I don’t know why my mother jumped in the deep end when she couldn’t swim.
Tell those who need to hear it: You are strong. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are resilient.
Thank you for being a part of shining a light on fighting a monster so mighty that many don’t even speak of it, yet certainly it has touched all of us.
Health problems caused from loneliness in adults cost us nearly $7B a year. And the number of children visiting ERs related to suicide *doubled* between 2007 and 2015, a price beyond dollars.
I have known the monster called mental illness as long as I can remember.
I was four the only time I asked about the Polaroid on the dashboard of my grandmother’s Volvo. “That’s your Uncle Danny. We lost him to a monster.”
I was eight when the monster tossed my mother into the deep end of a pool and nearly stole her from me.
I was 12 when the monster took my playmate Thomas, sad over a girl.
I was 14 when the monster came for my classmate Daniel, distraught over PSAT scores.
I was 18 when the monster struck in the night and snatched my friend Julianne, starved by anorexia.
I was 20 and crossing a stage for my diploma when the monster shot my colleague David, fighting depression.
I was 39 when my brilliant Uncle Harley walked into the embrace of the monster he’d heard calling him his whole life.
I was teaching a class last winter when a text summoned me to learn the monster had shoved my student Jon off a building.
In all these years, there are a very few things I’ve come to learn about the monster.
It doesn’t discriminate.
It will steal your hope. Your reason. Your very breath.
The monster’s whispers can fill every space with every fear.
You are ugly. You are worthless. You are weak.
“She doesn’t love you.”
“He will leave you.”
The monster lurks everywhere.
In our homes, in our beds.
At our work, in our heads.
In our cities, in our schools.
At our street corners, in this room.
These few things I’ve learned about the monster don’t help me understand why my uncles, my friends, my student are now all frozen in fading memories.
These few things make me grateful for the people who rescued my mother from literal and figurative drowning, but don’t help me understand why she jumped in when she couldn’t swim.
These few things make me appreciate the compassion that it takes to be here today, to stand up for a cause that isn’t tied with a pretty bow, that sometimes is all rain without the rainbow.
These things, these sorrows, they might seem overwhelming.
But they help me understand that the people in this room — people of will and influence, of power and capability — can help fight this monster. That not one of us can do it, but together we can.
It takes everything from money to support programs like Art Awakenings; policies and practices that ease suffering and encourage healing; and simple kindness, like that shown to me in my mother’s darkest days.
When I was 8 and my mother fought to recover, my best friend Michelle took me home with her after school every single day — for months. Her mom helped with homework, made snacks, took us on errands, and to choir practice.
Made things normal when things were not.
Michelle’s mom helped battle the monster with what she had: kindness.
These things I know, they help me understand that while not every story has a happy ending, more stories can be like that of my mother, who is still with us, because of help from people like you.
You can help overwhelm the monster’s lies to tell those who need it to hear it:
You are fierce. You are strong. You are brave. You are loved. You are beautiful.
You are worthy. You are brilliant. You are the moon and the stars.
You are resilient.
All of you here … you matter. This is a room full of people who have done monumental things. Built towers. Made policy. Grown cities. Changed lives.
When we gather again next year, what will we brag about?
The flourishing programs? The new policies? Kindness toward a lonely child?
They all matter.
The monster is mighty. But I believe in you. I believe in us.
I believe that together we are mightier than this monster.
I believe that together, some of our stories can have happier endings because of you.
Mi-Ai Parrish is CEO of MAP Strategies Group and Sue Clark-Johnson Professor of Media Innovation and Leadership at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School.