Bad things happen to good people. The rain will fall on the just and the unjust alike. Recently, search Pastor Rick Warren, and author of The Purpose Filled Life, see and his wife lost their 27 year-old son to suicide. He shot himself with an illegal handgun after years of counseling, prayer, bouts with depression, medication and treatment. My heart goes out to his family and friends. This young man’s suicide, however tragic, is part of an ever-increasing trend and impacts people under the age of 30 at an alarming rate. The reason I bring up Pastor Rick Warren is that many people would assume that of all people and of all families his family would never be one who would experience the loss of a child through the act of suicide. Suicide is no respecter of persons and is a symptom of our collective denial of the psychiatric disorder called mental illness.
I have been intimately connected to 10 people who have taken their own lives. It is devastatingly disruptive to the lives of the people left behind to deal with the pain, the loss, the anger and the questions of why? Why did they do it? Why didn’t they say something? Why didn’t I know something? We feel guilty or somehow deficient because we didn’t know, because we weren’t there, because we couldn’t stop them. It is an unbelievable moment for a parent, a son or daughter, husband or wife or close friend or relative. There is nothing to say in that moment and there are no immediate answers to our questions. I know when my niece took her life in a stunningly horrific way a few years ago our family had to take time to look at and research mental illness as a insidious and mostly hidden disease. This is a disease that we never considered possible within our own immediate family circle. And then there comes the onslaught of other questions. The questions of “how” begin to overtake us. How could we have been so oblivious, so uninformed and so much in denial of the fact that mental-illness is real and it really can and does impact many if not most communities and families in the United States. Wake up people, it is imbedded within our community and the Black community in particular has been entirely too willing to ignore or deny it as a reality.
Mental illness is why someone would take a gun and blow their brains out or jump from a bridge or a building. The mentally-ill often do not talk to those closest to them about the depression or sadness they feel or the sense of loneliness they live with or the dysfunction and destructive behavior they engage in, because the noise in their head or the fears that overwhelm them are so strong they can no longer go on because they feel they will be chastised, ostracized or bullied into their own self-imposed type of denial. They are ashamed that they cannot handle their illness and that they will embarrass or disappoint those they love most. People want to belong. They do not want to be cast aside as weak or problematic individuals so they push aside their illness, they struggle with questions of identities that are marginalized and criminalized by their own families, their own friends and loved ones. And ultimately they feel deeply that if they cannot “fit-in” then they will just check out. They leave us rather than to deal with our denial of who they are or what they are struggling with.
We must come to a consciousness about mental illness and stop hiding it in the closet. Stop driving those we love into silent pain and suffering. Recognize that the behaviors you are witnessing cannot be adjusted through prayer, a stern talking to or punitive action. Mental illness requires treatment, immediate and decisive treatment. Stop ignoring what could be sitting right next to you, or the consequences could be tragic. Talk to me!
Up Next week: The Process of Conciliation