First year writing student Hannah Foreman tackled a different approach when she was asked to remix an essay she wrote for WRA 150. A loved one of Foreman’s has suffered from depression, and attempted suicide as a result of those feelings associated with the illness. This is what inspired her essay, and what motivated her to run a bake sale for suicide awareness and prevention in Brody Fall semester 2014 .
In 2012, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 40,600 suicides, which makes suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. One reason for such a high number could be a result of the stigma associated with mental illness, and could be why people neglect to seek help. After all, mental illness isn’t always approached in the same way as the stomach flu or a broken arm. These are sicknesses and ailments of the physical, the tangible. Mental illness is something you can’t see, and is treated a lot differently than physical illness (this cartoon from the Huffington Post is a great representation of this idea).
As such, mental illness carries the weight of shame, the idea of, “you could get better if you really wanted to.” When people don’t get better without proper attendance and care, without “willpower,” they’re seen as lazy, crazy, when they’re absolutely not; they’re sick. So, how can we get rid of the stigma? I asked Foreman for some ideas, and she said:
“To lessen this stigma the community needs to be more accepting of mental illness. Every individual needs to do their part to understand what’s really going on with someone who’s suffering. Know that everyone is silently battling something that you have no idea about, so do your best to be kind and treat others with warmth and compassion.”
I agree with Foreman. You do truly never know what someone else is going through, and this is especially important to remember on college campuses like Michigan State University. According to the JED Foundation, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-aged students, and half of all college students have had suicidal thoughts. College is a time of stress. There’s the pressure to do more, and be more. There’s non negotiable deadlines. There’s the idea that you need to 4.0 everything, maintain a social life, hold down a job, and have enough time to just relax, and many students experience the pressure deeply and unbearably. If you find yourself feeling these overwhelming feelings, do not lose hope. As Foreman said:
“Days get brighter and life gets better. Someone out there loves you and supports you. There are also people who are willing to help you battle what you’re feeling.”
There are professional resources right here in East Lansing and Lansing to help you fight. Michigan State has The Counseling Center, for example, right in the Student Services Building on campus. Additionally, there’s the The Listening Ear Hotline, a 24-hour crisis hotline. If you find yourself suffering, do not hesitate to seek help from these resources. You can get better and deserve to get better. If you think one of your friends is suffering, let them know of these options. Additionally, Foreman gave the following advice:
“Be the best friend you can be. Be supportive and positive. Just be there for the person when they need you and look for cues that indicate suicidal thoughts and actions.”
With her bake sale, Foreman raised $140, all of which was donated to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit organization. The most important thing we need to remember is that suicide is preventable, and we need to contribute to the idea that seeking help is not shameful, but just as necessary as going to the doctor for pneumonia. Mental illness is an unseen heaviness that affects the heart and mind, and deserves the same attention as a physical illness.
Even if you’re not personally affected by mental illness, you can still do your part to help, be it through donations to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, volunteering at the Listening Ear, and just by doing your best to put more kindness in the world. Smile at a stranger, pay it forward, hold the door, or just be kind for the sake of being kind; I think the world needs more of that.