This past weekend, I was in the emergency room with my nephew after he wrecked on his motorcycle at a Supercross event in the city where I live. The nurses, doctors, and interns were all humorous, kind, compassionate and concerned about my nephew’s safety because of his passion for racing dirt bikes.
While we were waiting for ultrasounds, chest x-rays, and a CAT scan many nurses came in to check on him and talk to him about racing.
One nurse mistakenly thought my nephew was a BMX rider, and she asked him if he liked Dave Mirra. My nephew said, “I can’t believe he did that. I can’t believe he would leave his kids behind. I looked up to him. I watched everything he did.”
I understood from the conversation that Dave Mirra had recently taken his life.
The nurse said, “Mental health is an important and difficult issue. We can’t always know what someone else is thinking or going through.”
The conversation between the nurse and my nephew went on for a while, and the nurse used the opportunity to educate my nephew on the importance of mental health and that it is an illness. She never judged or condemned David Mirra for his actions, and she obviously had an understanding of depression and mental illness.
I was so impressed with the nurse and the fact that she used a casual conversation as a teaching moment. She became an advocate for the mentally ill. She tried to create understanding and compassion instead of judgement.
I felt hopeful and encouraged by the nurse’s words and actions. It doesn’t take too much to be an advocate for the mentally ill. It can happen in simple conversations in many settings. It is a relief to know that we have people educating others about depression, the risk of suicide, and other symptoms and forms of mental illness.
The nurse could have just nodded her head. She could have just said, “Yeah, I know.” She could have said a hundred things that would have left my nephew with his previous beliefs, but she decided to jump in, to speak up, and to change a mind.
I know those of us with a mental illness still run into discrimination and stigma, but occasionally I like to point out the helpers, the healers and the heroes that often surround us.
Nurse photo available from Shutterstock