Four Stigmatized Words that Freak People Out: Word 1

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2013 Nancy Virden

photo-24746059-sad-female-over-white-background.It scares people. I don’t know why it does, but bring up suicide outside a counselor’s office and people get squeamish. 

Mental Health advocates can shout that we are safer and healthier if we talk about it, but until people know how to discuss it, the conversations won’t happen.

At mention of this word, I’ve seen eyes grow wide, heads turn away, and feet start to shuffle awkwardly.

I’ve heard excuses for having to leave the room, and polite comments by those with no intention of understanding more. It is a shame that the word ostracizes hurting people. Those touched by it often find themselves alone.

Look at the difference over how Robin Williams and Joan Rivers are mourned. Two highly successful and popular comics died within a month of each other, yet after the suicide of Mr. Williams, most news reporters and commentators seemed angry and confused. Almost at once, people stopped talking about him. Ms. Rivers’ face is still on magazine covers and in the rumor mill. Her life is celebrated.

Maybe my point of view is skewed (very possible), but suicide remains a subject people speak of in hushed tones. It’s a secret no one wants to share even though informed conversations help people seek treatment instead of hiding.  

Since I’ve been talking about it openly, some people have backed off from me. It’s ok, I would rather hang out with friends who get it anyway. However, the enormous shame I am expected to carry is revealed in how often I am distrusted.  

The United States can and will turn people away at the border who have a history of mental illness and attempted suicide. Imagine that. Maybe for you this doesn’t seem too odd, after all stigma teaches us to be suspicious. Perhaps you think it is reasonable to question what a person with mental illness will do next.

I know probably thirty or more people who have attempted suicide. It’s not rare, and the nicest, least violent folks can reach despair. We are not crazy either. Suicide is composed mostly of one thing – the pain of life has exceeded our dread of death. 

It is impossible for most people to relate to an idea so extreme and opposite of the normal approach to survival. Relating is not necessary, acceptance of the person (not of suicide as a solution), is invaluable. 

Compassion for the hurting- even those in extreme emotional torment- is an act of love, not fear.


NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

*picture from qualitystockphotos.ocm





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