When a problem is so big it seems impossible to change, where do we begin? When topics become so tough to talk about, how do we start a conversation?
These are two questions that lay at the root of men’s depression, addiction and suicide.
All recent studies on suicide agree on this: Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.
Three times. That’s not a typo.
So with a population that is at risk the way men are, we need to break the silence around the issue of suicide. But how can we do that? Where do we start?
I’m not sure if these questions have clear-cut answers. People far smarter than myself have been working on them for years. I’m not sure if I have any advice or wisdom that is groundbreaking. However, as a young male who has wrestled with the idea of ending his own life, I feel like I understand what is at stake here.
As men, we need to stand up for other men. We need to speak up for the men who can’t speak up for themselves anymore.
Sometimes I meet people who are uncomfortable with conversations about mental health. I say that talking about suicide is hard. But losing a loved one, then asking “What could I have done?” is much harder.
Often, I think that’s what we forget.
We see suicides as statistics. We don’t see the stories behind them. We don’t see the lives that ended too soon. We don’t see the communities that are shattered. We don’t see the families that are broken by the loss of a brother, a son or a father. We just see numbers on a page.
Numbers on a page don’t mean much to me. They probably don’t mean much to you either. They lack humanity. They lack realism.
Unfortunately, we often don’t understand this until we’ve just lost someone we loved or cared about, and the pain has become unavoidable. Sometimes it takes a broken world to slam into our comfortable lives in order for us to be able to see that we need to create change.
When I’m not writing or doing stand-up comedy, I spend time talking at colleges and events about mental health—specifically depression, addiction and suicide. The uplifting side of that is hearing real-life stories of redemption, resilience, hope and healing. Drug addicts who became sober. People who were severely depressed but returned to a functioning life. People who hurt themselves learning to love themselves. That’s the positive side of the coin.
The other side isn’t as pretty. I hear about sons who lost hope and ended their lives. I hear about brothers who overdosed on pills. I hear about fathers who stepped in front of a train and left their families behind.
The other side of the coin usually breaks my heart. It’s our broken world slamming into my comfortable life. And it happens over and over again.
And it leaves me wondering: What can I do? What can we do? What can we change? What conversation do we need to have? Where do we start? These questions are complicated and confusing. But I also think they don’t have to be.
The Internet is amazing and awful for the exact same reason: Everyone has a voice. Sometimes, that voice is positive, and sometimes it’s negative. But nonetheless, everyone has a voice.
My path to giving talks at college campuses and events was paved largely by a TED talk I gave on my story with depression and almost ending my own life. It went—for lack of a better word—viral, getting about 2 million views in a couple of months. But that didn’t happen the way you’d think. Sure, it made it on the Today show. MTV shared it. So did the Huffington Post and Mashable. But that wasn’t what got the video seen all over the world. You know what did? People with 100 followers on Twitter, not a million. People with a couple hundred Facebook friends, not some celebrity page. Everyday, normal people.
Because they have a voice. And they used it.
They used my talk as their own personal invitation to share how they feel about these topics. And it spread. And a conversation started.
I say all of that to say this: don’t underestimate your ability to be a part of the solution.
Just because you’re not famous or don’t have a huge platform or are young, doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. Actually, it’s the contrary. In a world where everything can be shared, it comes down to what you want to share. What do you want to talk about? What’s important to you?
Maybe this post can be an invitation for you to think about these things. Maybe this can serve as an opportunity for you to re-evalaute where you stand in relation to these issues of suicide and depression and addiction.
Maybe, as men, we need to stand up for other men. Maybe we need to speak up for the men who can’t speak up for themselves anymore. Maybe we need to share these untold stories. Maybe we need to talk about the things that have the potential to save a life.
If we are three times as likely to commit suicide, I think we need to be three times as likely to create a conversation around the topic. Otherwise, we are just bystanders to a bigger social issue that we are too scared to try and figure out.
I wouldn’t watch someone jump off a bridge and do nothing. I have a feeling you wouldn’t either. So maybe we can do something today—be it online on in our relationships or with our families—to try and prevent that person from ever stepping onto the ledge to begin with.
Maybe these problems are only as big as we allow them to be. Maybe today, we can do our best to raise our voice and be bigger. Be louder. Be more vocal and more caring and more concerned. Because when it comes to life or death, I’m not sure what else is more worthy of your attention, your passion and your presence.
We are losing too many men to suicide. It’s that simple.
Let’s make life important. Let’s making staying alive meaningful. Let’s stop being silent and start spreading a conversation our culture—and our communities—need to have.
See Kevin Breel’s other posts on men’s mental health issues here.