It’s a day that I never thought I would talk about again yet alone write an article about; it is the day that changed my life, turned want I thought I knew, and changed how I saw others. It was the day that my father, who suffered from mental illness, killed my two-year-old sister.
It happened at 2 am. I was a little kid asleep in my room; my father was up late. My father was dealing with issues, but the problems didn’t seem to be out of the ordinary. Where I am from, we learn early to keep our hurts to ourselves. If you do muster up the courage to share with someone about pain or difficulty, you will probably hear “that’s life.” No one takes time to investigate why one is sad or hurt. If you begin talking about how bad your day is going, you will quickly be interrupted by someone saying, “everyone has bad days.” This way of communicating leaves little space for someone to share their angst. Looking back, I wish someone would have asked my father, “what’s wrong?”
They could learn how my father never recovered from the abuse he suffered as a child. They could learn how my father, for years, suffered at the hands of his mother. The injury my father experienced as a child before the age of 10 is more than some adults could bear. How could anyone survive constant beatings for ten years of their life, and it not affect them? So when my father beat my two-year-old sister to death, it should have come to no surprise to anyone who was paying attention. He was repeating a pattern.
When I dive deeper into my father’s past, I find a pattern. All the males on my father’s side of the family are in prison. Why is that? Are they all bad people? Or are they suffering from the same type of environment? Knowing that I am the only male from my father’s side that is not in prison makes me more cautious. I am constantly questioning myself and my choices. But my father did not have the opportunity to gain the same insight. He grew up abused, had a poor education, and before he knew it, he was in love with a baby.
In case you cannot tell by the tone of this article, yes, I forgave my father. It took me years to come to terms with what happened. We don’t get to pick and choose which mental illness we forgive and which ones we hold over people’s heads. My father knows what he did. He went to prison. Out of my brothers and sisters, including my mother, I am one of the only ones who choose to forgive him. My decision to forgive my father caused some strain within the family to put it nicely. However, if we genuinely feel that mental illness is a disease, then we have to remember that we cannot hold hate or anger in our heart for something that people can not control. I will not hold hatred in my heart for a man who didn’t get the help he needed for a disease he didn’t know that he had.
“Nearly one in five (19 percent) U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness”
One in 24 (4.1 percent) has a serious mental illness. One in 12 (8.5 percent) has a diagnosable substance use disorder” ( Psychiatry.org). The vast majority of individuals with mental illness continue to function in their daily lives. Mental illness is treatable, but we can not test the disease by pointing fingers and casting aspersions. There are a five general warning signs that you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness : (1) Long-lasting sadness or irritability (2)Extremely high and low moods (3)Excessive fear, or anxiety (4) Social withdrawal (5)Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits (Newroadstrestment.org).
Lastly, I want people to understand that we can not afford to be ignorant when it comes to mental health. I hear the laughter and the jokes made by people who don’t understand the facts surrounding mental illness, which is why we have school shootings and senseless murders like my little sister. We can avoid these tragedies if we take the time to listen to each other. When someone tells you they are hurting, look at them. See if you can figure out what they need. Or, just be quiet and be a friend without judgement; it’s not a contest to see whose pain is the worse. Families must stop protecting the sick and seek help for those loved ones who need it. I wrote this article so people can understand that you are putting people’s lives in danger by not taking mental health seriously. And please stop using the phrase, “everyone is going through it.” While it is true that everyone is going through pain, not everyone interprets the pain the same. The way we understand pain comes from many factors, factors that you may not be aware of at the time. So, instead of saying, “everyone is going through it,” how about you ask, “how can I help?”
ARM YOURSELF WITH THE FACTS:
· Mental illnesses, in general, are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors ( Mayo Clinic, 2019).
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, please call one of the numbers below:
- The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET.
1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En Español 1-888-628-9454
The Lifeline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Lifeline connects callers to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.
- Crisis Text Line
Text “HELLO” to 741741
The Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.
- Veterans Crisis Line
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 or text to 838255
The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that connects veterans 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a trained responder. The service is available to all veterans, even if they are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA healthcare. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can call 1-800-799-4889.
- Disaster Distress Helpline
Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746
The disaster distress helpline provides immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. The helpline is free, multilingual, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates or dial 911 in an emergency.