This morning I got caught up in the good ole online article trap. It started with a friend sending me a link to an article about her neighborhood in LA. From there I clicked on another article about Whole Foods, which led to another site with more articles – more information – and 45 minutes later I started to question what I am really doing with my life (btw, still don’t know the answer to that question).

One of the sidebar articles that caught my attention was one about a young star from the show “Everyone Loves Raymond” dying in suspected suicide. While I’m not that familiar with the show nor the actor, the thought of a young person feeling badly enough to want to take his life gave me a long pause and made me think of the many other famous and regular people who have faced similar fates. Part of me comprehends the “how” process that leads to a person  deciding to commit suicide.  It is conceivable how someone can end up in a  destructive spiral of perpetual thinking that can make him believe that a way out is better than a way through the difficulty.  What I want to explore is how we all can do a better job of recognizing when our loved ones are caught in that cycle and hopefully help them through it.

In recent years, more attention has been dedicated to the mental health arena and there is general acknowledgement that the issues persist among the population.  We live in a society where pills or institutional care are quickly prescribed to those with obvious symptoms, but how often are we overlooking people who are suffering in silence, but at a glance, look pulled together? The successful actor, the pretty girl with the “perfect” life, the alpha male who appears so strong? How often are we mistaking external attributes for indicators that all is well with a person? My guess is all the damn time.

I get it how we make the assumption that if a person says he’s great and his life is visibly order then things must be fine.  The way our collective thought process is set up, we equate success and outward appearances with contentment. And this is precisely where I think we go wrong. As excessive Internet consumption, increased stressed, and more transient lifestyles have become the norm, we’re spending less time cultivating communities in our quest to have and do it all. The social aspect of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the other sites I’m too old to touch make us feel like we’re connected to others surface-level exchanges.  These outlets also allow us to create carefully crafted online personas that give off the impression that our lives are could not be better. But inside some people are dealing with darker thoughts that aren’t easily detected via a text message, and the clues go unnoticed.

I don’t have the answer for how we can prevent all people from ever going through with a plan to commit suicide, but I do think that at a minimum each of us can do a better job of paying more attention to one another. I’m not suggesting that all mental health issues can be cured by people spending more time together; however I do not see how fostering more human interaction can make things worse. Next time you’re tempted to send a family member or friend a text or email to see how he/she is doing, I encourage you to pick up the phone or meet in person, if possible. Don’t take a response of “fine” at face value – ask specific questions and try to understand where he or she could use some support or reassurance. We don’t have to be mental health experts to care, and sometimes all it takes is a small gesture to help someone breakthrough their fog rather than succumb to it.

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