When will mental illness be brought from the shadows?
Just recently, an acquaintance of mine from college, Isamu Jordan, took his own life at the age of 37. He was editor in chief at Washington State University’s school paper, the Daily Evergreen, when we met. I remembered him as a vibrant and passionate person, and was surprised to hear of his tragic end. Most recently he was a freelance music columnist and front man for a local hip hop band, The Flying Spiders. As I searched a little more through news and social media, he apparently had issues with depression in the past. He kept it well hidden from most people, however, and many commented on his big smile and giving nature.
Sadly, this is a similar story to a lot of people who decide to end it all. Whether through society pressures or just personal shame, many of us hide our inner demons rather than seek help to fight them. So to the outside world, everything seems okay, even great. Beneath the surface, however, lurks emotional pain and anguish that will not relent.
In honor of the young man mentioned above, I am going to lay it out for the general public that I myself have struggled with depression and a mild bi-polar disorder for years. I am currently seeing a mental health counselor and a separate psychiatrist to help that. It is not an easy thing to admit, as allowing the world to see a weakness is not really part of our culture. But I think it is an important step to fighting this by not being ashamed to admit I do have a problem. I wonder if Isamu had been able to share his pain with others if he would still be with us.
He’s not alone. Suicide rates are steadily rising in the US. More people are dying now from suicide than from car accidents in this country. What is really troubling is that suicides by people between the age of 35 to 64 increased by nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010. Apparently, the worse increase was in males in their 50s, whose incidence of suicides rose by 50 percent. That translates to 30 incidences out of 100,000 people. With over 300 million people in the US, we are losing nearly 34,000 people a year to suicides over all age groups. And it is estimated that for every successful suicide that 11 will attempt it. That is over 320,000 people in the US every year. And with rates going up it can only get worse.
Some people have noted that historically, suicides increase in turbulent economic times, like the period we have seen for the last decade. Another possible issue is many highly prescribed pain killers like OxyContin and oxycodone, which can be particularly deadly in large doses, have depressive side effects. Part of the problem is there really is not a single defined catalyst that pushes most suicides over the edge.
Another matter for consideration is that after someone close ends their own life, many who are left behind might see it as an option for themselves as they deal with their own suffering that is compounded by the dramatic loss of a loved one. Like mental illness, suicide is not a topic people are comfortable discussing. It is a taboo subject for many people, either due to religious or personal views, or just the fact that it is a scary and sad conversation to have.
But what if that discourse, however maudlin, could stop just one person from going over the edge and killing themselves? Just one less person leaving a family to deal with emotional loss, as well as possible financial strain due to most life insurance being void in the case of suicide, would be worth being uncomfortable talking about something dark .
As a final note, I want to say I am in no way trying to belittle the pain Isamu Jordan was going through that caused him to take the route he did. I know from my own dark days he must have had some big hurts going on, and I pray someday his family can make some kind of sense of the nonsensical feelings they must have. Hopefully, they will come to be able to remember Isamu like this.