Mental Illness Can be Deadly (Warning: triggering language/suicide)

Many of us were shocked and distressed to learn of the death of Naomi Judd one day before her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. To quote her daughters Wynonna and Ashley “We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness.” Mental illness can be lethal. We don’t often hear mental illness listed as the cause of death. The means of death was suicide but the cause severe long, standing mental illness — depression, anxiety and a mix of complex trauma.

It saddens me deeply to think that the precursor to this desperate act was to avoid receiving one of the greatest honours for Naomi — recognition of her significant lifetime contribution to Country Music. As her daughter Ashley said, her Mom didn’t believe she was worth receiving such an honour. Naomi Judd had a remarkable life of resilience — surviving abuse, trauma, rape, single parenting, poverty, etc. Through the course of these hardships and devastations, lies crept their way into her belief system. Despite all the evidence to support her worth, value and acceptance — mental illness carved destruction into her life.  The negative, harsh voices attacked her in a moment of extreme vulnerability and she succumbed to her illness.

Mental illness can be lethal. So how do we lessen the chances of these kinds of tragedy? We need to continue to raise awareness of mental illness as being part of medical health and wellness. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We need to continue open discussion about mental health and end the stigmas. We are all mental, physical, emotional, spiritual beings — and one happens in one aspect of our being does effect the others.

No one is exempt from mental illness, no matter how good their life looks like on the outside. We have ‘presentation bias’ which is our tendency to assume that everything looks good in someone’s life, therefore they must doing fine internally. We need to have honest, open conversations with one another. Being willing to listen without judgement is essential. There is already enough shame and guilt surrounding mental illness — we need to practice a ‘non-judgmental presence.’ It could happen to any of us. If we can approach it with a degree of humility, we can provide better support — “but for the grace of God, go I.”

If you are anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or crisis, call the Access 24/7 line through Alberta Health Service, 780-424-2424. Access 24/7 provides a range of urgent and non-urgent addiction and mental health services including service navigation, screening, assessment, referral, consultation, crisis intervention, outreach and short term stabilization.


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