This morning, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend and mother of their three month old child, and then turned the gun on himself at the Chiefs practice facility. As one would expect, speculation and judgement blew up on traditional and social media. The reasons behind what happened may never be known. I’m not going to join in on that conversation in this post. What happened is a terrible situation and will affect many people for years to come, some for the rest of their lives.
We lost Don Harman and John McClure around this time last year. The families of both men used the tragedies as a way to shed light on what tends to be a rather taboo topic to discuss openly, and KCUR devoted an episode of Up to Date to it. As most people know, the holidays can be a particularly stressful time of year, but what if we could help sooner? I’m in no way suggesting that every suicide is preventable or equating these three events to one another, but there are certainly things we can all do to acknowledge the importance of mental health in each one separately.
So, why do I care so much about this? After all, I didn’t know Belcher, nor did I know Don or John well, though I’d met both and have friends who were very close to both of them. I care because when public figures battle issues like depression or addiction, the community reacts. People generally feel as if they actually do know those in the public eye. It makes us reflect on our own lives, the people we know, the situations we’ve encountered. Like other traumatic public events, it can bring us together. If there was one thing about the reactions this morning that disappointed me, it was those discouraging open communication and discussion on the basis of it being disrespectful to talk about it. Judging, drawing your own conclusions about reasons, being a jerk (some people were actually speculating on the impact it would have on their fantasy leagues) – sure, those things are disrespectful. Talking openly and honestly about a situation, trying to understand it and how you identify with it- that’s human nature. Reaching out to those around you to do it is a coping mechanism. Discouraging those conversations is continuing this notion that talking about problems is showing weakness and should be avoided – wrong, wrong, wrong.
My sister majored in psychology in college and has worked as a case worker in a homeless shelter and currently does intake at a drug and alcohol addiction and rehabilitation center. She’s seen what people are dealing with when they walk through those doors, so I asked her to recommend some resources. No, she’s not a trained psychologist, but neither are most of us. Sometimes we are silently or passively called on as friends, relatives or coworkers to recognize issues before they get too far and to try to find ways to help. It seems there are really two parts to this – seeing the warning signs, but also dealing with the aftermath. These events can be traumatic and everyone reacts differently, sometimes in ways they couldn’t have anticipated. One interesting organization she pointed me toward was Mental Health First Aid, a “train the trainer” type organization that “…helps the public identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.” But again, not everything is preventable. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a number of resources describing what to expect after a traumatic event occurs and how to cope, whether it’s from the perspective of a family, a child, a school-based event or just generally for adults. These are mainly resources for how to deal as the friend or family member of someone dealing with demons. If you’re the one dealing with them yourself, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one place to start. This list is most certainly not exhaustive, but good resources for learning more about mental health in general.
Some might argue that I’m in no way qualified to have recommended any of the above. To that I say, you’re probably right. I’m not trained in any of it, but learning as much as I can about these issues is my own personal coping mechanism and has been for a long time. It helps me better understand the world around me and the impacts these events have on everyone they manage to tangle in their webs. If I can help even one other person by putting them out there, it’s worth it. If I can spur even one conversation about mental health and its importance and heavy stigmatization in society, it’s worth it.
“If we must say something, let’s at least only say true things.” (Zadie Smith on David Foster Wallace, who we also lost to suicide)