I am willing to bet that you and I woke up this morning, dressed ourselves and set out for some agenda — whether it be work, school or another task. For some of us, the morning may have involved applying makeup, perfume and other items — all before walking out of the house. If you are anything like me, you may have even acknowledged at least one or two people with a smile or a kind gesture on your way to work.
Below the surface, I am also willing to bet that we are all currently facing challenges that have real emotional effects on us. Behind the smiles, the clothing and the gestures are trials that are far more real than we would feel comfortable sharing with others. The fatigue of battling a sickness or an infirmity; a broken marriage; a regretful past; adjusting to life after the recent death of a loved one; harrowing debts and financial shortcomings; or overcoming a losing battle with an addiction.
Many of us hide the most vulnerable parts of ourselves because we do not want to burden the rest of the world with our problems. Beyond this, our society is obsessed with the appearance of “winning,” rather than the reality of being vulnerable. We have created a false perception that vulnerability is a weakness, rather than a strength. That being “tough” and refusing to acknowledge pain is somehow strong. Our society embraces life’s “highs” and detests life’s “lows.” This is compounded by our culture’s insatiable appetite for the hyper-reality of social media. The end results speak for themselves. Drug addiction and sexual perversion have all but dominated our culture. Depression and other mental illnesses have surged among Americans. The suicide rate reached its height in 2018 at 25% increase, triggering a national crisis.
These staggering numbers tell us two things. First, people in our nation are in great pain. That pain is not a respecter of wealth, socioeconomic status, race, creed or religion. Consider that in 2018, world renowned purse designer and entrepreneur Kate Spade and CNN host celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain committed suicide after losing battles with mental illnesses. Their deaths cast a light on the startling suicide rate in our nation. There are 125 suicides per day in the nation. Beyond this, consider the publicly known individuals who attempted and survived suicide: Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Elton John, Drew Barrymore and Michael Phelps, among others.
Second, few are willing to confront that pain. Instead, many revert to antidepressants to numb their perception of the problem. Of course, enough of this practice leads to substance abuse and addiction, which exacerbates the mental illness. The trend in suicides among publicly known and successful individuals as a result of mental illness has surged in recent years — Heath Ledger in 2008, Robin Williams in 2014, Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington in 2017, and many others. The trend reveals a startling reality. Wealth and success do not alone fill a void or make an individual whole by any standard.
We each experience highs and lows in life. We may not be able to choose all of life’s peaks and valleys we experience in life. Nevertheless, we can make a decision to move forward in spite of the challenges and triumphs that may come.
The month of September is National Suicide Prevention Month. If you know or suspect someone who may be contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
A native of Pacifica, Jonathan Madison worked as professional policy staff for the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Financial Services, from 2011-2013. Jonathan works as an attorney and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.