Valley Voices

‘It takes a warrior to ask for help with mental illness’

A message stands among the 1,100 backpacks at Fresno City College as part of the “Send Silence Packing” exhibit. The backpacks represent the 1,100 college students who die by suicide every year.
A message stands among the 1,100 backpacks at Fresno City College as part of the “Send Silence Packing” exhibit. The backpacks represent the 1,100 college students who die by suicide every year. Fresno Bee file

After 27 years working in mental health as a registered nurse, all in inpatient psychiatric, I have had many conversations and interventions with patients who are having suicidal thoughts, have attempted suicide or are chronically suicidal.

The recent suicides at Clovis West High School have stimulated the conversation on suicide, people want answers and are asking for prevention and interventions. In life there are different stages we go through, and with each stage there are challenges and stressors we experience.

Females deal with stress differently than males; adults deal differently than adolescents. When our patients come in after a suicide attempt or with suicidal ideation, they have lost hope. I teach my staff we must carry their hope for them until they can find it again.

All too often, we see people who, from the outside, look as though they have great lives. They are in relationships. They are financially secure. They have “it all.” Yet these people just attempted to take their lives. The question for those left behind is “Why?”

Mental illness is a sneaky devil. Depression is something that most people are ashamed of. Society has labeled people with mental illness as “weak.” This topic has been in the closet for far too long, and as a result, when people start to have these feelings of unhappiness, loss of interest and hopelessness, they do not share or reach out for help.

Removing the stigma starts with each of us. We must change our language to stop using negative words like “crazy.” No more labels and insults for people with a mental illness. We would not make these remarks to a heart patient or a patient with diabetes, so why is it acceptable to make a comment about a mental illness?

Conversations and education must begin at home. Taking the opportunity to talk with each other, checking in, observing. This is just not for teens, but for all relationships.

The world we live in is full of pressures to be rich, beautiful and popular. People are mean; adolescents can be brutal to each other. We must be available and pay attention. Intervention when there are warning signs is key. Education and discussions about symptoms and feelings of mental illness must take place so we can not only decrease the stigma but eliminate it.

Mental illness is a disease just like all other diseases. Like our posters say at the Veterans Affairs: It takes a warrior to ask for help. In some situations, we have to be the warrior for those who cannot ask for themselves.

Diane Palacio of Fresno is a registered nurse.

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