September Song

September is Suicide Prevention Month. This on top of the pandemic, the politics, the economy and the fires. Stick around – we might even come up with a happy ending. 

Just last month – about a million years ago – CC Crossroads posted a letter to the editor with many details on the Culver City Police Department’s recent history of arrests of underage people of color. The reader response to this letter was big, with a surprising number of commentators focusing on how wrong it was to question the authority of the police. 

That gave me pause. This is why journalism exists; to question authority. Any healthy authority can stand up to questioning – if it can’t, then it needs to be investigated. As I often reflect, sunlight is the best disinfectant. 

With the comments on the letter to the editor, further complications arose from the enforcement of our policy that people need to sign their real names. The commentator who truly screamed the loudest (ALL CAPS) over the letter (LIAR! LIAR!) was discovered to be someone not using their real name. After several exchanges attempting to get to clarity, leading to more misleading claims, I was left with the thought – that person is CRAZY. 

Then, I edited it to Mentally Ill. 

Calling someone crazy is just a vague insult. Calling someone mentally ill is an understanding that they won’t benefit from contempt ( who does, really?) but that they need to be viewed with compassion and offered help. 

 Comments – and letters to the editor – that I get that start with the idea that questioning authority is wrong, I put into this frame. These are folks that have been so abused by authority that they have to support it unwaveringly. They are permanent prisoners. I’m sure that they have come through a lot of pain, physical and emotional. Probably bullied. Family, tribe, culture – they come from a place of patriarchal authority so rigid that even questioning it is forbidden. 

So, letting those questions have a place to published is something I see as essential to healing. Pro and con on any topic that the city needs to deal with, public dialogue is essential. That is why it is a Crossroads. 

September is Suicide Prevention Month. This particular September, it seems to me that even the hardiest and most resilient among us are feeling kinda crazy. Two suicides this morning – both of them a bit distant, friends of friends – but tragically proving the point. We have limits. 

There are big piles of statistics to incorporate. For instance, Wednesday is the most anxiety-provoking day of the week. Crises involving self-harm often happen in the darkest hours of the night. Almost 40% of calls to suicide hotlines involve relationship problems, but then another almost 20% involve issues of isolation and loneliness. Complicating matters, the CDC finds 54% of suicides involve persons with “no known mental health issues.”

That means they have never been in therapy, never sought medical treatment, never reached out for help. 

Amid the pandemic, suicide is it’s own epidemic. Deaths from drug overdoses are up more the 30%. Diagnosis of depression is up by 37%. There is so much fear, grief and stress floating around in our society it’s not even quantifiable. When we shame people about needing help – it’s not helpful.

Our culture has never had a better understanding of mental illness, and what we have now is almost nothing. We can diagnose a physical illness with great accuracy. We barely understand how mental illness begins, or why it can wipe out some lives and leave others on course. Calling someone ‘crazy’ or ‘mental’ is just  a derogatory directive to ignore them. 

One of my favorite internet sites is PostSecret. People send postcards with their anonymous secrets; it’s a suicide prevention project. The founder, Frank Warren, has been quoted as saying “We are all going to die. What’s the rush? Stick around and find out what happens next.” 

There is no way to avoid the reality that reality is changing around us almost faster than we can digest. Defund the Police? Some people are sure it’s the last vestige of civilization. Defund the Police? Some people are sure that it’s the light at the end of the tunnel that might allow civilization to begin. When someone has a perspective that differs from your own, listen without judging. If the reasoning behind their ideas seems to make no sense at all – maybe they are mentally ill. They need your compassion and not your contempt. 

Let’s see what happens next. With luck, we could make it to October. October is National Health Literacy Month. 

You can almost imagine the happy ending. 

Judith Martin-Straw


The Actors' Gang

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