Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Opinion

January 10, 2014

Mental health demands compassion

GLASGOW — Isn't it interesting how we remember small details when tragedy strikes?

The washer was on. It shook slightly because it was off balance. The sun was starting to set, its rays filtered by the sunflower-themed curtains in the laundry room.

It was an unseasonably warm November day in Colorado in 2001, but other than that, the evening was typical – until I heard my uncle Ken's voice through the telephone.

My uncle Ken always seemed to be happy-go-lucky. I could always tell he was smiling, even over the phone.

This call, though, was different. I didn't recognize his voice. He sounded serious and sad.

He immediately asked to speak to my mother. I told him she was sleeping.

"Get her up now," he said urgently.

My mom worked the night shift as a nurse, and Ken never before asked me to wake her. He always left a message. So I knew something had to be wrong. I quivered, feeling suddenly like the off-balance washing machine.

My mom startled easily, so I woke her gently, opening the bedroom door slowly. I let her know that Ken was on the phone and that he knew she was sleeping.

I couldn't bear to hear the news, so I ran to the laundry room, closed the door and tried to compose myself.

Then I heard my dad scream. I took a few deep breaths and left the laundry room. I found my dad on the brown hallway floor, yelling "no" over and over.

My uncle Ron had committed suicide. He'd gone to a shooting range, shot himself in the head, and his body was found on the road by a stranger.

I was a freshman in high school, and I took a few days off to attend the funeral. My eyes well with tears as I recall something another uncle, Donald, said to me before the funeral was even over – Donald said that my uncle Ron was a coward, and he felt no sympathy for him.

People such as my uncle Donald contribute to society's misconception about mental health – the unfortunate belief that mental conditions aren't disorders, but rather embarrassing weaknesses.

But they are disorders, and they need treatment just like any disease.

Among the reasons people don't talk openly about depression or other mental disorders is the fear of being judged. If collectively we reject the stigmas, however, people will be more willing to seek the help they desperately need.

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