Both parents committed suicide, Daddy in the garage via carbon monoxide and Mom by her request to not be force fed. She died of starvation 21 days later. He was 74 and she was 81, living fully independent lives in their own home. Daddy was still working part-time delivering prescriptions and his sunny disposition to disabled people… But both had struggled for years with mental illness. He had taken anti-depressants for many years. She was supportive of him but did never acknowledged she was also in deep water.

I am writing to let you know how my 4 other siblings and I dealt with their obituaries. Tell the truth about their deaths? Mention nothing and leave everyone not in the know to speculate? Leave future generations of the family living with stories passed down that were just wrong? Try to keep it a secret as if we were ashamed?? Humans seem hard wired to wonder about causes of death and even to ask point blank or to fish for answers. I realized I could neither lie nor bear the face to face reactions if I spoke the truth. My family had hidden it’s mental illness issues from everyone pretty darn well….

We voted and it was 4 for truth and one no. We went with truth and the no voter cut off contact with us for several years. (Everyone was hurting and grief makes you say/do the wacky.) We mentioned his long-term psychiatrist by name, thanking him for helping Daddy be with us for this long. We thanked Daddy for dealing with the side effects of medication so he could function as the sunny-dispositioned, pun-loving kind man he really was. He was so active in the community it would shock/surprise most people to learn he had chronic depression, taking meds, etc.

The local paper, with our support, did a story and editorial about Daddy in addition to our paid obituary. It started on the front page with his photo and title of article something like “Local Icon” passes away. The editorial was about inadequate funding of mental health services in our county. We had notes from strangers on the online memorial thing thanking us for honesty, revealing their own stories of loved ones who had committed suicide but it was kept secret. Losing a loved one is a heavy enough blow to one’s heart. Must we add the burden of carrying secrecy/shame about its cause as well??

Four years later, despite having been on anti-depressants since 2 years before their deaths, a loving husband, great career, and comfortable living circumstances, I had spiraled down so far mentally that I sought admission for in-patient mental health treatment. I stabilized within a week and happened to be discharged on my 50th birthday. Again I faced the issue of telling people the truth or not. I elected truth when appropriate. There is such a thing as TMI. 🙂

Is there still a stigma? Yes, but I have personally witnessed it fading over the past 40 years. I am doing my small part to have people view seeking mental health treatment like getting an eye exam. Wearing glasses can help you see better. Appropriate mental health treatment helps you think more clearly and that, too, can make all the difference in your world and those who love you.

I did not know of this site until reading the People magazine article today. It is New Year’s Day 2015. I decided to take time to do this in gratitude for my loving parents and and family, starting this year by speaking truth once again.

3 responses to “Joan”

  1. Dee says:

    The truth really does set us free. God bless you in your continuing courage to make a difference for so many more of us who are dealing and have dealt with the ravages of a mental health disease. I have lost two brothers and a nephew to suicide. If any of my family members are faced with a crisis of any kind it creates anxiety for me. It’s a lot like waiting for the other shoe to drop and having to cope with such a tremendous feeling of helplessness. Truth opens up so many avenues for us in dealing with our emotions, grief, pain, and yes, for seeking help when help is needed.

  2. Rene' says:

    I’m so glad you are doing better now. I too am recovering from my own mental health dip. I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most of the damage was done by my mentally ill mother. She died of cancer when I was 19, which was almost 40 years ago. My mother was a nurse and was terrified of seeking treatment and loosing her RN license. So, I had to deal with her manic attacks all through my childhood. We lived in a small town and I was trained to keep secrets.

    A few years ago, her brother’s suicide started a conversation between myself and his children, my cousins. They too had awful childhoods, even worse than mine and are still very guarded about discussing it. How different life could have been for all of us! I’m trying to learn how to have more compassion for my mother. I’ve talked openly about my challenges and treatment to my own children. I’ve encouraged and supported them when they both sought therapists at different times.

    I’ve shared my CPTSD diagnosis with friends. I’ve mostly found support and compassion. Of course, there are a few individuals I wish I hadn’t told because now they treat me a little differently. Oh well…. knowledge is power! Interestingly a majority of people to whom I share my story, then reveal a mental health story from their own family.

  3. Bonnie says:

    January 22,2015

    Thankyou Joan for sharing your truthfulness. I myself have suffered with mental illness, and have been feeling so much better due to a number of very special mental health care providers, and their truths, and for myself fighting forward to not let it take over my life. Medications help, but we have to do our part also, which takes alot of work. Some members of my family didn’t understand mental illness, so it was hard for them, just a few tried to learn and understand more about it, which I am forever thankful.
    I have a member of my family who is caught up in the stigma of mental illness herself, and can’t and won’t exercise the thought of looking for help, which for me is hard to watch, when their life could be so much more enjoyable and fruitful. Truth does truly help with facing the emotions of mental illness.

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