Editor’s note: Deconstructing Stigma: A Change in Thought Can Change a Life is a public awareness campaign developed by McLean Hospital to spark conversation not only about behavioral and mental health but also about the stigma that surrounds it. The campaign features compelling stories from people across the United States who have been affected by mental illness, including Jessika’s story below.
By Jessika Z.
I had a secret.
Ever since losing two close friends to suicide, one being my high school best friend, I have worked tirelessly in the field of suicide prevention—urging those who are desperate to step forward and seek help. What I never told anyone until recently was that I, too, tried to end it all when I was just 17.
Even with everything I know and have learned about mental illness, I still felt like I had to be silent. I was ashamed of who I was.
I had buried the despair of my teenage years—including an intense battle with depression, an eating disorder, and self-injury—deep inside. It wasn’t until years later, after the birth of my third child, that the struggles resurfaced. I knew I needed help but feared my illness could impact my reputation and that of my husband, a notable figure in the city.
My brain tells me there is a certain expectation for the wife of a community leader. We are both so involved. My husband is the head of a school—what will they think of him if his wife has mental health issues?
After years of trying to mask my issues and keep up appearances, I finally began weekly therapy sessions. However, I was unprepared for the intense bout of depression that hit and a subsequent spiral downward. It was as though a time capsule had been opened and everything I had been trying to avoid and conceal came rushing back.
I realized that I had never learned positive coping skills, so my brain automatically took me back to the dangerous ones that I had come to rely on for so many years. I ended up in the hospital for two weeks after I hit a horribly low point. I never thought I would be there again. Depression can strike at any time, and there isn’t always a tangible reason.
As difficult as this process has been and continues to be, I decided it would be a disservice to continue to keep my story private. I couldn’t let my fear keep me silent. For inspiration, I only have to look at the tattoo on my wrist—three birds with the initials of each of my children and husband embedded into the design.
It’s a reminder of what I’ve overcome, why I’m here, and why I must keep pushing forward.
Jessika is a 34-year-old mental health advocate from Massachusetts. To read more about Deconstructing Stigma and to meet more people like her, visit DeconstructingStigma.org.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the US, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.