You know those days you remember every year as it marks something important but sometimes you can’t really remember the very first time that day became important? Like your birthday, for example. You definitely don’t remember it, and even your mom probably doesn’t remember the actual day in full detail. But, we circle the date on our calendars and set aside time to celebrate, remember, or honor the initial event.
September 18th is one of those days for me. On that day in 2004, my dad died. Such a monumental change occurred on this day thirteen years ago. In all honesty, though, I can hardly even remember it. To quote many stories before this, it was just like any other day, until it suddenly wasn’t.
Suicide Prevention is a movement we all need to participate in. There are children ending their own lives today. Kind people, lonely people, popular people, fathers, mothers, nieces, uncles, sons; suicide plays no favorites.
Neglect of mental health, lack of kindness to others and bullying are all issues that contribute to the current suicide epidemic. Mental illness is real. It is not something you can choose to get over. Kindness is something so sparse within our social media feeds and daily dialect that we can barely find it. Bullying is rampaging our schools and taking students, young and old, to the darkest feelings one can have.
My dad, Bill Konzel, was a young man who loved to take things apart just to put them back together. He was in the U.S. Navy as a submarine engineer. He was a converted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He did decent financially and was finishing higher education. He was a father, brother, son and uncle. Many things can lead to mental illness. Certain life events such as divorce, death, financial stress, etc. can cause a break in someone. And sometimes, it’s just plain biology. I’m not sure what did it for my dad. It could have been my parents’ divorce and my mother‘s inability to function as a wife or mother sent him into a depressive episode, or his brain just wasn’t able to balance the hormones and chemicals properly all on its own.
All I know is that depression was REAL for him. It led him to alcoholism, anger, psychotic breaks and multiple suicidal attempts. Suicidal thoughts and tendencies really can get an uncontrollable grip anyone’s life, and in the end, they took his.
So, what can we do to help those in our life battle against this darkness? I’ve come up with 5 low-hassle, minimal commitment, daily actions based on my battle with mental illness and those I love who also fight it. These are ways you can be a solution, not a problem, in the midst of a frightening and devastatin epidemic.
1. Always send an invitation.
For a lot of people facing a mental battle, the strongest feeling is loneliness. Even in a crowded room with all of our friends, we can feel lonely. We cancel and flake out, a lot. But, never stop sending those texts and phone calls. Every person is different, so read the situation the best you can. Some people need a friend to be pushy with a “Hey, I’m ten minutes away so you better be ready. I’m picking you up and we’re going to dinner.” Typically, if you cancel enough times, people stop extending an invitation. But even just that simple invitation letting someone know that you miss them and want to spend time with them can go a long way.
2. Never assume.
I cannot stress this one enough! A lot of those affected by mental illness don’t exhibit clear signs to everyone they know. Sometimes they are the most bubbly, cheerful and fun-loving people we know. Other times, it’s more clear to see that someone is fighting darkness in their lives. Even if someone seems okay, don’t base how you treat them on an assumption. Always be kind, even when they’re closed off. Always reach out, even if you think they don’t need it. Always be supportive, even when they seem strong. A lot of people could have been saved had people not just assumed they were happy. Open an honest line of communication between you and those in your life about their mental health.
3. Prevent bullying whenever and wherever you can.
This goes out to all of those who have any pull or connections with the school system. Bullying is a huge issue and is leading to children taking their own lives. Suicide is the #2 cause of death for people ages 10-24. A child or adolescent should never feel so alone and sad that they think there is no way out. If you hear it from your child, even if it isn’t affecting them, you should speak out. Teach your kids the importance of standing up for others and being kind to all. Enforce this lesson whenever you can.
Junior and high schools are being attacked via the internet. The reach that teenagers have now from the tips of their fingers is causing a great amount of hurt. Bullies who hide behind their phones and internet aliases attacking and ruining others’ lives. It’s much harder to survey and watch over this way and that’s why so many parents are oblivious.
4. Make everybody feel like a somebody.
This is one of my favorite things to live by because even if someone means little in your life, they mean a great deal in someone else’s. Truly, every single person has a redeemable quality, a hidden talent or even just a personality that can bless this world. Every single person deserves to feel like they are wanted, needed, loved and supported. I don’t care if it’s the person next to you on the bus, the Instagram Influencer who has a million followers, the homeless man on the corner or whoever. Treat them like a human being. Treat them how you would hope your children, friends, spouses, siblings, etc. are treated. It costs zero dollars and little effort to be kind.
5. Know the signs.
About 80% of people who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. That means 80% of friends, parents, co-workers, peers, siblings, teachers, and anyone else in contact with these teens didn’t know and/or report the signs. The American Association of Suicidology created this easy acronym to remind people of what to look for:
IS PATH WARM