When I was a kid, soccer was my whole life. I played every second I got, practiced multiple times a day. I went to special trainings. I was on advanced teams. My dream was to play professionally one day. In middle school I got pulled up to the Varsity team and I was one of the starting players. It felt like my dreams were coming true.
Then, during a game in 9th grade, I blew out my knee and couldn’t play anymore. I couldn’t walk, I had to have surgery, I was devastated, and it sent me on a downward spiral. It felt like all my hopes and dreams had been stolen from me and I became suicidal for the first time.
The thoughts of suicide scared me and I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t used to feeling so dark and hopeless. It was like something in my brain shifted and instead of thinking my normal thoughts, I felt depressed and like there was no point in continuing to live.
I finally decided to open up to my youth pastor about about it and he told me something that devastated me. He said, “Don’t make mountains out of molehills.” He thought that not being able to play soccer anymore wasn’t a big deal, that it was a tiny hill instead of this huge mountain. He said that it shouldn’t be making me suicidal. And he never met with me again after that.
But the truth was that it was a mountain to me. It wasn’t just about not being able to play soccer, it was about my brain taking a downward spiral that I couldn’t control and I couldn’t stop. It was about having these dark, terrifying thoughts that I couldn’t get out of my head. It was about mental illness and needing help but not knowing how to ask for it.
Sometimes I wonder how differently my life would have turned out if my youth pastor had helped me get into therapy instead of telling me that I shouldn’t be be suicidal. My mental illness only grew from there and got worse and worse. Early intervention would have been life changing.
So many people don’t get the help they need because people don’t take them seriously or are afraid to talk about the heavy stuff with them. So many people take their lives because they didn’t have anyone to help or support them.
Talking about suicide and mental illness can be so scary because of the stigma and ignorance surrounding it. People are afraid that if they speak up they will be ignored or judged, not taken seriously, or made to feel ashamed.
I wish talking about mental illness was just as accepted and normalized as talking about any other physical disease. When someone gets diagnosed with cancer or some other debilitating illness they are usually so supported by those in their life but when someone gets diagnosed with a mental illness no one knows what to do or say to them.
When I was in my 20s, my suicidal thoughts were really heavy and intense and I took the risk of opening up to someone again. This time I was met with love and compassion and understanding. She wasn’t trained in how to help someone with suicidal thoughts, but she loved me and told me I could tell her anything and she listened to me. Having her in my life made all the difference.
You don’t need to be trained in mental illness to help someone. All you need to do is love them and let them know they are valued and accepted. (Helping them get the professional help they need is very important, too.) But you could save someone’s life by just listening to them.
If you are struggling right now, you aren’t alone. I know it’s scary to reach out for help and it feels like people won’t understand. If you’re feeling this way I suggest starting with the WhiteFlag App. There are people there who also struggle with mental illness and who will understand what you’re going through. You don’t have to do this alone. You are worth listening to. Your life matters. There are people who will understand your struggles.
Get support. Give support. Download the app today.