The message that we need to hide our sadness to be strong or to keep others happy needs to stop. Now.

Silhouette of one person helping another person up a large hill.

This post discusses the topics of homicide, suicide, and mental health.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Dial 988 or go to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website to learn more. Per their website, “people call to talk about lots of things: substance abuse, economic worries, relationships, sexual identity, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and loneliness, to name a few.”

This post may be a little bumpy; I’m a bundle of emotions today, my friends.

I’m so tired of watching mental health constantly be overlooked and dismissed. After any act of domestic violence, people will rally, “Regulate guns!” and when other voices chime in “and resources for mental health!” there’s a large number of voicing arguing “this is a gun issue, not a mental health issue!” When the pandemic caused us to isolate and stay indoors, understandably there was concern over our physical health, yet where were the resources to support our mental health during this change?

On a personal level, after a rather traumatic birth experience, I remember feeling irritated whenever my doctor would come in and ask me about my pain on a scale of 1-10, and say nothing to check in on how I was doing emotionally. I was recovering from an unplanned c-section and had refused opioids as part of my pain management.. my physical pain was, I don’t know, 4? but I was so disconnected from that pain because all I could think about was how emotionally I felt like I was at an 11. My medical care team acted as though everything was rosy. The baby is ok, I’m “ok”, everything is “ok”. My son, now approaching his 4th birthday, is a highly sensitive individual. How much of that is his nervous system going on high alert because of a traumatic birth and a mother who didn’t receive adequate emotional support during his first weeks of life?

At 6 weeks old, I took my second born daughter to the hospital for a fever. She was quickly diagnosed with COVID, but they wanted to keep her for more testing to make sure she didn’t also have a bacterial infection (which can be very dangerous for babies under 2 months old). I watched in horror as they tried and failed three times to draw blood from her while she wailed in fear and pain. “Don’t worry, she won’t remember this” I was told after I asked them to stop. But trauma is stored in the body in more ways than just what we can remember. One of humans’ great qualities is adaptability, and when we experience traumas, our bodies can be quick to adapt to protect us from having that type of experience again. To say that she won’t be negatively impacted from this experience moving forward is simply not a promise anyone could make.

1 in 5 people are affected by mental illness, which is often not limited to our mental state; mental health can also manifest as physical symptoms. For ages 15-44, suicide is the second leading cause of death — let that sink in: as scary as all the school shootings are (and they are scary), a statistically bigger threat to our high schoolers is the thoughts in their own brain.

As a mom, it has become a number one priority for me to teach my children that it’s safe and healthy to express their emotions. It’s an uphill battle in a blizzard. I have to unlearn my own emotional bottling tendencies so that I can model emotional expression and coping, and be less triggered by my children’s emotions. I’m also going against society. For every one time I show my kids it’s ok to cry, they receive countless more messages that it’s not, and I’m sure that goes double for my son. But if the world will not be a safe space for emotion, then I. Must. Be. If my children are having a hard time, they have to know that they can come to me, that I will support them through whatever it is and love them no less. It’s not perfect; I’m sure many times despite my best efforts, I will give my kids unintentional messaging that emotions aren’t safe because it’s been so thoroughly ingrained in me, but my goodness, I have to try.

And maybe I have to start speaking out… when I hear someone say “Boys don’t cry” or “Big kids don’t cry” or “You’re making so-and-so sad when you cry” perhaps I should respond with, “When I feel sad, sometimes crying is exactly what I need to feel better.” The messaging that we need to hide our sadness to keep others happy needs to stop.

Yes, let’s have discussions on access to and restriction of weapons AND let’s have discussions on supporting mental wellness. There’s no need to shut down one discussion in favor of the other; both are important.

I’m reminded of the quote from Legally Blonde: “Happy people just don’t kill their husbands. They just don’t.” Sure, it’s overly simplistic and comes from a silly movie, but I believe there’s some truth in it. “Happy” is probably the wrong word… because that’s a feeling and feelings will always ebb and flow. But I firmly believe that people who feel secure and safe to exist in the world as they are and to seek help when they need it do not harm themselves or others. They just don’t. We need to do better as a society to make this world a safer, more welcoming place for us all and when someone says they are struggling, we need to take them seriously.

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