By Megan McCarthy
Megan McCarthy is an active community member who has lived in Flagstaff for six years. She spends her free time supporting other parents who have lost their children through an organization called Helping Parents Heal and speaking about the importance of mental health awareness. She also volunteers at suicide awareness and prevention events throughout the state, including the Out of Darkness Community Walk in Flagstaff.
You are not alone. These are the words I will spend the rest of my life repeating to everyone who will listen. You are not alone in your pain, in your sadness, in your bad day, in your anxiety. What in our society has made us think that we are always supposed to be perfect? We have false expectations that make us think we need to feel happy and whole all the time. What matters is to understand that it is OK not to be OK! Our bodies and brains were not designed to always be in a status of joy and perfection. We are complex beings that are in direct response to our environment. We are meant to learn and grow and to do this with support from those around us. We are not born with it all figured out. We need tools to navigate mental health just like we need tools to navigate physical health.
Why do I want to share this message with the world? Because my amazing son Lane lost his life to suicide at the age of 23. This put a hole in my heart that will never heal. He was a young man living a full life with so much promise for his future. He and his new wife were raising their beautiful 1-year-old daughter, Malia. He was working in a popular restaurant as a line cook, which was putting him on track to fulfill his dream to becoming a chef. He lived by the ocean in the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. He was living the life he wanted but he was hiding. He was hiding a deep secret filled with shame.
This shame was his mental health that had taken him on a rollercoaster ride. We knew he has some issues with depression and mania, but he hid how deep these issues truly affected him. He was deeply ashamed that he would be defined and ridiculed by his mental health issues and therefore hid the full weight of his struggles. This fear of stigma cost him his life. What Lane did not understand is that no one in his life would have looked upon his struggles with anything but love and compassion—that if he truly let his secret out, we would have surrounded him with acceptance and understanding.
Where did I go wrong? I have asked myself this question over and over, and I could spend a lifetime trying to get to an answer. But sadly, the answer would not change the reality that Lane is no longer with us physically. What I can ask myself is how can I make an impact now? How can I help just one person feel different about their mental health struggles? The answer is talk about it! Make it normal to feel uncomfortable and be vulnerable with each other. Share with others and listen. Learn to sit with our feelings instead of wishing and pushing them away.
So, I am here to tell you that you are not alone in your struggles. There are caring people all over this planet who understand. You are not a burden for having feelings, needing help or wanting understanding. You are important and make an impact to those around you. Do not be ashamed by your mental health struggles. If we all speak up and share our challenges and stories, we can break the stigma. We can be the voice that changes the future. Join me in the conversation!
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please reach out for support.
988 Suicide or Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988
NAU Counseling Services: (928) 523-2131
Employee Assistance and Wellness: (928) 523-1552
Terros Health: 1-844-534-4673 (HOPE)
Jacks Care 24/7: (866) 656-9983
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Out of the Darkness Community Walk: Oct. 1 at Buffalo Park. Register online.
Things Not Seen: Art and Healing through Narratives of Hope, Grief, Loss, and Struggles for Self-Acceptance Art Exhibition: Sept. 8 to Oct. 31 at NAU’s Beasley Gallery. Learn more.