Today is Mental Health Awareness Day. Today is a day to remember. Today is a day to reflect. Today is a day to finally say, “Not. One. More”.
Robin Williams. Anthony Bourdain. Alexander McQueen. Kate Spade. Kurt Cobain. We know these names because they have given us the greatest gifts that humans can give one another. They have given us laughter, food, music, clothes, movies, art. But there are names that we will never know. There are names that fight a hidden battle behind their eyes and between their ears. And they fight it all alone. And that needs to stop. Today.
The World Health Organization estimates that 800,000 people commit suicide every year due to mental illness. 800,000 people. That is 800,000 people too many. Maybe you have lost a loved one, or you know someone who has lost a loved one. Or maybe you yourself have thought about what this world would be like if you weren’t in it. And the answer is, it would be desolate. It would be empty and missing a valuable life that has meaning and purpose and so much worth. There would be people on this earth — many people — who would suffer and grieve to lose you. You are not alone. And you don’t have to suffer alone.
In 2005, Frank Warren started a community art project and social experiment in the United States called PostSecret. Initially, he placed 350 self-addressed and stamped postcards in 350 library books with the instructions for the person who found the card to anonymously create a work of art on the front of the postcard (using any medium: collage, painting, drawing, picture, simple black and white letters, etc.), and confess a secret. The only rules were:
- It had to be a secret that had never been confessed.
- It had to be true.
About half of his original postcards returned. But then a few weeks later, Warren started getting hundreds and then thousands of postcards weekly as people across the US started sending in their own postcards with their secrets, secrets that ranged from the funny like: “I pee in the shower” or the anonymous Starbucks barista who confessed: “I give decaf to people who are RUDE to me.” But it also included the angry, the guilty, the sad, and the heart-breaking: “I know he doesn’t love me anymore” and “In the past 15 years I have traveled the world and everyone thinks my life is glamorous. But every time I plan another move, I pray that someone will love me enough to ask me not to go.”
Warren started a blog and would post 10 secrets every Sunday. In two years, 2,500 original works of art on a 4×6 postcard were displayed on this blog. One Sunday, he posted a secret that said, “I have lived in San Francisco since I was young… I am illegal… I am not wanted here. I don’t belong anywhere. This summer I plan to jump off the Golden Gate.”
Within 24 hours, 20,000 people had signed up for a Facebook group called “Please Don’t Jump” and users were flooding in their comments saying things like: “I want you here” and “If I knew when you’d be at the bridge, I’d drive all the way from Ohio to meet you there, and hold you until you changed your mind.” People in San Francisco made posters and hung them on the bridge that said, “Please don’t jump” and some even offered their phone numbers to call them for help. These were all complete strangers.
And it speaks to the heart of humanity. That despite the ugliness in the media and the trolls online, that perhaps the vast majority of people on this earth actually do care. And all you need to do is speak, and help will be a phone call, an email, a handshake, or a hug away.
This year has been a doozy. Depression and anxiety sky-rocketed during the lockdowns. It feels as if disaster after disaster keeps hitting us all individually and collectively. Of any Mental Health Awareness Day, this year is by far one of the most important. It’s okay if you are not okay. It’s okay to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you brave. Sometimes, living requires all the courage that we can muster, but you do not have to do it on your own. As Blanche Dubois famously said in A Streetcar Named Desire, “I’ve always depended upon the kindness of strangers.”
If you need to talk to someone, please do. We all want you here.
It can be overwhelming just trying to figure out who to call, who to trust, and who is recommended. So, if you don’t know where to look, try starting here.
For free telephone counseling hotlines in the UAE click here.
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