This past Sunday, University of South Carolina (USC) held an Out of Darkness Walk for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Tomorrow, USC will be screening Broken Heart Land, a feature-length documentary that explores the response of friends, family and community members to Zack Harrington’s suicide in Norman, Oklahoma in 2010.
Today, I'm writing about the importance of both of these special events.
But first, I'd like to talk about the idea of tolerance.
We've all seen this bumper sticker, right? This bumper sticker is synonymous with college students, hippies and liberals. But it's not something you see on every car. But the message behind this sticker is a good one: it is to promote, encourage and support engagement between Jews, Christians and Muslims both individually and through their respective communities through dialogue, education and research.
But it has another meaning to me as well. To coexist is to have social cohesion, and cohesion without discrimination based on religion, sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, etc.
Depression comes in a lot of forms, and it comes from a lot of different sources. Depression can be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. And the slightest thing can set it off, sending a person in a downward spiral that they believe they cannot get out.
I'm not afraid to admit that I have suffered from depression, and I know that a lot of those who are reading this probably have too. But something I feel that does scare people is an open discussion, or an open dialogue.
Back when started my undergraduate degree at USC, I started to feel a bit lost and a lot of things became confusing for me. I found friends that helped me see through these feelings and for a while I was able to keep my un-diagnosed depression under-wraps. But as most things tend to do, the pressure built up and I no longer could hide it. I sought help and it did help.
But before all of that, I too had one of these Coexist stickers on the back my small white compact car. I was excited to have it, as it seemed like a cool thing to have. I felt like I was making a statement everywhere I drove, whether it be to Target, back home or to the doctors office. All things were great until one day someone made a comment.
A close member of my family decided to point out my bumper sticker, which started a discussion. My family member ended the conversation by saying how this sticker taught tolerance, and to tolerate what is ungodly is to be intolerable to God. Essentially, "at this time in my life," I was acting in a way that was dishonorable.
Wow, right? Little did they know what I was going through, and so I took this to heart and became upset. And again, I'm not afraid to admit, but I cried. I cried because of the confusion, the pain and the stress that I was feeling from hiding something about myself. I cried because what my family didn't realize was that I was gay, and that by calling this bumper sticker that represented social coherence, including sexual orientation, dishonorable, in turn labeled me the same.
Broken Heart Land, the documentary, tells the heartbreaking story of Zack Harrington who "killed himself with a gunshot to the head in his parent's ranch in Norman, OK." A week before his suicide, Zack attended a city council meeting where controversial statements equated being gay with the spreading of diseases like HIV and AIDS. While Zack was a gay teen, he was also carrying another secret about his health. With a conservative family that he thought would side with the conservative ideologies of the time, he drew his own conclusions about his fate. Zack committed suicide because he thought he would not be accepted for who he was, and thought that he would be an alien within his own community. You can watch the trailer of the video below:
This sad story is one of many that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention seeks to prevent.
So, where is tolerance in today's world? Do we tolerate and coexist with each other the way that we all say that we do or should? I'd like to say that we do. I'd like to say that the problems of the past are in our past, but the truth is that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. LGB youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning youth are 3 times more likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers. To say that depression, especially among those who do not identify as straight, is a battle that we as a society are wining would be a lie.
The film screening that will take place tomorrow, April 2nd, at 7:00 pm in Gambrell Hall and the Out of Darkness walks that are held on campus and city river walk are two important reminders that there are people suffering.
I hope you make the time time to go see this film, whether it be tomorrow or on your own time online, and I hope that you know that if you are feeling lost or sad, out of control of your life or unable to talk to anyone, or if you feel like you are the only one who knows what you're going through that there is help.
In fact, here are some resources available to you today: