Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for adults in the United States and many other countries, and while there’s no single solution to eliminate the illnesses and situations that prompt it, having a good support system can work wonders in the fight against mental illness and suicidal thoughts.
Training jiu-jitsu can be incredibly helpful for those struggling with their mental health. In addition to the endorphins released through physical exercise, the human connections formed through jiu-jitsu can help us all feel less alone even when life gets rough.
Tragically, suicide still happens within BJJ, and when it does, it hurts not only the victim’s friends, family, and teammates, but also the broader jiu-jitsu community. We’re a tight-knit group of people, and even though people train jiu-jitsu all around the world, our extended “family” is still surprisingly small.
The good news about this is that if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental illness, you have a whole network of people who could be willing to help you. If you suspect you might have a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder (or if you know you have a mental illness), confide in your coaches or teammates about it. Yes, we’re part of a rough-and-tumble sport, but there’s also an inherent amount of trust that we place in our teammates every time we roll. If you can place your lapels in your teammates’ hands and trust them to let go of a choke after you tap out, surely you can find at least one of them to talk to if you feel like you’re in a dark place.
If you’re hesitant to talk to even one of your teammates about what you’re going through, ask yourself why. Depression and anxiety have a way of convincing us that no one cares about us or that we’d be a burden to our loved ones if we told them about our troubles, but ask yourself how you’d react if one of your teammates came to you with the same struggles. Would you consider them a “burden,” or would you do everything in your power to help them? Even if you’re fairly new at your academy, find someone you’re comfortable with, such as an upper belt who’s taken you under their wing, and start small: “Hey, I don’t know who else to talk to about this, but I’ve been feeling a bit down lately. Is there a time you’d be free to chat?” No matter what your illness is telling you, you might be surprised to find just how eager your teammates are to make sure that you’re ok.
When you’re part of a jiu-jitsu team, you’re never truly alone. Just as you use the art itself to get in shape and learn a skill, use your teammates as a support system if you need it, and return the favor if they require the same of you. We’re in a unique position of having a group of people outside our “normal” collection of family, friends, and coworkers that we get to see over the course of the week, and you should consider them a valuable resource.
Losing a teammate leaves a gaping hole in the heart of everyone at your academy. If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, go to the doctor, talk to a therapist, get prescribed medication, and speak to whoever you need (including those at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) to get out of the darkness. You’re not alone in your fight.