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Mental Health Awareness Month Brings Light to the Darkness Many Face

Recent Suicides and Overdoses Athletes and Entertainers Reminds of the Importance of Reaching Out or Encouraging Others to Reach Out for Help

The suicides of former Pro-Bowl linebacker Junior Seau and the great Robin Williams, or the overdoses of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Whitney Houston over the years highlight discussions about mental health and the need to ask for help, especially as May marks National Mental Health Awareness Month. Lighthouse Network is praying for the many families affected by depression, addictions, mental health issues and especially suicide and overdose and we ask others to do the same.

Seau, 43, was found dead on May 2 of a gunshot wound to the chest; his death has been ruled a suicide. He was a college football star at the University of Southern California, then played for 20 years in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. He was named 12 times to the Pro Bowl.

Speculation still continues about the state of Seau’s mental health at the time of his death. Former teammates have said they saw no cries for help, despite the fact that Seau drove his car off a cliff in 2010. Seau maintained that he fell asleep at the wheel, but looking back, his friends and family may wonder if that incident was the start of a downward spiral. Others are also looking at the possibility that concussions have contributed to some mental health issues. Seau’s suicide, in fact, has caused many to talk about getting retired football players the help they need after their playing days are behind them.

Prince was addicted to pain meds and the family was pursuing an intervention the day his body was found. Despite fame, fortune, and the material comforts of this world, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston struggled for years with depression, addiction, and psychological issues. As tragic as the deaths of these superstars are, they should serve as a wakeup call to everyone in our society. We all come in to contact with people who are struggling and need someone to step up in their lives, show compassion and empathy, and guide them to professional help and spiritual awakening with God.

When factoring in many suicides go unreported or are covered up for various reasons, and the amount of passive suicides (people who stop their heart meds or insulin so they can die) suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. Third in our advanced society with so much wealth and happiness. Suicide is an epidemic and we have to act now to stamp it out. But the cure requires addressing the spiritual, psychological, and physical, and most treaters don’t want to include that spiritual piece.

The darkness suicide victims and those who overdose may have struggled with before their death is unfortunately not an isolated incident. Men, especially, are very unlikely to ask for help, even when they know they need it. When we consider the situation of a professional athlete like Junior Seau, we can certainly see where some of those struggles may have come from. For one, players can experience a feeling of helplessness once they leave the game. The daily routine and camaraderie is gone, and isolation, boredom and perhaps depression set in. These players no longer know where they fit in. They are no longer part of a team, and family life, now that they’re out of the limelight, may be difficult as well.

When a professional football career ends, especially a successful one like Junior Seau’s, a childhood dream is in the past, and life as these players knew it is over. A dangerous time for anyone is when they lose something precious to them, like marriage, child, health, finances, or identity (job, being a mother). They go from 60 to zero instantly, life seemingly stops, and they don’t know how to get back on track and moving forward.

Family members and friends can help prevent a tragedy by knowing the warning signs of mental illness, depression and suicide. Even if the words “I need help” are never uttered, there are other ways to know if someone is crying out. These are some warning signs of depression or suicide:

• Unrelenting low mood and pessimism
• Deep sadness and a loss of interest in things one used to care about
• Hopelessness and desperation
• Anxiety and tension
• Withdrawal
• Sleeping and eating problems
• Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
• Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
• Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die
• Giving away prized possessions or contacting people to say goodbye
• Putting affairs in order and tying up loose ends
• Unexpected rage or anger
• Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or outwardly happy

Don’t be shy, ask questions and get to know your friends and loved ones better because your action might save their life.

karl-benzio-1Dr. Karl Benzio MD, Christian Psychiatrist, writer, speaker, media guest expert, social issue activist, and the founder and clinical director of Lighthouse Network. Benzio brings scientific expertise and biblical principles together to examine common daily struggles and help people successfully navigate life’s storms. His experiences include teaching pastors, ministry leaders and students about counseling, leadership, parenting, marriage, and conflict resolution skills in traumatized areas like Uganda, Kenya and post-Hussein Iraq. He is currently a member of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council, the Pennsylvania Director of the American Academy of Medical Ethics, and serves on many other social policy task forces. His specialties include adolescents, addictions, decision-making and infusing spirituality into treatment. Benzio shares psycho-spiritual insights via his Stepping Stones daily devotional, on his one-minute daily radio feature “Life Change with Dr. Karl,” on 425 Christian radio stations and on iDisciple.org.

Email: KBenzio@LighthouseNetwork.org

Twitter: @drkarlb