May is Mental Health Awareness month. NAMI, the national Alliance on Mental Health is joining together with other mental health organizations to bring to Mental Health the forefront of the Health industry. According to NAMI, 1 in 4 adults in the US have mental illness in any given year. 1 in 4. How can we NOT be talking about it more?
There is an organization, Stamp Out Stigma, which has been gaining popularity in the social media. It aims to have people talk about Mental Illness as a real and valid health issue. It aims to have it viewed as equal as other debilitating physical illnesses such as heart disease etc. I highly recommend checking the site out as a portal to not only understanding Mental Illness but to join in the cause to Stamp out the Stigma against Mental Illness.
Over the next few blogs, I want to focus on Mental Health in its many forms. I want to have you, my readers, understand this important issue, and I want to share my story.
First, I will start with the story of a friend of mine.
Bobby was a happy go lucky, carefree soul; one with an incredible smile and a genuine and loyal heart. 6 years ago, he ended his life. He was also coincidentally one of the last people I saw before I tried to end my life, some 15 years ago. But more on my story later. This is Bobby's story.
Bobby and I became friends when he was 13 and I was 14. Our best friends were dating and we were often left to hang out while they were enjoying "alone" time. We got along like siblings. We squabbled and fought but knew we had to get along or else we would be bored out of our minds. I remember one day, in the summer, when our friends were off on their own, it began raining. It was pouring. Bobby and I decided to go dance in the rain. The song, "No Rain" by Blind Melon was popular at the time and we went out, sang the song and danced like crazy people in the rain. We were drenched and he ended up wearing a pair of my pants while his pants dried. Ironically, the lead singer of Blind Melon, Richard Shannon Hoon died tragically at a young age from substance abuse problems.
And so, at a tender young age of 14, Bobby and I danced like crazy people; not really understanding or knowing just how "crazy" we actually were.
I like to think of Bobby as someone who was a VERY good swimmer. Due to family circumstance, he had weights on his ankles from birth and was always swimming to the surface to rise above the constant pulling of the weights. He was surrounded by friends and their families that aided in this swimming, but ultimately it was him that got to the surface over and over again. Mental illness ran rampant in his family, so he was susceptible to it.
Despite these weights, he recognized his intelligence, took difficult classes, strived to push his mind further everyday. He entered the Army at 18 and paved a road out of his circumstances. Upon returning from deployment, he got a degree and became successful in the IT industry. He met a woman whom he married and within the first year of marriage they adopted his niece and nephew. He had risen above. He had made it. Or so we thought.
As we got older, Bobby and I didn't have a ton of communication. We kept up on our lives through emails and mutual friends. As I understand it, the month before his death, he had had a tough month. The weights were dragging him down. His close loved ones were trying to pull him up. But he gave up. The weights were too heavy.
When I received the phone call, I was so sad. Sad for his new wife, sad for his new children, but mostly, sad for Bobby. There were hundreds of people at the viewing and funeral. It was a clear indication how many people loved him and supported him. Some people were mad. Some people were beside themselves with grief and thoughts of what else could they have done. But no one said the taboo word "Suicide". No one talked about mental illness. It was just stated that Bobby had "weights".
I remember screaming "WHY?" at him in my brain when I said my good byes to him. But I knew why. I knew why. I had been there and I knew why.
There are times when I wonder if we had actually had more of a dialogue about our mental commonalities, would we have been at the surface, never underwater.
Dialogue: Why is it that a 6 year old can tell you all about Cancer and Heart Disease but can not talk about why someone has Depression?
What do you think? Should the brain chemistry of mental illnesses and learning disabilities be taught alongside of other physical diseases?