Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide statistics.
Monday was our first display at Merrimack College. The anticipation before a display always has me ready to go in the morning, ready to tackle the mission. There is always an overwhelming sense of solidarity among staffers, volunteers and faculty alike.
There are many interactions that stick with me. Throughout the day, the fact that everyone has been affected by suicide and/or mental illness comes to the surface. Strangers become friends, a shoulder to lean on, and differences are put to the side. Suicide affects people from all backgrounds and does not discriminate.
A conversation that stuck with me in particular was a student who opened up about his friends’ attempt last year. He called 911, which in turn, saved her life. He stated that making this call was difficult, but that he would rather lose a friend than lose a life. Please, I urge you to make a phone call if you suspect a loved one is struggling or experiencing ideations. We spoke about how society creates so many expectations- finish school in x about of years, get a job in a certain amount of time. I took a year off school to focus on mental health. We need to stop glorifying the idea of following a certain timeline. You are not less of a person if you only take a few classes each semester — if you need to take time off work to recover.
One of the mental health clinicians pointed out to me how many of the backpacks are young males. Mental illness is a taboo subject among men in this country. Males are taught to suppress their emotions at such a young age and in the end, this can be deadly. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among men ages 18-30. For any male struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, depression and so forth- you are not less of a man because of this and I stand behind you. It is not weak to speak.
Throughout the day, I spoke with so many individuals on how far kindness goes. We never know what demons any given person is battling. Give that stranger the compliment that’s on your mind, smile at the person in the elevator, be kind to those making your coffee. Words and gestures matter. I know, because I’ve been there.
Merrimack’s Active Minds chapter had an incredibly strong presence. The chapter has been around for about 3 years and consists of so many warm, welcoming, determined individuals. Throughout the day, they recruited lots of new members- another benefit of the display.
As we packed up, there was a feeling of accomplishment . All smiles. I have a difficult time meeting so many remarkable people and saying goodbye just as fast as we say hello. However, I know our paths shall cross again. We are building an army of mental health advocates. There is a war to be won.
Here I go, on the road again.