While many of you were reading last week’s note, Beauty, I was sitting in a synagogue attending the funeral of a friend.

He was a regular reader of these weekly missives, occasionally sending me an email to compliment me on my writing or to check in on the health of a loved one I referenced in a particular piece.

By all counts, he was a kind and loving man with a full life. This made his committing suicide all the more shocking and confusing.

The synagogue was overflowing with friends and family there to pay their respects. A live-stream was set up for those people out of town or unable to attend on such short notice. 

The rabbi noted that the word “religion” shared the same root as  “ligament.”  “Lig” means to tie, bind or connect. So here we all were bound by our relationship with the deceased and confusion about what had happened. 

This was the second instance in just under a month where a friend or family member was suffering from a severe mental health crisis unbeknownst to me that ended their life. In both cases, by distance and strength of relationship, they were somewhat removed from me – the “lig” was weak. 

There has been no shortage of stories reporting on our nation’s mental health crisis. Over the last 20 years, suicide rates have increased by 35% – although it’s worth noting that they actually declined during the peak of the pandemic – perhaps an odd sign that our isolation actually created more opportunities for connection – only to increase again as we returned to “normalcy.”

Yet there are also signs of hope. Suicide rates in the world have actually fallen by a third, over a similar period of time. In Japan, they require employees at large companies to take an annual stress test.  Stockholm introduced the world’s first mental health ambulance. Suicide rates in the U.S. for LGBTQ youth declined after the same-sex marriage act was passed. 

Perhaps most importantly more people are opening up and sharing their mental health struggles, from celebrities like Selena Gomez to Michael Phelps to Naomi Osaka to everyday folks who are increasingly getting help from mental health providers.

But I keep going back to that scene in the synagogue. So many people connected to the person in the casket that he was for some reason unable to connect with to share the depths of his pain and struggle. This same scenario played out in my family where people were just unable to figure out how to give the support for a loved one struggling with depression. 

I tread lightly as I’m not intimately familiar with the details of the two situations I write about today and because I am in no way an expert in mental health. Yet as an observer of the human condition it saddens me that as a society we don’t seem well-equipped to connect with each other in a time of urgent need.

So I offer only this. Check in with yourself, with your friends, with family, with acquaintances. Connect with them to see how they are really doing. Have a long talk, listen, be vulnerable yourself, be direct, show up for each other more regularly with intention.  

And of course, If you don’t have someone you feel like you can contact about your mental health, that doesn’t mean you’re alone. Remember that counselors are available 24/7 at the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.  


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