Disaster Might Lurk Nearer Than You Ever Imagined

Three years ago, I never would have imagined that disaster stalked. Sure, I knew Sarah, our youngest daughter, struggled with depression and an eating disorder. But I didn’t know how near disaster lurked.

Back then, my knowledge of mental illness could fit within 140 characters. Today, I could write a book. Sure, I’d heard about things like schizophrenia and psychosis. Mania was something that people back in the 60s experienced when the Beatles crossed the ocean. Depression happened in the 30s, and I callously believed that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps to get out of mood slumps.

But when mental illness happens to someone near and dear to your heart, you have two choices—reject them or educate yourself. Rejection was not an option. In my quest to gain knowledge of mental illnesses, I’ve come to understand that all too often I have subconsciously rejected those who suffer.

Words and phrases that I used to bandy about now make me pause before uttering them. I self-edit phrases like ‘that’s crazy!’ or ‘he’s gone off the deep end!’ As far as I know, no one has started a movement to eradicate those words or phrases from our vocabulary in an effort at political correctness. Nor do I think anyone should start such a campaign.

But I do think that joining campaigns of understanding will help ease the pain of those whose lives are affected by mental illness. A friend on Facebook posted a passionate post on the anniversary of her daughter’s suicide this week. She couldn’t understand WHY. Why had she not confided her agony with her parents (they had a strong relationship). She struggled with the anger she felt towards her daughter for not revealing her pain to her.

We as a society have so much work to do to stop the stigma surrounding those with mental illnesses. Someone suffering from suicidal, depressed, racing, or anxious thoughts should feel as comfortable as a diabetic in confiding in someone that they need something.

Loving Someone with a Mental Illness

My daughter has bipolar disorder. I just about burst my buttons with mamma pride every time I think about her and all she has done since her diagnosis. She shared her journey on my blog. In six months, she will graduate from college. We don’t pay a penny towards her college tuition, room, or board. She has scholarships and she works 20 hours a week during the school year and full-time during the summer. In July, she will marry her best friend.

And just like a diabetic, she has to manage her illness. She has learned to keep healthy, get regular sleep and exercise, and see mental health professionals on a regular basis. Her fiancé knows her back story. She has a support network in place.

Although disaster seems relegated to the back porch, it hovers near. Mental illness works that way. She knows we love her and accept her exactly as she is. But how many people don’t have that assurance? Before diagnosis, diabetics don’t know that they have an illness that could kill them. Likewise, an adolescent experiencing the onset of bipolar disorder has no idea that they are ill.

The next time you see an adolescent ‘going off the deep end’ don’t just shake your head in pity. Draw near—to either the adolescent or an adult in their life—and ask questions. If your child seems irrational and defiant, or maybe depressed so badly that nothing works, keep seeking answers and asking questions.

What to Do?

Suicides don’t happen in a vacuum. Don’t call suicide a selfish act—that blames the victim. Instead, do something when you see someone faltering. We can no longer sit back and criticize other parents for their ‘wayward’ teenagers.

Don't ever say that #suicide is a 'selfish act.' That's blaming the #victim. #mentalillness Click To Tweet

I honestly don’t know how I would have reacted if someone would have told me that they thought Sarah had a mental illness before she received an official diagnosis. Maybe it would have angered me. I hope I would have listened and it could have spared a lot of heartache.

We have a duty to our fellow human beings, though. Don’t be afraid to speak up. It could save someone’s life. Maybe someone near and dear to YOUR heart. When you see disaster lurking, GET HELP! If it happens to someone you love, intervene. When it happens to an acquaintance, don’t be afraid to bring up the topic. It’s better to lose a friendship than for someone to lose a loved one.


Help me get the word out! (My Five-Minute Friday friends, I’m so sorry for going over the five-minute limit. Once I start writing about mental illness, I get caught up in my passion for educating others). 



  1. Great post, Anita; your courage and love shine through.

    Combat-induced PTSD isn’t a mental illness (at least, not to me), but it sure needs attention during the holiday season. The juxtaposition between civilian life and that place where everything is stripped back to life and death can be jarring at best, but during the Christmas season it’s just awful, a trip through a kaleidoscope world in which the external frivolity has be be reconciled with memories that will never fade…and it often can’t be one.

