From Left: Uncle Charlie, Jamie (Front), Richard, and Grandfather James
My father looked smaller than life when they opened the drawer at the police morgue on New York’s lower east side. But there was no doubt he was the man we’d been seeking since he’d disappeared a few days earlier. “We found an unidentified man in an alley off Madison Avenue,” the officer said when we called. “Somebody probably stole his wallet as soon as he hit the sidewalk.”
My father was dead at 51, a casualty of the manic depression he had fought for years. The New York Times, citing its suicide policy, declined to print his obituary. He lived in a time when mental illness was an embarrassment for families and a weakness for men. For Dad it was a crushing blow. He had left Harvard early to join the marines, and flew dive-bombers in the Pacific. He came home from the war to a different world, a wife, two small children, no money and bipolar disorder. He prided himself on his toughness and never discussed his demons.
Each year, one in four adults experiences mental illness, according to Bring Change 2 Mind, which has just released a series of public service announcements aimed at men, who still have a hard time discussing such things. Produced in partnership with NFL All-Pro Brandon Marshall’s Project 375, the PSAs feature accomplished men talking about the stigma of mental illness. My daughter Annie worked lovingly on those PSAs, which might have saved the life of the grandfather she never got to meet.
It’s time to start the conversation.
Originally Published on James G. Blaine’s Blog
My father was a well respected man in the community. A banker who would take a risk and grant a loan to an immigrant from the communist take over in Hungary, on the finance committee at church, a loyal friend, a world war II veteran who went to the Pacific theater at 17, a President of the local American cancer society and the optimist club. He was denied an obituary in the Washington Post because my mother could not deal with citing it as a suicide at the time; nor should it be required. My father deserved respect.
Just this year i learned My Dad’s sister suffered from an undisclosed mental illness and his father had depression. I have depression and my daughter has bi- polar disorder,
There have been too many secrets and too much shame from stigma in my family.
Its time to start the conversation.
both my mother and older brother suffer from bi polar disorder. We have had our share of serious family situations my entire life. Currently , both are stable. Day by day, we try and appreciate the calm times. What I’d like to express to others is no one signs up for mental illness. You don’t magically pick a line or symptoms. Neither of my relatives chose this, but they try to manage. So many uneducated folks fail to recognize this illness picks you, you do not pick the illness. It took me years to accept this inside our family. They are not damaged goods. Respect and support them to the extent that you can.
Very sad! I’m sure his time in combat only compounded his diagnoses. As for The New York Times, the end of life under any circumstances should be acknowledged., especially to a man who fought for his country!
Thank you for continuing the conversation. One more voice added to many will be heard.
Absolutely-the time has come!!!!!
My father killed himself as well, when I was 15. I was not told of his mental illness until after our teenage son began suffering from a mental illness that evolved over the past 7 years and is currently diagnosed as a schizo-affective disorder. In looking back, I wonder if I would have made different choices about having children, had I known there was a history in my family…but what’s done is done. Moving forward, however, we all need to be more open about these issues, to help reduce stigma, improve care, and help those with mental illnesses more.
It’s time, indeed. Thanks for sharing your family’s story. Sending you and yours all my best.