell you the number of times I repeat to clients, “You are enough.” Those words don’t seem to be found in many places for them. The measuring sticks they are using far surpass anything that is reachable.
My job as a clinician has been to remind them that they are human. That we all have limits and that even without reaching those lofty goals, they will still be viable, successful human beings with something to offer.
Athletes, like service members, are usually in high intensity situations for long periods of time. However, they usually have a lull between seasons. It’s during these times that we need to be the most careful and watchful of these over stressed individuals. As Rudd, from the Washington Post wrote, “’It’s afterward, it’s in these periods where there’s less activity, less to do, less purpose and less structure, that it creates opportunities for people to reflect and to feel and to think’ about difficulties in other areas of their lives, Rudd said. In those times, problems tend to take on more emotional meaning, fueling depression, anxiety and substance use ‘that are always a part of the problem with suicide,’” Rudd explained.
Weekends maybe more difficult for those who are depressed as well due to the lack of structure and activity in their lives.
Rudd goes on to say that “the coronavirus created unique stressors and, in fact, military suicides spiked during the pandemic. ‘In the midst of crisis and in the midst of significant demands, people feel a real sense of purpose,’ he said.” Once a situation returns to normal or safe, the time demands reduce and simultaneously the sense of purpose is reduced. It’s at this crucial time when reflection begins, and the threat of depression and suicide rises.
This makes me consider our first responders and health department workers who have been overtaxed and stressed for a few years. What are they experiencing now? Are they people that we need to keep a close eye on now that the virus is waning?
Another aspect of this discussion that we cannot forget is the loneliness factor. Daily I hear from clients that they are lonely. The pandemic created separation in people, and this created a barrier to connection. Recently, I wrote a blog about how important socialization was to humans. It’s imperative for survival and yet, right now, we have so many that feel isolated and lonely. I see individuals who have gone on the dating apps only to discover that many don’t want a relationship but merely a hook up. Even through these interactions, they continue to feel lonely. It’s not through sex that we feel connected with others, it’s through the depth of conversation and vulnerability with others. Brene Brown states, “vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences.” Vulnerability seems to be something that we are in short supply of lately. The dating apps are leaving many lonelier and feeling their self-worth dropping.
I know from working with depressed people that they need a tether to hold them here on earth. It’s as if a person can just fly away or leave this earth without someone or something to hold them in place. In my work, I try to find who the tether is in their life but also to build in other tethers and grow them. Often, the more tethers a person has, the less likely they will be to suicide.
If we are going to change the direction of depression and suicide in our nation, we will need to do many things:
- Increase mental health providers (there is a whole other blog for this one!)
- Remove the stigma of having a therapist
- Create social groups that are in person and open for others to connect
- Reduce the success standards for our young people
- Change our language regarding what we view as success
- Encourage relationships for our young people
- Increase vulnerability
- Promote mental health care in work environments especially in high stress job
Sometimes however, we can do all the right things, and someone will still take their life. What I have learned is that depression can be a very dark and lonely place even among a crowd on a sunny day.
I hope that everyone that reads this sees some avenue of either helping themselves or helping others.
As always, we will do our part to help. Call for an appointment or refer a friend.
Resources (and great articles!)
Daring Greatly-Brene Brown