My wife’s supervisor’s son was 25, suffering from what his family could tell was a severe mental illness, likely schizophrenia. But they couldn’t get him diagnosed. He’d end up in the hospital at the end of an episode. They never kept him overnight, no matter his parents’ entreaties. And the system couldn’t find an opening for a shrink appointment.
He died today. He killed himself. The young man stabbed himself repeatedly with a knife until he was dead.
I had a brother and several friends who died of addiction. I’ve had schizophrenic acquaintances. I’ve known people who took their lives after years asking for diagnoses for physical ailments the system hasn’t recognized, such as chronic Lyme disease.
As a reporter, I’ve tried to cover incidents where young men jumped head-first off land-locked bridges and older women drove into centuries-old trees. You don’t publish such things unless they draw community response, a wail of hurt.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, everyone started speaking about the dangers of mental health as a counter to calls for gun control. I did a story on where things stood in Ellenville, where I was editing the newspaper. The local police were the front line. Their training came in concentrated retreats, or via webinars. I’d update the story each time a new tragedy occurred, often right there in southwestern Ulster County and environs.
Studies are starting to emerge about the sinking mood of the nation after Covid and the accompanying lockdowns and political battles over masks. Task forces are being formed, more studies undertaken. There seems to be movement toward the coordination of new and better solutions to our mental-health problems.
Will they be in time? Not until we can destigmatize the fact that we all carry mental illnesses within us. Those elements of illness can be cared for, and possibly fixed.
Simultaneously, we’ll also have to take the mystery from suicide. Inner pain, part of everyone’s life, can rise to unlivable levels.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.