Mental Health Awareness Month: Let’s Talk Personal Responsibility & Accountability
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
This is a follow-up to the previous blog called, Mental Health Awareness Month: Let's Talk Stigma and Discrimination. If you missed part 1, check out Mental Health Awareness Month: Let's Talk Suicide Rates. YouTube video and Soundcloud audio available.
Obviously, the topic of suicide enrages me because the statistics are gruesome. The last blog post externalized blame and asked us all (individuals and larger systemic barriers alike) to consider our apathy and complacency with regard to death by suicide. Unpopular opinion, I know. I will forever look in both and all directions because we have to learn to juggle multiple things at once.
To be clear, blaming individuals is not the same thing as blaming say, the state or politicians, or policy and lawmakers. The power differentials are not lost on me. My point however is that by the time we've solved (if ever) the structural issues, we can't then realize we've internalized it too and are doing the very work to revitalize and uphold it. It's individuals that built and created these systems we cannot escape. Laws and policies are written and enacted by people. Stereotypes didn't get emerge, they were purposefully engineered. They've built it up in such a way that it operates with or without them, true, but the two work in tandem with one another. So, let the status quo and "state in you" (Angela Daivs) go, it will not save you.
We can't keep stigmatizing and discriminating against those that are already in agonizing emotional and physical pain and or dealing with illnesses that make their brains think that killing themselves is preferable. It never is.
While we are told that "normal" brains don't do this, we have to also consider this a rational self-protective, and adaptive mechanism to feelings of extreme powerlessness and hopelessness. I'm not the first or only one to suggest this (see Dr. Gabor Maté's work for instance). Sure chemicals and hormones get thrown off and neurotransmitters set off and fire 'abnormally.' And also, if your brain perceives a sense of stress and threat (real or imagined) for prolonged periods of time, at some point it will trick you that escaping means literal death.
At some level, when you find out what people have been dealing with and enduring in silence, it sort of kind of makes sense they wouldn't want to experience that pain any longer. The issue is that there are alternatives to moving out of that pain that doesn't have to result in suicide.
There are other avenues. There always are. Even when channels lead to roadblocks, don't give up. It might not get better, but you'll never know if you die. Living is a gamble that way, take the risk and try. At least that is what I'm telling myself these days when it gets too hard and unbearable. One day at a time, tomorrow is never promised anyway. We may die of natural causes, there are so many going around right now. Just stick around and see how it ends (the world is mad evil right now, my natural inclination is to not stick around and see how it ends, rewiring the brain to give hope a chance). We have that agency to choose from. This brings me back to blame, responsibility, and accountability.
The fact of the matter remains, as others rightfully attest, in some cases, not much can be done to prevent suicide, as hard of a pill as that is to swallow. All the support, love, and care are extended, and no one is to blame. Personal accountability has to be exercised. You can bring a horse to water, as the saying goes, but you cannot force it to drink. Again, and also. This. And.
With that in mind, this post takes a departure from the last and addresses personal responsibility, self-accountability, and agency on the part of folks living with mental illness struggling with suicide ideations. Because there are measures that we can take to live safer lives that consider prevention, rather than waiting for crisis and reaction.
Here, I also want to address the weaponization of suicide too. It’s important to note that some people will threaten to kill themselves as a manipulative tactic to get what they want, to control others in abusive relationships, or give away their power and expect others to be responsible for their lives. I'm sure you've seen the shows and or movies that frame suicide in some of these problematic ways. I can think of Thirteen Reasons Why, for example. There are others.
As individuals and communities, we have a personal responsibility to ensure our own and each others’ survival. But increasingly, it gets harder and harder to take care of ourselves, let alone, each other. We are seeing what happens when we are all too traumatized and inundated with difficult emotions to show up for one another meaningfully. More of us know what happens when we are too affected to show up for others how they need. It has become a new normal, recognizing that others are too debilitated by their own stuff to show up for us how we need. We saw that social isolation and being in the house all the time takes a toll on our mental health; emotions play such a crucial role in our day-to-day lives. The bottom line is this: We are all more likely to be the worst versions of ourselves in our most negatively affected state, which is now.
People are burned out, overworked and underpaid. Mothers, single mothers especially, are doing the best they can to raise their families, worn out and stretched thin, fathers and other caregivers too. Individualistic societies put a lot of pressure on people to overperform with little resources or time to decompress. We can’t be everything to everybody, and boundaries are necessary.
Some people struggling with mental illness can overburden their loved ones, again, as tough of a pill as that is to swallow. It is true that caretaking is never easy when people are sick. Caretakers burn out too and are unappreciated, overworked, and hardly ever paid. Furthermore, symptoms like irritability, mood swings, restlessness, erratic, and aggressive behavior can admittedly distance people from their loved ones struggling with mental health-related issues. It can be hard to love people in general, but especially those who have minds that deviate from the so-called norm. I would be remised to not address these intersections.
People get cut off on purpose. Because their bad behavior violated community standards somehow. Others are made fun of and dragged because they did the same to others initially, and are in some cases, deserving of the counterattacks. Some things are just plain funny, even if it hurts other people’s feelings. We can’t and won’t like everyone, all the time, and will not care for the crisis of our enemies, or people we simply don’t like and will never bond with. Forcing relationships is counterintuitive to creating healthy communities. All of these factors come into the equation. These sides and angles are as equally important as the arguments made in the previous post. None of this is easy to digest. None of this is neat and tidy and the entire picture is actually quite convoluted.
If you are struggling with your mental health, reach out and seek professional help. That seems rather simple a request and ask. And also, as was discussed in the previous post, some people will suffer in silence and isolation, which I have and still do. There are reasons, including finances and unaffordability. We know universal healthcare is not a reality for most, and that therapy is costly and not always covered by insurance. Nor are some medications in different contexts. But there are lots of free resources now, especially online. From crisis hotlines to Facebook groups, meet-ups, message boards, social media networks, and virtual therapy, to mental health apps, as was stated in the previous blog, there are enough resources out there to share.
We have to want to live and fight to ensure our own safety and survival, even when it gets tough. We have to admit when we are unhinged and venturing toward crisis. They say people can't read minds, so speak up, closed mouths don't get fed. It's a different issue if you speak up and they ignore you, as tends to be the case with me. It's vulnerable to ask for help, especially after asking the wrong people. But we've got to challenge ourselves to try. We have more power than we know. Agency is our birthright. Personal responsibility is our own.
The last and final post in this series will address some solutions and alternative ways forwards. I myself have to look to others for this because there really feels like no other way out at times. I'll share 5 or 6 tips for alternatives to suicide. Until then, please feel free to like, subscribe, and share. These are difficult conversations, thanks for listening.
Until next time, in solidarity.