    I’m homebound now, but I avoided malls and even WalMart like the plague, because it took too much energy to try to cope.

    #1 at FMF this week.

    1. ;). If we want to carry the diabetes/mental illness analogy further, we could say that PTSD is like Type 2 diabetes, perhaps. Circumstances cause changes in our minds and bodies that produce a new set of results. May God be close to you this season–covering your memories with his peace and love.
      Anita recently posted…Grace Camp for GrownupsMy Profile

  2. Anita,
    Thank you so much for sharing. It’s hard for people to understand why someone would take their own life or not be able to get out of bed for days. When you are in that dark place you feel like no one understands and you really don’t care anymore. You just want to be done. I was fortunate that after an attempted suicide in my teens, my parents got me the right help and I was diagnosed with depression. Also what people don’t understand is depression just doesn’t magically go away no matter how much therapy and prayer is involved. It is something I continue to struggle with as an adult. Therapy and my faith are what continues to get me through as well as support from my spouse and my family. I really should not be alive today and I feel God intervened because He still has a purpose and plan for my life.
    Thank you for including the checklists as well. So important to be able to recognize these signs even with my own 2 teenage boys. This is especially important since mental illness can be hereditary and my youngest son also has Asperger’s.
    Blessing to you!

  3. I’m so glad you speak up on this, Anita! Walking through a lot of it with a friend has taught me so much too, and I agree, it is a subject that people need to understand more about to be able to support their friends and family well. I’m glad your daughter is doing well now.
    Lesley recently posted…Come Near!My Profile

  4. Anita, I appreciate you being the champion of those of us whose minds are a war zone. We need more allies like you.

    “Someone suffering from suicidal, depressed, racing, or anxious thoughts should feel as comfortable as a diabetic in confiding in someone that they need something.”

    Yes and amen. I’m a considered high-functioning, but, boy, there are times when I just want to tell someone about all the awful things that race through my head. There are times when I wish that more people understood that the signs of panic, for me, aren’t tears and screaming, but complete silence and wide, bloodshot eyes. Like you, I do what I can to educate and I live in the hope that, maybe, people will learn to be more perceptive, compassionate and supportive.
    Marie recently posted…Five Minute Friday: NearMy Profile

  5. Thank you, Anita! In my work at school, I meet so many young people and often I only get very short glimpses into their lives, but they are probably not easy. Many students struggle and I realise I have to know more, educate myself more, raise more awareness.
    Thank you for being such a shining example in that!
    Katha recently posted…Advent… as far away as possibleMy Profile

  6. “The next time you see an adolescent ‘going off the deep end’ don’t just shake your head in pity. Draw near—to either the adolescent or an adult in their life—and ask questions.” Amen, amen. I knew something was going on with my teenager back in 2010, but I assumed it was just normal teenage angst. It wasn’t. It was suicidal depression. Thankfully by the grace of God (!) we had good friends who dared to talk to us about what they had seen from her and we were able to get good psychiatric help and meds. It has made all the difference and she’s doing well today (on her meds!). I can still get very emotional when I think about the “what if’s” that could have happened but didn’t.
    Lisa notes recently posted…Does This Story Ever End?My Profile

  7. How wonderful that Sarah’s had such improvement. Proud of her. — My youngest struggles too, and it’s been a difficult year. We’ve been experimenting with different things and hope we’re on the verge of a breakthrough. It is so hard on the family. We’re close too, though, so we make a point of keeping the communication lines open. It’s a full-time job. So worth it to help those we love, though. Will say a prayer for Sarah. Thanks for this great post today, Anita. Hope you and your family are having a beautiful advent season. ((hug))
    Brenda recently posted…DayspringMy Profile

  8. My family has struggled with this and I loved your post and shared! My daughter has spearheaded a student-run suicide prevention organization on campus/ Univ. of Oregon and she has such a heart for all things hurting. It’s difficult to face close -up and wow , your daughter is doing so very well. I agree – mental illness is marginalized and judged in a way that other illnesses aren’t. bless you, great job!
    sue recently posted…Feast on Friday for Christmas Morning: Amish Cheesy CasseroleMy Profile

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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