Martha's Musings: Arm yourself with empathy

A response to MPR article: When the suicide is someone you’ve never heard of by Bob Collins

It’s been difficult for me to decide how to address the recent attention mental health has gotten in the media. With tragedies such as the recent losses of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, we are often left feeling stunned and helpless to the true struggles of another. We collectively offer our thoughts-and-prayers, share hotlines, and sometimes we even share our own personal stories of past struggles with mental illness with seemingly little change. After reading this MPR blog, I couldn’t help but feel like there was more we can be doing. 

Mental illness is often depicted as something you are responsible for — and in a way, this is true. However, this mindset can leave us washing our hands of things when times get tough for another. We rely on the belief that people make their own choices and that people don’t need their hands held to get the help they need. We don’t recognize that we, every single one of us, have the power to intervene.

The Wildwood challenges us to lean in when people are struggling. In order to unravel the stigma of mental health, we MUST take responsibility for the ways we can help others. We don’t all need to become social workers and therapists, but we can promote curiosity and wisdom by taking advantage of the resources that are readily available. Mental Health First Aid teaches you the skills to recognize the signs of mental illness and addiction, and NAMI MN hosts a variety of classes and events about mental health. These are great resources that can allow you to arm yourself with the empathy and awareness we all need to thrive as a healthy, understanding community.

We all know people in our lives who are struggling. Maybe it’s a family member, or that one Facebook friend who can’t seem to catch a break. At this point, it may be easy for you to continue scrolling and label them as looking for “attention” or “likes.” I leave you with one challenge: The next time you hear something, or see something that looks like a cry for help, lean in. Offer a listening ear or connect them with crisis services. You can make all the difference.