Since losing my friend to suicide, I’ve been particularly focused on mental health and in working toward a world where people do not have to suffer in silence.
Last month there was a Facebook post that received more than a million views. I noticed because it was posted by a nonprofit that I advise and it was an order of magnitude more views than usual.
What got all the attention?
The post featured an image with a single simple statement:
“Mental Health is Just as Important as Physical Health.”
The likes and the comments came pouring in. The statement resonated because it’s something that isn’t said or recognized enough.
There’s something about illnesses of the mind — depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. — that makes many of those suffering want to run, hide, and results in suffering in silence. That something is likely the stigma attached to mental illness.
Sadly, many still don’t understand that being diagnosed with a mental illness isn’t something within one’s control — just like diabetes or cancer isn’t in one’s control.
We don’t tell people with physical ailments that “maybe if they just tried a little harder” that they could be cured. Just like we encourage seeking help and support those who face physical health challenges, the same rules of engagement ought to exist for those who suffer from mental illnesses. There is no stigma associated with someone needing to go to physical therapy to get better — the same mindset must carry into the mental health arena too.
Simply, ignoring an illness makes the illness worse.
And more pointedly, asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
In cases of both physical and mental illness, we are talking about flaws in chemistry, not character. We are talking about disorders, not decisions.
I know about this firsthand. In 2013, I lost a buddy to suicide. His name was Ari, and he was a giant among men (literally, he was a big dude and he gave massive bear hugs). His death was a complete shock — Ari never seemed to be struggling and he never reached out for help. I will always wonder: did he suffer alone because of the stigma that surrounds mental health?
I wish someone could have told him, “Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. And you will be okay.”
And that’s true. Mental illness is as real, as preventable, and as treatable as other health issues. But we first must make it okay to say, “You know, right now, I’m not okay.”
The tension between mental health challenges and a lack of open conversation around it is something I observe in my own industry. It’s no secret depression and anxiety are highly prevalent in the startup ecosystem, from founders to investors and many in-between. Suffering in silence has led to heartbreaking founder suicides and to many entrepreneurs trying to reconcile their internal mental health struggles without asking for help, even in the form of confiding in a friend. It does not need to be this way.
The deeply personal impact of Ari’s death made me want to do something concrete to eliminate the unnecessary shame surrounding mental health.
This letter is one step — to humbly ask for your support in combating the stigma that surrounds mental health.
Where I — and you — can move the needle on this issue is by influencing today’s teens and college students as well as Generation Z and the other generations to come.
The students in college now are more open than any we’ve seen — we find that as a group they are willing to talk about the issues they and their friends and family are dealing with and ways to get help. But they also face significant challenges in the mental health arena: one in four have a diagnoseable mental illness, and suicide remains the second leading cause of death among college students. Thankfully, campus by campus, post by post, and year by year, young people are changing the conversation about mental health in a way that touches their peers, their parents, and the larger community.
The organization that is working to make this change happen is Active Minds, and I am proud to sit on its National Board.
Active Minds includes a network of more than 400 chapters on college campuses and comprises a membership of more than 11,000 students who are each advocating for more open discussion about mental health. Through them, the conversation is changing. A student at a time, we are making a difference and saving lives.
Here are just some of the ways you can help:
1, You can make a donation to Active Minds (and learn more).
We are still looking for the Title Sponsor for the Gala, which is a 10k donation — if you or anyone or any organization you know might be interested, please reach out to me at email@example.com.
4. You can share a link to support Active Minds on Twitter by clicking here.
There’s nothing wrong with needing some help to get by. If you’re struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, give National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1–800–273-TALK (8255) a call and get the support you deserve.
My thanks in advance for your support as a #stigmafighter.