When I was 28, I seemed to have everything going for me. I was in my final year of law school. I was at the top of my class and had already secured my dream job. I had a loving, supportive, and attentive family. I had tons of close friends whom I spent time with and talked to daily. I had every reason to be on top of the world. And I was suffering from debilitating depression.
I had been depressed for most of my life, though I never got a diagnosis until my late 20’s. I remember experiencing feelings of not only low self-esteem, but borderline self-loathing as early as age 12. I always thought it was normal and that things would get better. Things never did. It felt like they got increasingly worse.
Throughout 2015, my doctor had me try several antidepressants. Some worked temporarily. Some had bad enough side effects that I didn’t try them for long. By November, I was exhausted and felt like nothing could ever help me feel normal. I felt hopeless and like a burden to everyone I loved. I felt overwhelmed by sadness. I just wanted out.
A journal entry I wrote that year reads: “I want to die. Every minute of every day. And I absolutely believe that anyone who lived in my world with my mind for even a single day would condone suicide. This is nothing short of torture.”
On December 9, 2015, I made an attempt to end my life. I won’t get into specifics, but I will say that I was determined, I was intentional, and I could very well not have survived. When my mom found me, I was unresponsive but alive. She called 911 and I was taken to the emergency room, where I was treated and admitted.
Though I have now found individuals and resources that have empowered me to prioritize my mental health – and my hospitalization was necessary during that moment – my road to recovery was filled with bumps as I entered into a health system that did not seem to take the time to understand my individual struggles, but rather treated me as if I was just part of their daily routine.
While at the hospital in December of 2015, I had a nurse in my room 24/7. It felt like I had no privacy for difficult conversations with my family members. The psychiatrist who visited me for a few minutes every day seemed to take little interest in me. The primary concern seemed to be prescribing medication and asking the same questions he had asked every other patient on his rounds. It felt very routine and impersonal.
After a few days, a bed opened up at a behavioral health facility. Upon arrival, I had to turn over my cell phone and other belongings. There was a scheduled time for everything. Three meals daily, arts and crafts activities, a therapist appointment, family visitation, and medication time. I felt like a zombie for much of my time there, and spent most of it secluded.
The days following a suicide attempt or call for help are crucial. This is when the professionals should be making the individual feel valued, understood, hopeful, and developing a long-term, feasible treatment plan. When I was discharged, there was no follow-up appointment: just a suggestion to schedule one once I was home, continue on my medication, and reach out for help if I felt suicidal. I felt like the system had failed me.
I want to be clear for anyone who may be struggling. My goal is to highlight the flaws in our mental health system, and spark conversation on how to fix them. My intent is NOT to discourage anyone from reaching out for help. There are phenomenal resources for anyone in a state of crisis. There are professionals genuinely invested in the compassionate and comprehensive care of their patients, and non-profits who work tirelessly to provide top-notch care. If you or someone you know are in that place where you need immediate help, the emergency room is a great place to start.
Fortunately for me, my story did not end that December. I discovered some incredible resources that changed my life. I attended support groups. I found a community of passionate advocates and volunteers in my local AFSP chapter. I developed a life-saving relationship with Jesus Christ and found a supportive and loving church. I found a therapist who had a genuine desire to help me.
These resources helped me realize something that should have never been questioned: mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. There is still often an unfortunate stigma associated with depression and suicide that makes people feel like they should keep their struggles silent. We have to do better. We have to demand better.
I support AFSP’s advocacy efforts to improve and expand our behavioral health system across the country so that everyone has access to affordable quality mental health care should they need it. Across the country, AFSP volunteer Field Advocates are actively sharing their stories, speaking out, and urging legislators to support a robust crisis care system. We must train our mental health professionals in suicide assessment, treatment, and management and increase the number of providers available to rural and underserved communities. I am grateful for the resources and individuals that I have found at AFSP. They have shown me that there is power in sharing my story and that I am not alone in my experience.
Here’s the thing. Depression is real. Anxiety is real. There is no quick fix for the imperfections that exist in our healthcare system, but I do know what each of us can do. Be kind to each other. Love your neighbor. Put in that little extra effort. You never know what profound impact you might have by putting forth the simplest of gestures to let someone know they matter. Together, we can make a difference.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are otherwise in crisis, know this: you are cherished. You are important. You can move beyond this and make an indescribable impact on the world around you. Please don’t give up. Help is always available. I know how hard it is – and I also know what it looks like on the other side.
You are worth it, and you are not alone.
To learn more about advocating for improved mental health and suicide prevention resources please visit the AFSP Advocacy Action Center to tell your elected officials why suicide prevention is important to you.
Connect with your local AFSP chapter.