…to the survivors. Over the weekend I went to a memorial service celebrating the life of my wife’s former co-worker, who took her own life at the age of 28.

The celebration was beautiful. It touched on the young woman’s accomplishments as a dancer, geologist, her innovative thoughts on changing the world for the better, the love she drew from her family, the connection she found in New York’s Buddhist community and the beauty and creativity she inspired in others.

While we were there to celebrate her life, here’s what stays with me the most: with all those resources at her disposal, she couldn’t bring herself to use them in what was her moment of greatest pain. I didn’t know her, and I don’t know why she killed herself. I can say that as a society, we’re not shy about quite publicly discussing our sports injuries, our cholesterol counts and dietary problems, even our addictions to booze and drugs. Yet when it comes to depression, a huge stigma remains.

There’s no reason for it. There are sympathetic mental health professionals that work on sliding income scales, suicide hot lines and community mental health groups like Mood Disorders Support Group here in New York City , AA meetings every hour everywhere, or online forums like inspire.com’s Mental Health America Support Community.

Most of you know actor Joe Pantoliano, i.e. “Joey Pants” of “Risky Business” and “The Sopranos.” He’s turned his own battles with depression into “No Kidding Me Too,” which aims to break down societal barriers about mental illness so that those who need it can find the strength to seek treatment.

All too typically, the reaction to the tragedy of suicide is “why” because he/she had everything going for them. The truth is that we never really know. Mental illness is insidious and over-whelming. At its worst, there is no way someone can look outside of the confines of their mind without help. Few want to be seen as vulnerable, not having it together, or needing the help of others. It’s especially hard if you’re the one who people typically turn to for help; admitting it’s your turn is like giving up control.

The best comparison I can make is that depression is like going miles down the wrong road, knowing it, yet being too stubborn and/or afraid to turn around and get the right directions. But to everyone who gets lost, it’s worth it to retrace your steps back. Every time. I’m sure that the hundreds of friends and family this young woman affected during her short life would agree. And yes, I’m talking from experience.

Links:
Inspire.com’s Mental Health America Support Community: http://www.inspire.com/groups/mental-health-america/?ref=as

Mood Disorders Support Group: http://mdsg.org

No Kidding Me Too: http://nkm2.org

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