I always hesitate before tackling a subject like this. I tend not to write blogs that are more than three paragraphs long and I fear I can't do the subject justice but then I don't think there is ever a truly succinct way to talk about something that is this dark or taboo. Today I want to talk about the epidemic of suicide. Particularly in our men. I've been doing this job for about 20 years now and it is becoming an increasingly prominent cause of death. It is now rarely a week that goes by when I am not connecting for someone who has lost a man in their life by his own hands. Sometimes drugs are the root of it, sometimes it's mental health, sometimes there are circumstances in peoples lives that are so dark I can't imagine not contemplating leaving. I see the underbelly of our culture a lot in my work and I can only marvel at how some people pull through. We live in an increasingly isolating culture with increasing amounts of pressure on our young people and sometimes when the momentum of youth subsides we are left with an ingrained trauma that we can't quite language. Back when we were more rooted in our sense of family and tribe we had people to turn to, now we seem to solely take ourselves to the doctors for a pill. I'm not saying that is not an important and healthy step for some but it is never the complete answer.
I love watching as we culturally learn to language not only mental health but mental well being. I see kids these days talking openly about anxiety, depression, pressure and the need to be your authentic self and I love the direction we are going in but at the same time I don't see the culture we are living in catching up with the openness of the young. I really do hope that one day we will get there but for the time being we still have some serious work to do. It is sadly a rare thing for a man who is suffering in this way to reach out, our culture has given men a pathalogical fear of failure and admitting that you are not coping often feels like you are admitting defeat. I know that there are many suicide hotlines, samaritans, charities that are set up to help and that's wonderful but the issue is getting from point A to point B. Making yourself available to listen is one thing, reaching out and being willing to pull someone out of their dark space, or just sit there with them and offer whatever comfort you can is another. What has struck me is just how shocked so many people are at the kinds of men who have taken their lives. It's so often the men we consider the “life and soul” of the party. It's the happy go lucky man. It's the loving father. It's the supportive best friend. These men have so often carefully, clinically constructed a persona that can let others believe that they are doing O.K even if the opposite is true. I understand it. I've done it myself. In those times all you want is for someone to reach past what you present to the world and let you know that they see you.
The way to tackle this issue is to do exactly this. Read up on it. Talk about it. Normalize it. Reach out to ALL of your friends and check in on them. Not just the friends who fit the stereotype of someone struggling, just reach out to ALL of them. Don't just let them know that you are there, go the extra mile, be an investigator. Be a detective. Dig in and ask questions. Follow your gut and if something feels “off” with someone then trust in that. I truly do believe in the power of community and the more that we learn to connect the more we can tackle this issue. We do also need to display our own vulnerability when dealing with this. I've spoken many times in this blog about my history and connection to depression and mental well being issues. It has taken a lot of work for me to get to where I am but even I still need constant reminders to put self care first. I understand this journey, as you can imagine I had a very strange time growing up hearing voices and just seeing the world differently. Back then I didn't know how to ask for help and we weren't culturally versed in offering it. This is why I think it's important for us at this cultural crisis point to not just learn how to be there when someone reaches out but to be brave enough to reach in.
We can only do what we can do.
We can only start when we are ready to show up.
Ryan James x