Approximately one of five adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year, and about 21 percent of youth aged 13-18 will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. On college campuses, mental illness rates seem to be increasing. Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and numbers of attempts are expected to be higher due to underreporting. Thankfully, mental illness is becoming less stigmatized and people are becoming more open about mental health than ever before.
Discussions of self-care and therapy are popular, especially among college students. However, although mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are destigmatized due to their prominence, especially on college campuses, more severe mental health disorders and suicidal ideation are still heavily stigmatized. Author and former Buzzfeed journalist Borges is trying to change the conversation surrounding suicidal ideation to make it easier to talk about.
Often, when someone commits suicide, whether it be a famous person in the news or someone part of your smaller community, people react by frantically posting the National Suicide Prevention Line and other resources. Everyone expresses feelings of shock, and for a few days, suicide prevention becomes a national or community-wide discussion. Other attempts to discuss mental health and stigmatization are often limited and don’t last. While the hotline is definitely very important, it may not be helpful to people who are not actively suicidal. We need to come up with other ways for people to receive help that fits their specific needs and situations.
Suicidal ideation can range from passive to active. Because of this range, various kinds of help are different for people depending on how they are feeling in the moment. If someone is feeling passively suicidal, this can be hard to get across to friends and family without them freaking out or taking necessary measures.
As Borges writes in her powerful article “I Am Not Always Very Attached to Being Alive,” “What makes [suicidal ideation] harder is being unable to talk about it freely: the weightiness of the confession, the impossibility of explaining that it both is and isn’t as serious as it sounds. I don’t always want to be alive. Yes, I mean it. No, you shouldn’t be afraid for me. No, I’m not in danger of killing myself right now. Yes, I really mean it.” Borges compares suicidal ideology to living in the ocean; some days she floats, others she feels like she will sink to the bottom.
Borges makes the case for normalizing suicidal ideology the way that we attempt to make depression and anxiety mainstream. If people were able to speak freely to each other about how they feel, they might not feel so alone. Often, people who struggle with suicidal ideation feel as though they can only talk to their therapist. While therapy is helpful for many, being able to talk about struggles on a more casual and daily basis could be more helpful for some.
When Borges tweeted her article, it quickly went viral. Now, it has over 17,000 retweets and 1,200 comments, on the original link alone. The number of users who quote-tweeted the article is likely to be in the thousands as well. Of these comments, the majority were people agreeing with Borges and who could relate to her feelings of suicidal ideation. Many people commented that the article made them feel less alone and made their day better, showing the power that having these conversations can hold already.
It’s important to note that people who struggle with mental illness deal with it in different ways. What helps one person may not be as helpful to another. Destigmatizing mental illness, especially those that are less comfortable to talk about than depression and anxiety, could inspire people to seek the help that works best for them. Borges says that she feels like she is “treading water” most days, a feeling that many people can relate to. In her article, she shows that there are ways to talk about suicide without alarm and urgency.
Suicide is on the rise, yet continues to be under researched and underfunded. When someone ends their own life, people often try to understand why, and there is always inappropriate speculation about why someone would choose to do so. If suicidal ideation becomes easier to talk about, the warning signs might be more apparent, and help might be sought sooner.
As Borges says in her article, “What if we acknowledged the possibility of suicide all around us, normalized asking and checking in? If people talked about feeling suicidal — not joked, as we’ve all started to do online, but really talked — as much as they talked about feeling depressed or anxious, would we finally be forced to see how common it is and start creating space for these conversations?”
Borges’ article features interesting takes that are helpful for everyone to understand, not just those who struggle with mental illness. Although conversations about suicide can be difficult to have, talking about it could result in saving someone’s life. Sometimes all a person needs is for someone to be there to listen to them and trust them. Articles like Borges’ are already prompting conversations all over the web and in person. Hopefully, these conversations will lead to more stigmatization and understanding of all situations and mental illnesses.
The author has another book coming out in October entitled “The More Or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care: From A to Z.” This book will offer a refreshing take on self-care, which has become increasingly trendy in the media. Although it has become a popular topic, the focus is often on materialistic versions of the term with less of a focus on what self-care should be about: mental health. Due to her insightful prose in previous articles, I’m sure Borges’ upcoming book will contain helpful and useful information.