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Bringing the Conversation Back

Suicide and drug abuse are hard things to talk about.

Most people would probably prefer discussion of their religious or political views as opposed to a conversation about drug abuse or suicide. There always seems to be a general sense of uneasiness when those topics are breached because people aren’t always sure how to respond to them. Maybe they are worried about the responses of their friends, so those topics are then conveniently avoided. Unfortunately, not talking about something doesn’t minimize the impact that any of these issues have on us as individuals, or on our society.

This past Monday, one of the first things I saw on my Yahoo homepage was a headline about the tragic death of another promising young actor. Lee Thompson Young, known most notably for his role on the Disney Channel’s “The Famous Jett Jackson”, had taken his own life at the age of 29. Suicide and drug abuse have claimed the lives of several stars this year, with Mr. Young being the latest. Whenever I read or hear news like this, I often ask myself the same question – Why? Why is it that this person felt that they had no other choice? Was there nothing out there that could help them? They seemed to have achieved everything most people would want and had a successful career? What happened?

The reality is, when you are dealing with issues of mental health that affect the way you live and think every day, the “normal” thoughts that float around in many of our heads can quickly fade into a landslide of negative thoughts. These thoughts might tell someone that they aren’t good enough, or that everything bad that happens around them is their fault; thoughts that tell someone that they will never be happy or that no one truly cares about them. These thoughts cause people to lose their sense of value and self-worth, and are many times why those who become suicidal or dangerously addicted to drugs, don’t seek out the help they need.

It all starts with stigma.

Part of the reason why many are afraid to speak out about substance abuse or suicidal thoughts is because they are embarrassed.

Why?

When something isn’t widely understood or accepted, it is looked down upon. It is often more convenient for someone to accept what they have always heard or thought about a subject without looking into it to find out whether or not their view is rooted in any sort of truth. When those who struggle with issues of mental health are marginalized, people form the understanding that anything “mental health” related comes with complimentary serving of negative connotation.

What can be done about it?

Speak about it. Deaths in the United States through suicide totaled more than 36,000 people last year. Drug overdoses were responsible for over 37,000 deaths in 2010 (most recent available data). Comparatively, just over 16,000 lost their lives to homicide in 2012, and yet the hot topic of conversation nationally continues to be primarily centered about guns and violence, and not necessarily the mental health issues that often contribute to the tragedies. Why is that? It is because people aren’t aware.

When more people are aware, things will change.

When we realize that we have serious issues of mental health in this country that need to be looked at, and that often they are the motivators behind the shootings, suicides, drug abuse and overdoses that have claimed the lives of so many, then action will be taken. The discussions on mental health and drug abuse nationally need to continue, and not just conveniently mentioned when reporting on the death of someone famous.

Join the dialogue September 8-14 for National Suicide Prevention Week 2013.

  1. 1.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 May 2013. Web. 23 Aug. 2013.