I’ve always been passionate about advocating for mental health. I’ve struggled with it for years, way before my first diagnosis of depression in 2009, I’ve watched family and friends struggle with mental health disorders. and I’ve been graced with the opportunity to listen to the stories of so many people who have felt comfortable opening up to me and sharing their stories of mental health.
But, this year, talking about mental health has become even more important to me. On September 20th, 2021, my father took his own life after struggling with depression. That day has changed me forever. It has changed the lives of my sister, his siblings, his wife and step-children, and so many more. We will never be the same.
It’s hard not to feel angry. My days shift between feeling sad, feeling numb, and then wanting to scream at him for leaving us. But I know he was in a lot of pain. I think that’s what people forget – mental health is painful. It can be so painful you would do anything to make it stop.
My dad made it stop.
The week before my dad died, I spent an entire Saturday morning working with him in his garden. I knew he suffered from depression and we even talked a little about our individual struggles and coping strategies that day, but I had no idea what he was planning. He seemed content but, looking back, I think he was hiding how he really felt. He didn’t want anyone to get in the way of his plan.
So, here is what I have to say: Do not wait for someone to open up to you. Do not expect a suicidal person to reach out. Take control and check in. Tell the people around you how much you love them. Hold them tight. Sit with them in their pain. Just be there.
The last memory I have of my dad is that beautiful Saturday. I hugged him tightly and told him how much I enjoyed spending time with him in his garden. I told him I loved him and I would be back again soon. With that final moment between us, I don’t think there is anything I could have said or done to stop my dad from ending his life. I still have so many questions, but that I know for sure.
My wish for World Mental Health Day is that we continue to discuss it and refuse to hide away in shame. My wish is that we continue to fight for access to and affordability for mental health supports and services. My wish is that, if you’re struggling, you know you’re not alone.
Please know how important you are, how loved you are, and that your life is meaningful.
Dad, wherever you are, whatever you’ve become… every single day I hope that your pain is gone and you’ve finally found peace. I love you.