By Barbara Louise Davis
As a person who has survived the suicides of my mother, spouse and an uncle, news of Robin William’s death reminded me of the guilt, confusion, anger and compassion I felt in those times. It took years to get to the compassion, and longer to lose the feelings of blame. Some of this happened through therapy; some as a result of working with CAL’s consumers with mental and physical disabilities over the last 30 years. Lessons I have learned are shared below:
Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.
I’m not ashamed of having depression and PTSD. I’ve taught my son not to be ashamed of mental illness, and to seek treatment when or if needed. Sadly, not everyone feels this way. There is still a lot of stigma attached to mental illness, which causes some not to seek treatment. We need to open our minds and have dialogs with our children and others in order to lessen this stigma.
Budget cuts make getting help difficult.
Services to those who are poor and/or living with a physical or mental disability are usually first to be cut. A relative is currently trying his best to get services for mental illness, only to have doors shut in his face constantly due to lack of funding, The frustration he is experiencing as he seeks help is worsening his condition. Sadly, in my years of working with individuals who are mentally ill, I have seen this often.
Love isn’t always enough.
Robin William’s daughter expressed the thought that she would never understand why, when he was so loved, he couldn’t stay. For many years I felt this way about my mother. She too, was much-beloved. I also wondered why she didn’t love us enough to stay. It took me years to understand that she probably lived as long as she did because she was so much loved. I now understand, too, that she loved us all very much. Unfortunately, there came a time when the emotional pain was so overwhelming it over-rode all rational thought and made it impossible for her to think about anything but ending the pain.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
Sometimes we grow frustrated trying to get a mentally ill individual to take medications, seek therapy, hospitalization, or join a support group. People can be quick to pass harsh judgments on those who don’t do what needs to be done to “get better.” In truth, mental illness can render a person physically debilitated. There are fears of financial burdens, of being overwhelmed by paperwork, “telephone tag”, the general run-around that can accompany a quest for services, and being stigmatized by others. We can help by being patient and encouraging, by offering help with some of the phone calls and paperwork if needed, and by refraining from showing annoyance or frustration if the individual isn’t acting as quickly as we would like. We should realize that, as a psychiatrist once said to me, “The only suicide we can prevent is our own.” I share this not to discourage one from doing whatever can be done to get the person help, but so that survivors can understand they did not fail, and are not to blame. There is only so much we can do; the rest is up to the person with mental illness.