award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host
On August 12, 2014, after reading judgmental comments about the reasons that Robin Williams ended his life, I could no longer remain silent about my own mental health challenges. Therefore, I openly and boldly disclosed my battle with depression and that I nearly ended my life in March 2014 on my Facebook page.
Approximately a week later (on August 18, 2014), I reclaimed my life by further releasing my story on a national broadcast of the “Maggie Linton Show” on SirusXM. This public disclosure was one of the hardest things I’ve done. Nevertheless, the next day, I posted my first article about mental health --- “Depression – An Unnecessary Stigma.”
It’s interesting that I’m usually quick to help others, but didn’t take immediate action to help myself. One of the biggest barriers – for me and others who suffer from depression or have had a suicidal thought – to recovery is being ashamed or embarrassed to tell anyone about personal (e.g., mental, physical, financial) challenges. It’s stigmas about any issues that can cause mental health concerns – along with the potential judgments from others – that prevent too many individuals from getting assistance to get, feel, and be better.
After my disclosure (albeit in an extreme manner), I immediately experienced tremendous relief. My personal challenges were burdensome; however, the weight of dealing with my issues alone and internalizing my feelings only led to compounding my pain. Sadly, my desire for self-preservation of my image, reputation, and feelings of self-worth – including my pride and ego – delayed my healing process, which could and should have started much sooner.
Many years ago, I read an article in which the author wrote, “No one ever died from embarrassment.” At the time, I couldn’t connect with this message’s meaning, but I always remembered it because this was a different consideration. Notwithstanding, today I understand its significance.
After years of being vulnerable about addressing and overcoming my educational/mental health challenges, I’ve learned that others’ negative considerations about anyone or their circumstances shouldn’t (necessarily) be a barrier to someone securing assistance to help change or save their lives. Moreover, if embarrassment and humiliation are the costs to move-forward with a life, then, so be it. Life isn’t supposed to be a lonely or solitary journey. If individuals who supposedly love or care about someone place more value on evaluating or judging a person or their situation --- especially in a time of need, then, it’s time for immediate replacements.
Over the past three years, numerous individuals have connected with me to share their or a loved one’s battle with depression, suicidal thoughts/attempts, or a suicide. Even though these are difficult communications and conversations, I’m blessed that my lived experiences can help others to be and do better. Collectively, we must “become comfortable with uncomfortable conversations;” otherwise, too many individuals will needlessly suffer (alone or with others), abuse themselves/others, or die.
It was extremely difficult for me to admit to myself and others that I was depressed, along with wanting to end my life. The situations that led to my mental health decline were a direct result of my desires to not be complicit (directly or indirectly) to unethical actions or behaviors. In doing so, I learned that wanting to treat people with dignity or do the appropriate things (e.g., moral, ethical, legal, or spiritual) could lead to negative and bullying attacks by ethically challenged individuals.
One of my nephews asked me, “Given the bad things that happened to you for standing-up for your beliefs, would you do it again?” My immediate and unequivocal answer was… “Yes!!!” In “choosing to take a stand” against things that were wrong to me personally, ethically, morally, and spiritually, I changed in unimaginable ways to become a man I never imagined I could or would be. By giving myself permission “to do and be the most positive version of me without exception,” I learned the true value of life.
“Your darkest days don’t define you, but instead provide an opportunity for you to display your strength and character, which will ultimately drive the individual you become.”
Life isn’t about solely focusing on individual desires; it’s also about making positive contributions for yourself and others, which can lead to collective gains. By disclosing, identifying, and addressing the sources of my pain, I allowed myself to begin to heal.
Please understand that you and your life – even during the most challenging times - are meaningful, have value, and have the potential for many future successes. If you’re alive, there are plentiful opportunities to begin again and drive positive changes for yourself and others.
“A life is not a failure. By being born, you’re already a success and one hasn’t failed until death… and even that’s questionable.”
Prior to my near-suicide, I didn’t know or believe in my personal or life’s value; however, now, I clearly understand my personal worth. If you haven’t discovered yours yet, keep searching --- as happiness can sometimes be discovered in the least likely locations. For me, it happens to be writing about, teaching, and working with at-risk individuals --- including inmates.
My journey to battle my depression and recovery after my near-suicide are well-documented for me to remember and to share my painful lessons with others to help them on their journeys. If you’d like to learn more about my journey to reclaim my life, please visit my website at: www.slyoung.com/depression.html.
Anyone who needs assistance should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
This post originally appeared on S. L. Young’s blog on his website at: www.slyoung.com
Learn about Mr. Young’s experiences voluntarily teaching at a jail at: www.slyoung.com/jail-perspectives.html