Earlier this week I saw a promo video for the new ABC show, A Million Little Things on Facebook, and as I scrolled through the comments someone posted, “Why would anyone want to watch a show about suicide?” As I kept scrolling, it was disconcerting how many people were generally dismissive of the show because it’s tackling such a serious topic.
A Silent Crisis
It’s true. Suicide a very heavy topic. I’ve been impacted by it several times in my own life. But here’s the thing: we need to talk about suicide. Not talking about suicide is literally killing so many of the people we love — especially our fathers, brothers, uncles, and friends. We need to end the stigma around asking for help.
According to a 2016 study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, “suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults.”
“It’s really stunning to see such a large increase in suicide rates affecting virtually every age group.” — Katherine Hempstead, senior adviser for health care at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The leading cause of death for men under 45 in the UK is suicide. In the USA, research conducted by the Center for Diseases Control (CDC) found males take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of females and represent 77.9% of all suicides in the United States.
Breaking Out of ‘The Man Box’
There are many causes for the rise in suicide, especially among men, however most research on male suicide points to the stress of feeling like they are being forced into a rigid construct of social and cultural ideas about male identity and traditional gender roles that no longer align with the realities of modern life.
Many male survivors of suicide report that they didn’t reach out for help because they felt doing so would make them appear weak, or run afoul of many of the other “masculine” character traits. For many, the rules of “being a man” prevent them from asking for help or sharing their feelings.
“Talking is a necessary first step in breaking the stigma. Suicide has long been a taboo subject, which is ironic because the taboo is what makes it so lethal.” — Matt Haig
Moreover, men who contemplated suicide reported that they felt they couldn’t talk about their feelings.Other survivors said they didn’t ask for help because they felt sharing their emotions put them “at risk” of being perceived as gay by family, friends and other men.
A One In A Million Little Conversations
Initiating a conversation about mental health, depression or suicidal ideation is difficult. The person seeking help is afraid they will be judged. The person who’s looking to help often doesn’t know how to start the conversation. That’s where a show like A Million Little Things can provide a bridge to getting the conversation started and help end the stigma around mental health issues.
As viewers become emotionally invested in fictional characters, especially those who are facing similar mental health challenges, it serves as a mirror that provides them with a mental model or scaffold to begin finding solutions, as well as the courage, to tackle their real-life problems.
Fear of the unknown can be a great impediment to seeking help. From Roots to Pedro Zamora on MTV’s The Real World, television and popular culture have long served as an impetus to social change, kick starting difficult conversations and providing a path to helping us solve roadblocks in our own lives, and society at large.
“Through his work with MTV, he taught young people that ‘The Real World’ includes AIDS and that each of us has the responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones.” -President Bill Clinton
The impact of a Disney having the guts to air A Million Little Things on network television will amplify the conversation around suicide. And by tackling this subject in such an open and frank manner, it will no doubt cause many people to feel uncomfortable.
But that, in this case, is a very good thing. The first step in helping people, and in this case men, is to help them punch the first hole in the man box, let the light in and see that there is a path towards healing.
How To Save A Life
It’s important that we end the stigma around mental health and work together to proactively save the lives of our loved ones. It’s the right thing to do. And it can literally save a life.
And while technology is rapidly evolving to assist people who need help, it’s important to encourage people to talk about mental health and provide them with more access to mental health resources, services and professionals.
If you, or someone you love is struggling with depression or other mental health issues, here are some resources to help you start your own conversation.
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741–741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255.