This was a special week here in the United States as we remembered those servicemen and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country. Again I say thank you to all of those who paid that sacrifice and to their families. Memorial Day has come and gone but the loss of lives will continue. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a family member of someone who died trying to protect our freedoms and the freedoms of others. It was a selfless decision they made to join the services. That coffee you drink every morning, this laptop I’m typing on, the job you have would not be what they are if not for men and women who are willing to risk their lives to give you those freedoms. We don’t know the stories of how each and every service member died but what we do know is there are more that are coming home after surviving their service and ending their lives because of a lack of help.
Every day this country loses more than one veteran per hour to suicide. A study of 21 states showed the number to be a total of 22 per day but the last study was completed in 2013 with not even half the states reporting. The fact that its even ONE an hour is startling. A person that sacrificed for you and for me can’t stand to live another minute. If you suffer from a mental illness chances are you’ve been at that same point. But staying with the veterans most fail to ever seek treatment. What is troubling is the disparity between female service members and civilians. In 2014 a study showed that suicide rate among service women was 18.9 per 100,000 compared to civilians who had a 7.2 per 100,000 rate. WE and I do mean WE as a country are failing these service members. Most who commit suicide never bother to seek treatment due to potential embarrassment. And those who do seek treatment could see a VA waiting time of 40 days or longer to see a psychiatrist. This is unacceptable. We have projects such as wounded warrior and others that do a tremendous job helping those injured but what about those with an injury that can’t be seen and most are afraid to ask for. We must do more!
Help is a funny thing. It’s one of the few guarantees I am willing to make in life. I can guarantee that we have all had help and we’ve all asked for help at some point in our life. Remember that night you had a flat tire and needed a ride from a friend? Remember when you lost your job and you needed some help from a friend for gas money? I’m sure everyone remembers moving at least once and asking friends to pitch in to help make the move go faster. It’s amazing how easily we can ask for help for certain things. But it’s also amazing how afraid we are to ask for help when suffering from a mental illness.
Veterans aren’t the only ones that struggle with seeking help for a mental illness. More than 70% of men who commit suicide never sought professional help prior to doing so. In 2016 nearly 45,000 Americans died from suicide. The WHO estimates that nearly 1,000,000 people die from suicide each year. A rate of 16 per 100,000. That’s a rate of one person every 40 seconds with data suggesting that by 2020 it will be one person ever 20 seconds. Lets look at more startling facts. From 2007 to 2015 suicide rates doubled among teen girls and grew by more than 30 percent for teen boys. It’s estimated that 1 in every 12 teens has attempted suicide. One final figure to pound home my point. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among boys ages 15-25.
45,000 is roughly how many people can be seated in the Los Angeles Angels stadium pictured above. Imagine if every person in this stadium died at the same time. Would we then see the action that is needed to address this epidemic?
Why?? Why are these numbers as high as they are. There are multiple factors. It’s the fear of those around you finding out. It’s the fear that your diagnosis is going to end your life as you know it. It’s not knowing who or where to turn to. And then there is the stigma. The negative impression the term mental illness gives. Every time you hear of a mass shooting the first thing discussed is how mentally disturbed this person must have been. Who wants to be lumped into that group? We have teens who enter their most important self-image time of their life and the last thing they want is their friends knowing they suffer from a mental illness. It’s hard enough getting through those school years as it is let alone dealing with a mental illness. We must do better with the education of our children. Expecting to turn the tide on the stigma surrounding mental illness by focusing on the parents isn’t going to work. We must start at the middle school age. Where kids are starting to develop self-awareness and self-worth. I compare the fear people have of those with a mental illness to the fear people had of those with AIDS/HIV in the 80’s. That fear existed out of a lack of knowledge, a lack of compassion, and a lack of interest of trying to understand. There is a huge difference between not understanding and doing nothing to try to understand. WE must ALL do our part to put an end to this nasty stigma.
I want to finish with the issue of help. We all have asked for it. We know we have the ability to ask for it. The problem when struggling with a mental illness is the belief that you are worth helping. I’m going to be here today and many more days to tell you that YOU ARE WORTH HELPING! You can always message me here or on twitter @TonyK10933. I’m a judgement free listener who will do what I can to help you.
And remember… YOU MATTER!