I worked in the Psychiatric Department at Ohio State for nearly five years on clinical research trials. In any given day I interviewed between 12-15 patients, administering various research scales, and collecting information for the MD who would see the patient next. Every patient, every visit, I administered a scale called the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (known as the C-SSRS). If you’ve ever done psych research you know this scale. It asks about suicidality (how suicidal someone is feeling), intent, plans, and attempts. It assesses the severity of an illness--in this case mental illness.
Over the course of five years, I sat across from people from all walks of life: male, female, transgender, people with different income levels, people who brought their kids to appointments, a woman in her late 80s, a man who lived out of his car, one of Columbus’ most influential lawyers. People. I imagine it was similar to working in cancer research. Our patients had nothing in common and yet everything in common. Most of them had tried everything. They were very sick, and they were trying to get better. The only difference was, unlike most cancer patients, most of our patients were ashamed.
The majority of our patients inquired aggressively about HIPAA and privacy rights. The majority of our folks didn’t want their neighbors to know they were on medication, or their spouse to know that they were in therapy, or their kids to think they were, “weak.” For this reason, many, many, many of our people suffered in silence.
I make the comparison between cancer and mental illness a lot because it’s simple to understand and, I think it adequately exemplifies the stigma associated with mental illness compared to other terminal or chronic illnesses. Not many people are embarrassed to say that they have to go to chemotherapy. I wish we could say the same for mental health treatment.
Our country is facing insurmountable rates of mental illness. The numbers are only going up. 1 in 5 adults experience a mental illness in a given year. 18.1% of adults live with an anxiety disorder. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness start before the age of 14, and 75% start before the age of 24. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24. 90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness.
We HAVE to start talking about mental health and mental illness the same way we talk about our physical health. We have to have these conversations.
Luckily, there are people in our community working to create change. One of our favorite local non-profits working in this space is 1N5. Nancy Eigel-Miller, Executive Director, lost her husband to suicide in 2008 and has been working tirelessly since to advocate for and educate on mental health and mental illness. We sat down with 1N5 Executive Director to ask her take on what our followers should know about suicide. Here is Nancy’s advice.
1. Don’t treat suicide like an off-limits topic. Nancy agrees that we have to normalize conversations. Retrospectively, there are symptoms that she might have recognized and addressed with her husband, but she didn’t know what to look for, or what to ask about. Nancy is changing that with her mental health education programming across the city which works to ensure that every youth, parent, teacher, and community member knows how to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicide, and knows how to talk about them with loved ones.
2. Stop saying “committed suicide.” Person-centered language (click here to learn more) has been around for a long time, but is just finally transferring over to mental health and addiction in our society. Committed suicide implies a choice, a wrong doing. Mental illness is just that; an illness.
3. Ask the hard questions, and refer people to help. If you think someone you love is suffering, ask. Listen, support, and suggest help. Ask what you can do. Encourage them to contact a professional.
Last year 1N5 implemented programming in 15 local schools, and 5 local universities reaching over 85,000 students. 1N5’s annual fundraiser is the Warrior Run which raises money directly for mental health education for youth. The 5K goes straight through Mariemont, and has an awesome afterparty. Join us in supporting mental health and changing the conversation! The race is October 6th this year--a great way to get ready for the QueenBee the following weekend.
Let us know, how do you take care of your mental health?
If you suspect a loved one, friend, colleague, or neighbor needs immediate help contact The Suicide Prevention Hotline. To find professional mental health care locally click here to find a provider for youth (up to 25), or here, here, or here, or here for adult providers.