In 1484 Italian printer Aldus Manutius published the semicolon for the first time. Manutius used the punctuation mark as a means of separating opposing words to allow an abrupt or rapid change in direction of differing yet interrelated clauses. Nowadays the mark is commonly used when creating lists or linking ideas and clauses in literature. A semicolon is a slight pause. It’s not a definitive endpoint. It is merely an opportunity to digress from one thought into another.
So let’s digress. Let’s leave semicolons behind for a few moments and start talking about depression, anxiety, mental health and suicide. We’ll come back to punctuation mark eventually, but let’s build a little context first.
A friend of mine recently passed away. A victim of mental health, he ended his life at the age of twenty nine. His passing left behind two loving parents, two sisters, a brother, a partner, and a group of friends so close that to call them anything other than family would be an affront to the bonds we share. We have always been a rare breed; a band of brothers whose unity transcends age, geographic location, surnames, beliefs, and anything else. We grew up together as kids, and we always assumed that we would grow old together as men.
We’d heard about suicide. Many of us have been through depression or suffered through anxiety, but we never thought that one of our own would take their life. Until it happened. We lost a brother to an illness that can destroy from the inside without any of the discernable physical side effects we often rely upon to detect disease.
And we’re not alone. The unfortunate reality of the world we live in is that there is an increasing prevalence of suicide and depression within our society that continues to grow with each passing year. Some studies are predicting that by 2030 depression and mental illness will be responsible for more disability and death than cancer. Break that down even further and compare genders side by side and the statistics are even more alarming. While mental health is statistically 20-40% higher in women, men are four times more likely to end their life as a result of a depressive state of mind.
Why? Because men are stubborn. We’re arrogant. And we are quite literally killing ourselves as opposed to accepting and acknowledging that we are struggling. We live in a society that is supposed to by highly intuitive, intelligent and ultimately accepting and accommodating. Yet for some bizarre reason men across the globe still feel as though emotions and angst are matters to be suppressed rather than spoken about.
But we have to talk. As difficult as it may seem we need to create conversation on a global scale, and perhaps more importantly, we need to talk in our homes. We as men need to find a way to put to rest our archaic beliefs and macho-mentalities and start having open and honest dialogues with those closest to us. There’s no shame in admitting that you are not OK. There’s no indignity in asking for help. There is however, honor in being a voice of reason or an ear of support for someone in need.
In my lowest moments I have contemplated my own death. Questions about my own morality usually strike at the strangest of moments. I once found myself driving down a highway wondering what would happen if I were to crash. Would the world simply go black? Would I feel anything? Would it almost feel as though I had fallen asleep? Before I knew what I was doing I had shut my eyes for a few moments just to imagine the blackness of the end while I raced down the motorway. But I opened by eyes and the world was still in front of me; and my life continued. I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to know what it felt like so that I could tell myself that whatever I was living through was better than not living at all.
It took me a long time to overcome my demons, and even now I struggle to accept the person that I am. I often wish that I were more like everyone else; that I didn’t want to make a difference, and that I could move with the vast majority rather than dig my heels in and strive to be a voice of change. Yet even though I still have moments of loathing and self-doubt, things eventually got better for me. They always do.
Which brings us back our lesson in punctuation. A semicolon is not a definitive endpoint. It’s a slight pause: an opportunity to link and digress. Anxiety and depression can be tough, and at times a situation can feel hopeless. But there is always a light at the end of the tunnel of despair. There is always an opportunity to create a semicolon in your life and digress towards something new. Suicide is an endpoint. It is an act that cuts your story short and ruins the opportunity for your life to get better. But that funny little dot and dash that we often misuse in literature provides us with the opportunity to transition from a state of anxiety and depression to recovery.
Life is a beautiful gift, and one that should never be taken for granted. If you are down, or if you know someone who is struggling I implore you to reach out. Ask for help, or lend an ear to someone in need. It’s all right to not be OK. It’s not OK to bury our heads in the sand and pretend like anxiety and depression aren’t killing people. It’s time that society, and men in particular, find their voice and start talking about mental health. It’s time to move past our chauvinistic habits of suppressing and ignoring psychological torment and anguish. Find your semicolon, or become one for a stranger or someone you care about.
Life can always get better. You just have to give it a chance.
**Author’s note. Aaron Sorkin once said that ‘Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from the outright.’ The concept of the semicolon was stolen from a brilliant organisation called Project Semicolon. If you ever need a ray of hope, pay them a visit. If you ever need help or someone to talk to, there are countless organisations across the globe who can assist.**