SPECIAL REPORT: Breaking suicide stigmas

KNWA

In part three of our five-part special report series, KNWA's Lauren Krakau shows us how if people treated mental health like they do physical health, not near as many people would die by suicide.

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA) — In Arkansas, every 14 hours one person dies by suicide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“I reached a point in my life where I didn’t know what to do.”

“Richard”

A man, who we’ll call “Richard’ said he is an “average Joe” with everyday struggles.

“I just thought, ‘no, I can get over this, I can handle this, ya’ know?’ I’m a tough guy,” Richard said.

Richard is living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“You couldn’t drink enough beer to cover this up, you couldn’t drink enough liquor to cover this up, you couldn’t do anything to make it go away permanently,” he said.

Richard wants to remain anonymous because he’s afraid of what people might think of him, and he’s not alone.

Emily Gilbertson with the Arkansas Crisis Center in Springdale said if people treated mental health like they do physical health, not near as many people would die by suicide.

“I think the biggest thing here is that label and it’s a label that you know society has kinda placed on people with mental health issues,” Gilbertson said.

A label she said could be minimized if people simply treated mental health concerns, just like any other illness.

“If we went into a doctor’s office to discuss diabetes or something like that you’re not going to walk out of the doctor’s office most likely feeling ashamed or embarrassed or worried about how people are going to look at you,” she said. “I think that’s a huge part of why people don’t seek that care that they need.”

“When I finally did call, they said 80 percent guys wait until it’s too late,” Richard said.

Gilbertson said if society could shift its view to think this way, suicide wouldn’t be the 10th leading cause of death in Arkansas.

We could take measures to reduce that stigma and let people know hey it’s more than okay to reach for help, you need to be reaching out for help for your mental illness, just like you would any sort of physical health aliment that you have.

Emily Gilbertson, Crisis Services Program Manager, Arkansas Crisis Center

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, being scared of society’s reaction is a common feeling.

“A lot of times once you have that label, (society) only see that label,” Gilbertson said. “That alone is very tough for people because going into a situation where you know people are going to look at you differently, has a big effect on your decision to get or help or not.

Especially now where you have so many factors to consider… Will this affect my job? How are people going to look at me, at my job? What about my friends and family? Are they going to understand are they going to be supportive? Are they going to know how to act around me now?”

Emily Gilbertson, Crisis Services Program Manager, Arkansas Crisis Center

Gilbertson said if someone is too scared to come to you, then you should go to them and ask if they are okay.

“I would’ve asked for help a lot sooner if I would’ve realized that I wasn’t going to be put in an insane asylum or I wasn’t going to be locked up for reaching for help,” Richard said.

She said it’s even okay to ask a loved one if they’re thinking about hurting themselves, but the biggest way you can help is to listen.

“There’s a tendency to become isolated especially if you are struggling with the decision of whether or not to reach out for help,” she said. “Everything just starts to pile up and at that point when you don’t feel like you have any other option, oftentimes that’s when suicide comes into play.”

It’s a societal shift she said she hopes will improve with the next generation.

In fact, earlier this year, Florida passed a law requiring mental health classes in public schools.

Don’t wait until you’re so far down that hole, that it takes an Army to pull you out.

“Richard”

Gilbertson said if we could learn to open up and speak up, for people like Richard, it could make all the difference.

“Knowing that I did take the right step and made the right choice and went down the right path has been the difference literally between life and death,” he said.

The Crisis Center takes calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 888-274-7472

The center also offers classes to teach people how to step in if someone you know is contemplating on hurting themselves. 

The next one is February 27-28:

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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