Content Advisory: Please note the following content can be directly or indirectly related to content about mental health, depression, suicide, and or self-harm.
Throughout the course of my life, I have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, social anxiety disorder, major depression, alcohol use disorder (severe) and cocaine use disorder (moderate). These conditions persisted for years, most of them beginning when I was in high school. Though I struggled acutely with my own mental health, it wasn’t until my brother Will died by suicide that I began engaging in the mental health conversation.
I was 23 when I received the news Will had died. I was seated on my living room couch in Santa Monica on a Saturday morning. My mom called.
I learned later that it was suicide.
Will was two years younger than me and was my lifelong best friend, confidante and partner in crime. He was witty, fun-loving, loyal and spirited – an embodiment of charisma.
Will graduated from Mercer Island High School in 2013 and went on to college at Santa Clara University, where he studied economics and political science. He was active socially and beloved by his many friends. Will was on track to graduate in Spring of 2017.
Despite being “successful” in many areas of his life, on March 4, 2017, Will died by suicide at age 21.
Those next few days, weeks and following months were more painful than I can describe. I was consumed by sorrow and filled with confusion. Occasionally, a pang of guilt or a burst of anger broke the monotony of grief, but, for the most part, I was simply and deeply sad. During these days, I cried randomly at work and regularly broke down while out with friends. My daily routine seemed pointless and my decisions and actions meaningless. The world, once an exciting place, had lost its vibrancy.
Occasionally, I asked myself why. Will had expressed no feelings of desperation and gave no indication of depression or distress. He had the normalized stress of a college senior – midterms, take home essays, job interviews, social events, intramural basketball games and frat parties. Longer term pressures like his looming graduation, leaving his college friends and building a career were also on his mind. He was stressed and likely sleep-deprived, but suicidal? Nobody knew.
After I recovered from the immediate shock and grief caused by my brother’s death, I was angry not at Will, but at society. I began analyzing ways in which society addresses the mental health of young adults and studying the cultural stigma associated with mental illness. I engaged in conversations with a few friends about the factors that prevent young adults from seeking help when needed.
Through these conversations, The Scooty Fund was born as a 501(c)(3) on March 4, 2018. We developed the mission to “promote, support and advance mental health and wellness in ways that enhance the lives and well-being of young people.” Driven by this mission, we aspire to help our friends and peers cope with painful emotions, seek therapy when needed and understand that no one is alone in the human experience – not isolated in pain, struggle, fear or sorrow. We champion both vulnerability and resilience through peer-to-peer connection and education.
Through presiding over The Scooty Fund, I began to personally heal. I practiced what we preached. I sought therapy and let myself be vulnerable. I did the emotional, relational and spiritual work. Because of my personal experiences and the experiences of friends and peers, I firmly believe in The Scooty Fund’s mission and programming. I believe that, by sharing our stories and talking openly about things like suicide, depression, anxiety, addiction, even just painful emotions, we help fight the associated stigma.
We open the door for others to have hard conversations. We help people feel more comfortable reaching out when they’re in distress. We alleviate the shame associated with talking about emotions and our own mental or emotional pain. We make it more ok for people like Will to potentially tell someone if they’re going through the ringer mentally or emotionally.
To someone struggling with their mental health, I would instill hope and reiterate that the pain will NOT last forever. For better or worse, change is the only constant in life. Take whatever steps are necessary – change your job, your friends, your entire life – to keep going. Keep going. I would encourage seeking help and healing, and emphasize the benefits of therapy. Though you may not have caused your problems, you’re the one who now must live with them. Don’t prolong your pain. The healing process may not be easy, but it’s worth it. That being said, you don’t need to do this alone. There are people who truly understand. There are people who love you, even if you don’t believe they do. There are people who want to help. Let others love you until you can love yourself. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Talk. Share. Help.
Please check out The Scooty Fund and all the awesome work they do!