I have been blessed the past three weeks to travel around the state of West Virginia and speak about mental health to college students. One campus had a young man who had died by suicide a few months ago. He had been a member of one of the sports teams and suddenly quit. He began isolating himself and stopped hanging out with friends. Those things he did are warning signs of suicide. But people around him didn’t know those signs. Now they do.
Another campus had a young woman who died by suicide. She had a diagnosed, serious mental illness. I believe all family members who have loved ones who live with mental illness should be trained in mental health first aid. They should know the warning signs of suicide. Before it’s too late.
I go to college campuses to shed light on mental illness. I want people to know there is help and there is hope. Sometimes I get to hear the stories that inspire me and keep me fired up about spreading this message.
I had a college athlete approach me and say, “Ahh…I kinda struggle with this stuff.” I smiled. He knew I understood him. It didn’t take a lot of words to hear the emotional pain in his voice. His struggle is depression and often times that means a battle with suicidal thoughts. When he shook my hand and said, “Thank you for sharing your story.” It was a gift to me that in some small way I spread a little bit of hope.
Then, a few days ago I received an email from a man who had experienced a lot of tradgedy in his life. He was overwhelmed with grief, depression and was self-medicating with alcohol. He told me, “Thank you for what you do. You just might have saved my life.”
I didn’t respond to his email right away. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of my work. On some level I knew how important educating people about mental illness and suicide is. But on a deeper level grasping the fact that your work can help save someone’s life takes every word I say when I give these talks to a hire level. But the work is not about me. It’s about reaching people of all ages, one person at a time, and allowing the gifts, talents and skills I have been blessed with to help other people.
As I’ve become more visible, I’ve received some healthy feedback, mostly positive. But there are people out there who don’t understand why I would do this work. Why I would write a book that would highlight some of the most difficult experiences in my life. I did it and I would do it again. Because sometimes all some folks need to hear is “you’re not alone in this fight.”
Turns out–a little bit of hope saves lives. I’m humbled by this work. I’m honored for this calling.