This past weekend, there were reports that Lowell Hawthorne, founder of Golden Krust, committed suicide. Early reports indicate that his employees were shocked and had no clue that he might have been dealing with some issues. There were comments like “If only he had spoken up” on social media sites.
So, what if he had posted that he felt suicidal and needed help? Would some people have checked in and made sure he was OK? I’d like to think so. But you know what else may have happened? His employees could have taken a screenshot of the post and gossiped about it while potential investors were becoming concerned.*
Everyone wants folks to ask for help—until they ask for help.
In theory, we now live in a world where we can (and should!) be open and honest about our mental health struggles. Whether or not we deal with anxiety, clinical depression or bipolar disorder, we should celebrate mental health awareness by telling our stories, discussing it on our social media pages, reaching out to others who may need us to and being transparent advocates for the cause.
Except we don’t.
I’m transparent now (for the most part). But I’m also 40-plus with 20 years in my field. And I just got to this transparent space a few months ago. If my 20-year-old daughter told me she wanted to write about anything involving her personal life—nope. I don’t care if it’s mental health, addiction or just her love of making cupcakes. If it’s anything that can be perceived as a weakness, I want her to shut up about it.
I kept my mental health stuff a huge dark secret for 20 years—even to myself. I didn’t tell my parents and I only hinted to my siblings and friends.
Because people still use the word “crazy” as a catchall term.
Because people still throw out random diagnoses to describe everyone from Bill Cosby to R. Kelly—and every mass shooter. While they have no clue what those terms really mean.
Because people still think Jesus can cure mental health issues. (He’s only so-so with cancer for some reason. He needs a little help there. But depression? He’s a miracle worker. If he can’t fix you, you’re not trying hard enough.)
Facts: When it comes to being hired for a job or choosing a spouse, we judge people. Like, we have to. That’s how it works. No one says, “You haven’t worked in 10 years, you have five ex-wives and you were locked up for most of the ’90s? Well, who am I to judge?”
I know for a fact that talking about therapy and psychiatry and my meds can have an adverse effect on my career. I am “othering” myself and giving editors and other writers the ability to side-eye me and think, “Should we put her on this project? What if she becomes a mass shooter? Or maybe she just gets depressed and doesn’t come to work for a month?”
I wish I could say that it was a good time to be open and public with your mental health. I wish I could say that if you need help, write a status on your Facebook page and ask for guidance. But I can’t say that. Not when I see how far we have to go when it comes to accepting those who struggle.
I actually have a much better chance of winning this battle now that I’m public. People approach me and if I can help, I do so, which also gives me purpose and helps me stay where I need to be. But how can I tell others with a straight face to share their mental health struggles when so many make troublesome assumptions that can cause more harm than good?
We can’t do it alone. But we also can’t trust anyone to get it. For me, it came down to finding ONE person I believed in. ONE person I knew would understand. ONE person I knew wouldn’t judge. But that ONE person who would also overrule me if I needed extra help. I met my ONE person in February 2016 and my life hasn’t been the same—for the better. (I so wish my ONE person took health insurance, but you can’t be picky.)
Here’s the tricky part. It can’t stop with the one person. You need to make sure you have a few people you trust. And as much as I’d like to suggest social media as a way of reaching out, it’s probably not the way to go unless you have a carefully curated social media feed and they’re all therapists and psychiatrists.
If you don’t have a person you feel comfortable confiding in and you’re in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255.
And for the rest of us? The ones who swear we would do anything to help someone in need?
There are five basic steps to help someone who is struggling. (Please note: It doesn’t involve telling them to go to church or go for a run or stop eating gluten or drink green tea.) The process is difficult, uncomfortable, repetitive and involving. And it doesn’t always work. If we don’t want to commit to work with those five steps, completely understandable. But if we can’t, let’s stay away from “helping” on social media as well.
*Feel free to screenshot this story. And gossip about me to whomever you’d like.