If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please don't stay silent

When someone loses their life to suicide, it's easy to blame them, and it's easy to blame ourselves. How could they do that? How could they leave us? And how could we not have known they were struggling?

No matter how far we've come in raising awareness about mental illness, there is definitely still a stigma around it — especially when it comes to suicide. There's a stigma that talking about it makes a person more likely to do it, and there's a stigma that people considering suicide are weak or selfish. Neither of these are true. The real truth is that what perpetuates suicide most is the stigma itself.  

"The unfortunate impact of stigma around suicide is people not seeking help when they need it. ... (They) internalize their feelings of shame because of this perception of how their peers and society view them. If a person has experienced stigma in the past, they may be reluctant to reach out for help again," an article by the Australian Government Department of Health's Suicide Call Back Service states. 

Last week, thousands of people's hearts collectively broke with the news of Stephen "tWitch" Boss' death. His wife Allison Holker described tWitch as a man who lit up every room he walked into, was the backbone of their family, and was the best husband and father. So, everyone was shocked when they found out his cause of death was suicide. 

Justin Timberlake tweeted, "It’s heartbreaking to hear that someone who brought so much joy to a room, was hurting so much behind closed doors. ... You just never know what someone is really going through. Take care of yourselves. LOVE that human in the mirror. Check on your people."

The former “So You Think You Can Dance” contestant and “Ellen DeGeneres Show” DJ didn't talk about his struggles. His grandfather Eddy said tWitch seemed just as happy-go-lucky as ever and showed no signs of mental health struggles or indication that anything was out of the ordinary.

Seeking professional help for a mental illness needs to be just as commonplace as getting treatment for any other physical disease. But according to Mental Health America, more than half (54.7%) of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment. And research shows that the stigma is even higher in the Black community.

According to McLean Hospital, "Black men, especially, receive the message to be strong and to deal with problems on their own. This masking of issues can lead to greater symptoms of anxiety and depression."

By talking about and memorializing tWitch, I'm hopeful that more and more people will realize that suicide can happen to anyone, and it's something we should all talk about before it's too late. We need to put a stop to the stigma that mental illness and suicidal ideations are weaknesses — because they're not. It's a disease, and it's no one's fault. 

In response to tWitch's death, clinical psychologist Dr. Rheeda Walker told People Magazine, "If individuals felt that they could get the help they needed and without judgment, I do feel that more people would get help. ... I believe that we have the tools to navigate our social circumstances, but we first have to recognize that there is indeed a crisis brewing just below the surface."

So I encourage you to talk about mental illness and suicide. Stop treating it like a taboo subject because it shouldn't be. Make it as common as telling a friend, "Oh my back hurts today!" or "Ugh I have a splitting headache!" You don't have to silently suffer. And the more you talk about it, the more others will feel comfortable talking about it too.

If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. Talk to your primary care physician, who can treat mental health conditions or refer you to a psychiatrist or therapist for additional help. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. 

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