“Checking In” is not enough

TW: Suicide

I learned about the death by suicide of DJ and dancer Stephen “tWitch” Boss at the same time I was preparing my plans to attend a weekend fan memorial for Jonghyun of SHINee, a k-pop musician who died by suicide five years ago this week. I talk about Jonghyun all the time, he was (and is) my favorite k-pop musician and a member of my favorite k-pop group. But I haven’t heard the name tWitch in many years; I was a fan – he was my favorite contestant on the inaugural season of So You Think You Can Dance almost 15 years ago. The news hurt. I read the alert, took a deep long sigh and wiped away tears as I clicked “Yes” on the memorial RSVP.

I can count the number of friends who have died by suicide on one hand. I can count the artists/musicians/celebrities I admire who have died by suicide on two hands, maybe more at this point. I’m not afraid to talk about suicide because suicide shows up in my life regularly.

And yet when every time a high-profile suicide makes the news I brace myself for the flood of platitudes to “check in on your strong/happy friends” and I have to keep myself from saying something that people may view as nasty or insensitive. Because I know, I KNOW people’s hearts are in the right place, that many people want to do and say the right thing, and to help. But every time I see that kind of post I tense up. I’m honestly so weary of the “checking in” rhetoric, because in many cases, people  who die by suicide had no shortage of people checking in on them, they just needed more.

We may never know what tWitch was going through, and honestly it’s not our business. What I do know is that his death will likely start the usual conversation around mental health “awareness” and I want us to push ourselves and our society for more. Discussion around suicide prevention so often goes straight to check-ins and hotlines. I want us to demand more.

I want mental health care – including therapy, medication, and support groups – that is accessible and affordable for everyone.

I want publicly-funded community mental health centers, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

I want all workers to have paid sick time for mental health and for less stigma around mental illness disclosure.

I want less stigma around mental illness, period. I want us to be able to talk about mental illness openly and honestly, especially among Black folks

I want people to stop insisting that there’s “no way” that happy, joyful people, deeply loved people with tons of friends can’t also have anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder.

I want affordable housing and access to fresh food and water for all.

I want accessible and ongoing mental health support for parents, for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, for survivors of abuse and trauma.

I want more diverse mental health professionals who can support the specific needs of marginalized clients.

This is what I want alongside of the usual “there’s always someone listening” posts. We need more than mental health “awareness”, we need a mental health infrastructure. We have to imagine and demand a world that offers more support than a hotline when people are in crisis.

I also hope that people will continue to talk about tWitch as a person, and not as a lesson. He made a lot of people happy with dance and music, he was a husband, and father, and friend. He was someone who should be remembered for all of those things and not as a cautionary tale. The stigma around mental illness so often robs people of their humanity, especially in death. We have an opportunity to do better and i want us to start here.

Rest In Peace,  tWitch


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One response to ““Checking In” is not enough”

  1. Thanks for this post. Similar has gone through my mind. During my darkest time, 1998, I needed real help. People cared and checked on me. But I needed a job. I needed money. I needed some understanding as to why I seemed to be doing the right things but nothing was turning out, and a strategy to correct whatever I was doing wrong.

    But time was ticking and I still needed money every day for laundry, rent, public transportation, food, etc. So, any long term strategy was becoming irrelevant with each moment.

    The only thing that pulled me out of that darkness was when a family member finally convinced me to leave Chicago, move to California, and stay in an extra bedroom rent-free.

    That took a huge amount of stress off of me. Suddenly, I could think beyond the next 24 hours. I could go into temp agencies and apply for work without an aura of desperation.

    Yeah, the friends who checked on me had their hearts in the right place. But I needed things that they didn’t have to give.

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