With the recent suicide reports of food extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain, and Kate Spade, I came to the realization that I can no longer be a spectator to the ailments of humanity without using my "Voice," to highlight the need for empathy, awareness, and hope in our society. We tend to place things in a box in our society which also fits into nice domains of beliefs that rarely intersect with each other. In my workshops, classroom discussions, and dialogue with leaders I began to feel like someone watching a movie of myself reacting to events as though they were far from me.
It's also interesting to think of this because once this occurs, we somehow tend to place the challenge that a school, institution, individual or community has as one that is isolated. Not only that, but a sense of apathy can also set in making one think that that there is nothing new to consider. We also may feel inadequate to do anything out of fear of not being perfect enough to help someone.
When I heard the news of the suicide Anthony Bourdaine, it felt like getting news about a distant colleague because I spent many afternoons living vicariously through is travel shows, and love for cuisine and culture. The National Institute of Mental Health defined depression as a mental condition that can "Affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working."
We never know what will lead someone to take their own life, but a deep level of dissatisfaction about one component of life may be a contributing factor to this. But how are employers, and institutions, creating environments that are authentic enough to warrant a place of disclosure should an individual feel this heightened level of crisis? Reports also show that individuals may withdraw and isolate themselves if they feel there is no one who understands their personal struggle or journey.
This is why I don't think we can have a one eye open, one eye closed approach to a plethora of ills that we see in our culture today. It is amazing to think that one gesture, one extra question, or friendly moment may be the encouragement someone needs to hold on during difficult times.Many years ago I worked at an institution and would always check-in with a cleaning lady to see how she was doing throughout the week. On one particular day, I was told she was not feeling well and refused to speak to any of her colleagues. I went up to her and was uncertain as to how she would respond because her head was on the table with her hands covering her ears. So I just hugged her and told her I thought she was special. She grunted and I continued to place my hands on her shoulder.
When the school year ended she gave me a card that explained she was going through a trying time and was thinking of ending her life that day. We continued to chat and it seemed that she was able to come to some closure around the concerns that were weighing her down.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reported that 18 % of our population in the United States struggles with some form of mental illness, so I wonder what we can do in our culture to shift this paradigm. In my own battle for self-acceptance as a young adult, I can relate to the dark hole that individuals with silent pain suffer with. I describe this in one of my poems called "Independence Day," and 120 days from my book Chronicles of a Poet. Here is a compilated excerpt from one of these poems:
Do you know what it is like when your world halts and everything around you is like a slow-motion carousel?
You have an outer body experience and you're almost not even here but you carry out the motions of the day
They live in an internal jail cell
Some people survive, and others who die physically
were dead long before
How many mourners will it take to end the recycle of pain?
What can we all do to create a culture of empathy?
1. Learn about others authentically
2. Access resources to learn about distress and depression
3. Become an ally for someone or group that you agree with