When Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., checked himself into Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment for clinical depression, the first thing I thought was: Good for him. And then, wow: It’s hard to ask for help, to tell your boss that you need help and time off. It’s even harder for everyone else to know you need help when maybe you aren’t ready to talk about it.
I know this.
My mom killed herself almost 11 years ago.
On the fourth Thursday in April 2012, she jumped into the Grand Canyon.
My mom hadn’t told us she was suffering. She did so quietly, sometimes hidden behind a smile, sometimes busying herself with so many parties, trips and taking care of her grandchildren. Sometimes behind too big of a “hello.”
We didn’t know everything she was going through – she shared only tiny parts of her pain with different people in her life, and none of us knew the full picture or the extent.
One of her last notes to us read: “I was too proud to admit I needed help a very long time ago,” and “I believe I have been sick for a very long time and didn’t take care of me.”
It still hurts today to read that note. To share it.
How could this amazing woman, a retired nurse and hospital administrator who skied the Alps, went scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, who seemed to like nothing more than snuggling up with my four children and reading books, do this?
She didn’t think anyone could help. She was afraid to ask for help.
And it is easy now, to say, we all would help. More than 9 out of 10 people say they want to help someone in their life who is feeling suicidal, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s 2020 Harris Poll. But of those struggling, almost 7 out of 10 say what keeps them from asking for help or sharing with others includes shame and fear of judgment, or not knowing what to say.
I understand this. I, too, have been there.
Despite the number of people I have to take walks or go to dinner with, of friends who like my photos on Instagram, there still are times when I don’t feel like I can tell anyone exactly how I am feeling, that I don’t want to call in to work and say: I just don’t feel right, and maybe need a day.
We should aspire to a time when asking for help isn’t brave. That it’s as simple as going to the doctor when you have chest or stomach pain, or telling your boss you are staying home because congestion and coughing are consuming you.
It shouldn’t feel uncomfortable sharing, wondering if telling your friends will push them away, or trusting your boss to help you put your work life on hold (that’s if you are so lucky to have family leave). It’s hard to share how you feel and wonder if it will keep people from thinking twice before picking you for something – whether it is a senate committee or a job promotion.
But the reality is – we aren’t there yet. We still say: mental health issues – as if they’re all one thing. We still are afraid there is no one out there when I can assure you there is.
My mom didn’t think she had anyone.
In the end, it took 18 people to bring my mom home – from the rangers who searched for her to the helicopter pilot who took her body out of the canyon. Eighteen people cared about her when they didn’t know her – when she wasn’t here anymore to let her know. I can only hope that anyone who thinks they are alone, whose brain won’t let them see clearly, whose depression has taken hold, knows about the 18 people and that someone else is out there, someone else cares.
It is true: Telling your story is brave. Asking for help is brave.
We shouldn’t have to tell our stories to get people to change their opinions about mental health, to change the way they think.
But until then, we will.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call or text the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 any time day or night, or chat online at 988lifeline.org.
Laura Trujillo is the managing editor for Life and Entertainment and the author of Stepping Back from the Ledge: A Daughter’s Search for Truth and Renewal (Random House, 2022)
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