One day, I'm going to own a Marguerite Sauvage commission of Batwoman. It's a modest goal, but some days focusing on that one happy thought is enough to get me through the day. Other days waiting for the next issue of a favourite comic book gives me a reason to keep going. These things seem small, but even small goals and simple curiosity can have a huge impact on someone battling mental illness. For me, and countless others, they're reasons to stay alive.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. In 2013, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. There were 41,149 reported suicides in that year, meaning that one person every 12.8 minutes died by suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that nearly 90 percent of all people who died by suicide were suffering from a mental illness at the time and didn't believe they would get better. In many cases, the mental illness was either undiagnosed or inadequately treated.
Facing a lifetime of mental illness is overwhelming, and symptoms like intense anxiety, hopelessness, and desperation only serve to make living seem impossible. There are treatments available for the mental health conditions that cause people to contemplate suicide, including medication, individual therapy, and group therapy.
While a combination of therapy and medication can go a long way to prevent suicides, many people feel uncomfortable asking for help. As the AFSP says, "many of us grow up with the belief that people who take their own lives are crazy, selfish, or have some kind of a moral defect". These false beliefs often prevent people from seeking treatment.
Balanced and accurate portrayals of mental illness and suicide in the media help to counter these false beliefs and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. There have been many positives steps to changing the way mental illness is viewed in the media. San Diego Comic Con featured a panel discussing the relationship between comics and mental health, and a similar panel entitled "A Force for Good: The Powerful Partnership Between Mental Health and Pop Culture" is scheduled for this year's New York Comic Con. Both panels feature the physicians behind Broadcast Thought, an organization that provides "expert consultation to the media and entertainment industries" on mental health issues. Their aim is to help reduce stigma and change inaccurate depictions of mental health issues in the media, by offering commentary and consulting services.
One of the Broadcast Thought's founders, Vasilis K. Pozios, authored a short comic entitled Aura. The title character is a superhero who "happens to have a mental illness", and who is seeking treatment for her bipolar disorder. As she commutes, she explains how she felt after trying to kill herself. The book draws attention to the everyday ways that mental illness is stigmatized in our society. Drawn by Marguerite Sauvage, the book is visually stunning as well as emotionally resonating.
There are many other organizations working to end the stigma surrounding mental illness and to help those affected by suicide or suicidal thoughts. One other example is Project UROK. Founded by comedian Jenny Jaffe, Project UROK, the organization was "created to combat the isolation and stigmatization surrounding mental illness". The website features videos filmed by celebrities and average people alike discussing their own struggles with mental health. Each video is between 2 to 5 minutes in length, and contains a message aimed to help others who are suffering. Wil Wheaton, Mara Wilson, and Perez Hilton are among those who have filmed videos for the website.
The most important message here is that there is help available for mental illness and that there is no shame in asking for the help you need. Walk-in clinics, family doctors, emergency rooms, and suicide helplines are available. Things will get better, and until they do, it might help to make a list of modest goals and small things you're excited to experience. Even something like a piece of comic book art, or writing an article, can be enough to make it through.