What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?

Over the past 15 years, mental health has been a huge player in who I have become as a professional. I have experience working with people in different capacities such as child welfare, education, geriatrics, nonprofit work, and mental health inpatient services. Each of these entities works directly or indirectly with mental health. The stories that brought me to the mental health profession are inspiring, but they also deal with heartache and disheartenment. Anyone reading this passage, please make sure you are checking in and taking care of yourself.

When I was 5 years old, my older sibling was diagnosed with ADHD. Prior to this, my parents weren’t sure what was going on. What I remember from that time was the stigma placed on my older sibling. I remember overhearing my mom repeat what a teacher said about my older sibling: “[They’re] just a bad kid.” Bad kid… like they were a criminal or something. That’s how I perceived it. I didn’t want to be associated with that. I thought to myself, “The teachers think that of them—what will they think of me?!” So, what did I do as a 5-year-old? I followed every rule, studied hard, and tried as hard as possible not to be deemed a “bad kid” like my older sibling. As my sibling began to receive services for their ADHD, that vision of them being a criminal dissolved. I no longer felt the need to distance myself from them and became proud of being their sister. Over the years, I came to realize that the teacher was wrong—my older sibling isn’t a bad person. They are smart, funny, caring, a great parent, successful, and a great sibling.

As I got older, I couldn’t shake mental health issues. When I was 13, my best friend at the time attempted suicide. Navigating a situation so mature and unfamiliar at such a young age and confusing stage in life caused me to be empathetic and more aware of warning signs of when someone is struggling. I tried my best to be there as a friend, but you can’t wrap someone in bubble wrap and follow them through life. Sometimes you have to sit on the sidelines.

What really pushed me to become the person and professional I am today was a situation that involved my younger sister. When I was 16 and she 13, she attempted suicide. A week or so prior to the attempt, I noticed my sister engaging in self-harming behaviors. I asked her about it. She denied it and told me to leave her alone, but I wouldn’t let it slide. I told her if she didn’t tell our mom, I would. A few days later, knowing she did not tell mom, I confronted her in front of our mom. She became defensive and angry. She wouldn’t talk to me, and basically would only be around me when I drove her to school. The day of the attempt was coronation at our high school. I went to the coronation and out with some friends. When I got home, my mom and dad were sitting on the couch with my sister lying in between them. My mom and sister had been crying, and my dad looked shocked. I asked what happened, to which my dad told me “Your sister attempted suicide.” My world came crashing down. The guilt of knowing what she had been doing hit me. I was a wreck. My parents had to get my sister to the emergency room and then to Avera McKennan, which was two hours away from where I lived, ASAP. I stayed home with my younger brother, spiraling. I called a friend and just rambled on about what I could’ve done. I waited until my parents got home. I drove my brother to school that next morning to help my parents as they digested the events from the previous night. I stepped up and put on a brave face. Sometimes brave faces are not as helpful as people think they are. After that night, I decided I never wanted anyone else to go through that pain. So, I made it my mission to become a mental health therapist. And as I sit writing this, I am a licensure exam and supervision hours away from accomplishing that dream.

My family and I remain resilient throughout all of the ups and downs of mental health that we have faced since that day. I can’t speak for every member of my family regarding how they stay resilient in the face of mental health issues, but what has kept me resilient is my passion, drive, and experience with mental health. I tell people, “You didn’t get this far just to get this far,” because it possesses a message of strength, endurance, and passion, one that I have to remind myself at times I feel defeated or as if I can’t take one step further.

Through the years, I’ve been told I have impacted the lives of many individuals, and they have found a sense of purpose through their interactions with me. I have learned what is important as a human being and the power of being vulnerable, asking for help, and checking in with yourself. I’ve had my struggles off and on throughout the years with anxiety and depression via trauma from bullying. However, I know that allowing those things to stand in my way will only do that, stand in my way. I’m a little too ambitious for that to happen.

To end this long story, I will leave readers with a quote from the great Leslie Knope: “I care. I care a lot. It’s kinda my thing.” Helping and caring for others is my thing.

What resources have helped you to address this challenge?

USD Student Counseling Center
Avera McKennan Hospital
To Write Love on Their Arm website
Music

 

Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges?

Accept vulnerability. We as humans are not programmed to always fight. At some point, it becomes tiring to constantly be on high alert or put on a brave face and continue throughout the world knowing that you have these feelings so deeply wounding that they leave eternal scars. Being vulnerable isn’t a bad thing. Contrary to belief, allowing yourself to admit you aren’t ok, that you need help, inspires people around you to take that step forward to letting down their guard and admitting they aren’t OK, which causes a domino effect for them to seek out help. This builds resilience.

 

What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?

Brave faces aren’t always helpful. It took me some time to realize I have been putting on a brave face for the past 27 years and it has gotten me into trouble from time to time. What I believed to be stress and being “too ambitious” was masking signs of anxiety. What I believed to be just being “blue” was actually beginning stages of depression. Putting on a brave face is OK for certain situations, but in a situation where catharsis is needed, isn’t the best time to do that.