Changing the Mental Health Conversation to Save Lives
Jay Styles, 2016 NAMIWalks Austin Honorary Walk Chair
When I was six years old, I’d listen to the radio every day, memorizing the speech patterns of my favorite DJs. Using my mom’s hairbrush, I’d practice in my room and dream of being on the radio. My career started early, and I’ve been living that dream since I was 16.
Today, I have a successful radio career and a bright future. I’ve interviewed national politicians, hung out with rock stars and had lunch with entertainers. I have a wonderful wife and two kids including a son born just weeks ago. Life is good now, but the path to get here has been a dark one.
I’m one of the 15 million people in the United States that live with depression, and it’s something I have battled my whole life. At age 11, I had my first suicidal thoughts and isolated myself from other kids, afraid they would see my pain or think I was weird. I relied on a loving family home life and a lot lies to get me through. After more than a decade of pretending to be happy, I hit rock bottom.
My past is littered with numerous suicide attempts, stints in rehab, a multitude of ruined relationships and lost job opportunities. Like many people that live with a mental illness, I was too ashamed to talk about the overwhelming darkness that I lived in each day and reluctant to get the help I needed.
One in five Americans will experience a mental illness this year, a higher prevalence rate than our most commonly recognized public health concerns such as diabetes, cancer and asthma. Like cancer, diabetes and asthma, mental health disorders can be deadly when left untreated.
According to a recent study from the Center for Health Statistics, suicides have surged to their highest levels in 30 years, with approximately 117 people losing their lives each day. Research has found that in 90% of suicides, the person had an undiagnosed, untreated or undertreated mental health condition.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and a great time start changing the mental health conversation. We need to create a community where people feel more comfortable talking about their mental health struggles and asking for help.
Here’s my three “Bs” for creating change:
Be an example. Talk about mental health in a positive way, and if you’ve had your own struggles, share your story. People often talk openly about their mental health for the first time after I share my own story.
Be active. Get involved, and stand up for change. As the Honorary Walk Chair of this year’s NAMIWalks Austin, I’m taking my first steps in becoming a mental health advocate. You can join me at the Long Center on Saturday, September 24 at 8:00 a.m. and support the free mental health community programming provided by the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Austin).
My dream has shifted now that I’ve traded in the hairbrush for a real microphone. I’m speaking up, sharing my story and asking people to join me in creating a community in which people feel comfortable talking about their mental health and get help when they need it. This new dream has the potential to save lives, and I can’t wait to see it happen.
Jay Styles, Mix 94.7 radio host and music director, is a NAMI Austin Ending the Silence presenter and Honorary Walk Chair for the 11th annual NAMIWalks Austin scheduled for Saturday, September 24 at the Long Center. Registration is free at namiwalks.org/austin. If you don’t have a team and would like to walk with Jay, you can join his team at namiwalks.org/team/bigmouthsbigshoes