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At the last Zoom City Commission meeting in Wilton Manors, I raised my hand to speak during public comment.

Simultaneously, I received a call from a friend with whom I had not spoken in months. When the City Clerk recognized me for comment, I was nowhere to be found.  Silence. There was no unmute! 

The call from my friend began something like “I can’t take it anymore. I am going to hurt myself today so they can just take me away. I don’t want to live.”

Turns out she lost her job during the pandemic; could not pay her mortgage; and was unable to make her car payments (so she turned it back to the dealership). After a consult, I called the Henderson Mobile Health Unit who dispatched a Crisis Team to her home, only to be turned away by a desperate woman who wanted to drown out her sadness in shots of tequila.

COVID has been here for more than nine months, and the winter promises no letup. Mental Health issues related to the lockdown and pandemic are especially hard. The overdose rate, calls for mental health assistance, and domestic violence have increased. Unemployment is high and the daily death rate from COVID is alarming.

How can we help? What can we do?

In her book, “The Choice,” psychologist and survivor of Auschwitz, Dr. Edith Eger gives me insight into pain, freedom, and release. These excerpts and my comments following allowed me to guide my friend to safety: 

“There is no hierarchy of suffering. There is nothing that makes my pain better or worse than yours...” 

  • All our pains and fears are real.  Accept the feelings of a friend in crisis without judgment.    

“...That survival is a matter of interdependence, survival is not possible alone.” 

  •  As a community family, we are keepers of our sisters and brothers. 

“We can’t choose to vanish the dark, but we can choose to kindle the light.” 

  • Even in our darkest of times, we can purposely choose to create light, to brighten the moment.

Eventually my friend agreed to call me before she did anything to harm herself.  Later that day, when she was more clear-headed, I gave her a gentle lecture, made two appointments for her with a therapist, and told her how special she was to me and to so many others. She is now facing her challenges in more measured and healthy ways.

The work of healing is difficult. We deny what hurts, what we fear. We avoid it at all costs. Then we find a way to welcome and embrace what we are most afraid of.  Only then can we finally release those fears.

Help is available.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a 24-hour hotline at 800-950-6264. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is at 800-273-8255. The SETH Line is a “warm line” designed to afford callers the opportunity to speak with sympathetic others about issues and concerns of everyday living (associated with 9Muses Art Center and Mental Health America of Southeast Florida). If you are feeling isolated, lonely or need to talk call 954-578-5640.  Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

The prevention of suicide, by providing education hope and resources, and stopping mental health stigma are the collective responsibilities of our community and society. Please raise your hand to help. Unmute your microphone, and keep yourself, friends and family safe.

 Julie Carson is a former Wilton Manors commissioner.

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