Mental health advocate Shaun David Hutchinson lets people know ‘It’s OK to Not Be OK’
A few years ago, author Shaun David Hutchinson underwent back-to-back hernia surgeries, and his supervisor at work at the time didn’t bat an eye. But his boss reacted differently when he learned about Hutchinson’s suicide attempt when he was 19 through a video presentation he did about mental health.
“One day, I had to talk with him about a problem I was having with another co-worker, and my supervisor said, ‘Now, you’re not going to try and kill yourself over this, will you?’” said Hutchinson, one of the young adult authors who wrote essays for Kelly Jensen’s anthology called “Don’t Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation about Mental Health.” “Right then I knew that’s all he would forever chalk every emotion I had down to depression and my attempted suicide, no matter what I would say after that. And I knew, going forward, that I wouldn’t be able to talk about this, because he would always use that against me.”
This type of scenario is one reason why people are afraid to talk about mental health, Hutchinson said.
“I mean, my supervisor didn’t have problems with hernias, but all of a sudden, when we talk about mental health, he got edgy and antsy,” he said.
This is one of the reasons Hutchinson, the author of queer books for young adults, will present his webinar for families titled, “It’s OK to Not Be OK,” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 15. The event, which will be accessible on Facebook Live and Zoom, is presented by Connect Summit County, the Summit County Library and the Park City Library.
During the presentation, Hutchinson will tell stories of his own depression and how he was able to eventually start talking about it.
“First off, I have to say that I speak from experience, but I’m not a mental health professional,” he said. “The thing is it still took about 10 years to really come to terms with my mental illness and become comfortable to openly talk about it.”
Part of Hutchinson’s battle stems from the culture he grew up in as a gay teen in South Florida.
“South Florida has this ingrained ‘we-don’t-talk-about-this-stuff’ mentality,” he said.
While his family and friends fully supported Hutchinson when he came out, he didn’t feel comfortable broaching the subject.
“So I kept everything bottled in, because I couldn’t talk about what I was feeling or experiencing,” he said.
Adding to Hutchinson’s perceived flaws were his migraines and attention-deficit disorder.
“The thing that I began doing was to think of these things in all the same way, regardless if they are mental or physical,” he said. “I think we, as a society, also need to approach any issue in the same way.”
Because of this, Hutchinson, who contributes stories and presentations to To Write Love on Her Arms, a mental health nonprofit organization, believes that talking about mental health with young people needs to be normalized, and he also believes it’s more important to talk with adults.
“I used to do school visits, before the pandemic, and I found that teens are much more open to discussing their mental health than adults are,” he said. “I also saw this after I got out of the hospital after my suicide attempt. Every time I would take a step toward the topic, my mom would immediately try to fix me, but I didn’t want anyone to fix me or put me back in the hospital. I just needed to talk about it.”
After years of staying quiet so as not to make his mother uncomfortable, Hutchinson knew he needed to speak out.
“I learned I just needed to push forward and tell her that I didn’t want her to try to fix things,” he said. “I just needed her to listen.”
The secret for Hutchinson was getting both parties to a place where they would be comfortable and willing to talk and listen.
“I know being a mom and thinking about losing her child causes her a lot of pain, but we have come to this understanding,” he said. “I can now call her up and say, ‘I woke up today feeling terrible, and no there is nothing you can do about it,’ because she trusts me to tell her that I just need to talk about what I’m feeling.”
Hutchinson believes normalizing discussions about mental health can be done by changing the perceptions of one person at a time.
“I remember a boss I had when I was a teen who used the F-word when he talked about gay people, and most of the time I would cringe and curl up inside myself when he would do that,” Hutchinson said. “When he found out I was gay, he said, ‘You’re not like what I imagined,’ and that slowly changed him. I think that’s what we have to do with mental health. We need to lead by example and change people’s perception one person at a time.”
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