Kermit Says: Stop the Stigma

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A little over a year ago, I was traveling in Brazil with a great group of sophomores. While debriefing about the day’s events, I received a text from a student in the States who asked if I’d spoken to another student to whom I was and still am quite close. At that point I hadn’t, and was unsure of the nature of that forthcoming conversation, though it seemed serious. To my surprise and horror, it was much more serious and unnerving than I’d imagined: one of my students committed suicide.

I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know how to share this devastating news with my students. I didn’t know how to tell them that their friend was no longer in the land of the living. I didn’t know how to engage and go on with my life in Brazil as if nothing happened. I was torn. I was broken. And most of all, I felt helpless. How could I be of service to my students at home and abroad during such a pivotal and heartbreaking time in their lives? What could I say that hadn’t already been said? What could I do that hadn’t already been done? I quickly learned that in these moments, it is less about doing something, and more about being someone. Being there, listening, supporting, encouraging. These may sound small and inconsequential, but they matter, and for some, they matter most.

The reality is, 1 in 10 young people experience mental health problems each year, but so many of them don’t come forward and seek help because they fear being stigmatized. Psychology Today compiled findings by several researchers and found that stigma directed at adolescents with mental health problems came from family members, peers, and teachers. Support each other, care for yourself, and realize that mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of. His story and legacy is one of the reasons I believe so deeply in Kermit Says… It’s one of the reasons I focus so much on your well-being. Depression, excessive anxiety, suicidal thoughts, constant fatigue, and an inability to perform duties or control your behavior are just a few examples of possible onset mental illness. If you find yourself experiencing any of these emotions or behaviors, please don’t hesitate to seek help.

6 thoughts on “Kermit Says: Stop the Stigma”

  1. By treating suicide as a bad thing, as something that should be prevented, you’re reinforcing stigma.

    Suicide is a right. People don’t choose to be born. They should at least be able to choose to die. Imagine a world with a painless death easily available. It’s clean and doesn’t leave a mess. People can actually consent to living for a change!

    Aren’t you more horrified many of us are alive only because we don’t know how to die?


    1. Thank you for your comment and for providing this perspective. Yes, everyone has a right to live, a right to die, and a right to be who they want, but they also have a right to discover their “why.” Why do they want to live? Why do they want to die? They have a right to figure that out with appropriate support systems and in a world that doesn’t stigmatize them for either decision. I wouldn’t say I’m treating suicide as a bad thing, but knowing my former student, I know that if he’d had proper support, he would have chosen life over death.


  2. Hello! The student that Kirstin was and is close with in this passage is me. Kirstin is completely right, it is so important to be someone than to do something. When my boyfriend took his own life, and one of the main components of my support system was away, I didn’t know what to do. Of course, this situation is one where no matter one a person is going to feel like they were left lifeless after the devastating news. Even with being in Brazil, Kirstin still checked on me for the following weeks after I learned of his death, and when I returned to school, she became and continues to be my rock. Kirstin provided me with insightful and helpful advice, but never tried to put herself in my shoes. It is important for friends in these situations to remove themselves in a way that does not make it seem like they really do know what you’re going through, but instead that they are there for you. Support is everything. Both to people in my situation, and to people in my beloved boyfriend’s situation. I, too, know that if he had received the proper amount of love and care when he was alive, he wouldn’t have ‘chosen’ death. We should never consider suicide as “clean, not leaving a mess.” What so many who commit suicide do not understand is what mess they DO leave behind when they go. Myself and many others were left destroyed, having to pick up the pieces of our own lives. If a mess of heartbroken loved ones isn’t a mess, I truly don’t know what is. I commend Kirstin for writing this piece (Thank you, Kirstin!!!!) and for bringing attention to this issue. Please reach out if you need it, whether you are in my situation, or that of my boyfriend.

    Liked by 1 person

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