An accidental advocate

…and you may contribute a verse

I wrote two posts in the past two days about Robin Williams, the first one about what he meant to me and how his suicide hit me as someone else who’s struggling with depression and alcohol, the second about some of the coverage of his illness in the media. Without going over all the points I already made on the topic yesterday, I will say that part of the problem I have is the passive stigmatizing of depression.

When people use metaphors like “battling demons” they’re avoiding using the direct language about their subject- disease and its symptoms- and using words like “demons” people can read moral judgments into the metaphor and thus become reluctant to admit to having or seeking help for treating their disease. When I saw media/public figures on Twitter using terms like demons to describe a disease and symptoms that I have, I tweeted them and asked them to reconsider how they’re using the language. It’s not a political correctness crusade, it’s about treating the disease as what it is in a way that encourages people with it to seek help.

Joan Walsh was the first to respond, and was gracious and understanding. She retweeted the link to my blog to her 129 thousand or so followers and all of a sudden I was off to the races. On a good days my blog gets 50-70 visitors and maybe 100 views. Yesterday it had over 500 visitors and over 650 views. Richard Roeper and Jake Tapper both engaged me in some productive back and forth on the topic, and I’m incredibly moved by their consideration and professionalism. And I sent a few tweets to the #suicidechat conversation where I exchanged a few messages with, among others, Liz Szabo, a health reporter for USA Today. Following the chat Liz asked if I would talk to her a little bit more about my own experience with suicide and depression. We had a 15 minute or so interview over the phone, and I was featured in her story that appeared this morning on page A2 of USA Today and online here.

I didn’t set out to be a mental health advocate yesterday morning (at least not consciously). I just wanted to explain my perspective on the topic. Before I did the interview with Liz I went to my dad and my brother for advice. Opening yourself up to people is not easy. There are people I work with who don’t know all the details of what happened to me leading up to and after my suicide attempt. Telling that story to a stranger so that she can write about it in a venue where it could be seen by a wider audience than I can probably appreciate is a surreal experience. We talked about the risks of that kind of exposure (I’m trying very hard to avoid reading the comments on the article online, internet trolls being what they are). But we also talked about helping people. If I want people to treat depression, anxiety and alcoholism differently, I have a duty to explain myself and make my case. 

There are some great organizations and individuals who are dedicating their careers and lives to mental health advocacy. Just go review that #suicidechat discussion and you’ll see what an incredible community there is out there. Check out some of the great bloggers I follow here.

I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity I have to be a part of the ongoing dialogue.


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