Here are 4 points I think we need to consider in raising awareness regarding mental illness and suicide. (Reading this article first will help you see why I am raising these points in connection with Young's story.):
- Medication does not fix everything. It is a myth that medication fixes mental illness in everyone. Young was on medication for bipolar and it was even found in his blood that he was actually taking it. Medication works great in some people, helps a little for others, may not help at all in some, and for others it actually makes them worse. We need to be aware and look at all aspects of a person's life if we are to help people treat their mental illness. We can't just put people on med's and think they will be fine. In fact, almost all of these medications have warnings on them that they can all cause suicidal thoughts and actions.
- Being religious is not an illness. In the article about Young's death, it states that the coroner had made a point to report that Young had an altar in his house, implying that his religion had something to do with his mental illness. Then other news outlets have been saying his faith caused his depression, almost insinuating that the religion was cult-like. It is not weird to have an altar in your house. If someone had a wall of crosses in their house (many Christian's do), no one would even think to say this had anything to do with their illness. Can I also say that there is clearly a race and culture issue here as well? The only time religion should be considered a factor in mental illness is if the person was treated badly, shamed, or bullied in their faith due to their illness or any other reason. This could happen in any faith. There is not reason to think that Young's faith was a result of mental illness or a cause of it. When I first went into ministry and people found out I was bipolar, I often was asked "Are you sure you are not just experiencing hyper-religiosity? You know that's a symptom of bipolar."
- Not all people with mental illness look "unstable." A lot of this article focuses on how Young never exhibited symptoms of illness. He was stable, he had a stable family, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. What people don't realize is that mental illness is ordinary. We live and work in your communities. It is an invisible disability and we should not be so shocked to find out someone who seemed "normal" has a mental illness. Mental illness does not always mean visible instability. Also, those of us with mental illness know we are not allowed to have a voice because of the stigma around our illness, and so we often hide our illness.
- Believing "If only we knew, if only we paid more attention" does not always stop a suicide. No matter how hard we try, we can not stop death due to any illness 100%. There is no benefit in engaging in collective or individual guilt over a suicide. Young's story shows that we may never be able to adequately see the severity of a person's illness. True, we always need to do the best we can to help keep people safe, within the confines of the actual knowledge we have. In some cases though, there really are no visible signs, at least not ones that most people would recognize, before a suicide. In fact, many people seem to have a decrease of symptoms of their illness a few days or weeks before a suicide. Young saw his doctor on August 14 and he appeared fine. He died by suicide just days later on August 19, 2013. I recommend taking a Mental Health First Aid class in order to know how to properly asses a potential suicide, to the best of your ability, knowing that we can't predict everything.