We were reminded this week that even the funniest and most charismatic among us may silently struggle with a darker side.
Regular readers will recall the Alexandria Times has editorialized on mental health issues in the past. Like the rest of the country, we have seemingly awoken suddenly to the consequences of pretending mental illness is a private matter and leaving the unwell to deal with their personal demons alone.
In those opinion pieces we approached mental illness through the lens of averting a tragedy. From Aurora, Colo., to Newtown, Conn., Americans have spent the last few years learning the unspeakably high cost to all of us of letting mental health problems go unchecked.
As recently as a month ago, we applauded City Hall’s mental health first aid training classes. The seminars look to remove the stigma from mental illness and teach laypeople how to identify sufferers and point them in the right direction during times of crisis. While most of us cannot treat mental illness, we can at least assist those around us who suffer and hopefully point them in the direction of those who can help.
Comedian and Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams’ suicide earlier this week forces us to confront another consequence of mental illness. Though the Hollywood star had spoken openly about his addiction and depression, who among us wasn’t startled when the news broke? How could a man who brought so much joy to the lives of others have succumbed to the depths of an unseen darkness?
One of the many contentious conversations to emerge in the days since Williams’ death has focused on the morality of suicide. All we can say is the loss of any life is a tragedy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2011 — the most recent year for which data is available — 39,518 Americans committed suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that an American — a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker, colleague, employee and so on — took his or her life every 13.3 minutes that year. Those are a lot of tragedies.
We would like to take this moment to reiterate the need for all of us to banish the stigmas surrounding mental illness, educate ourselves on the warning signs and lend a helping hand to our fellow man. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers an invaluable guide to help identify friends and family struggling through a moment of crisis at its website: www.afsp.org.
Doubtless, there are people out there reading this right now suffering silently. To those of you: There is help. If you are considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, Military One Source (1-800-342-9647) or the LGBT Youth Suicide Hotline (1-866-488-7386). The Virginia Department of Health has a good list of available national and local resources at www.preventsuicideva.org.
You have the opportunity to save a life, be that your own or that of a friend. Please don’t let it pass you by.