The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Seeking help when a loved one has mental illness
By Garrett Riggs
Like so many others, I have been saddened by Robin Williams’ death, and like too many others, I feel a personal connection to his suicide and the deep depression that plagued Williams.
Courtney Barron wrote a wonderful essay for Quail Bell describing her reaction to Williams’ suicide and her own struggles with depression. If you haven’t read it, take a little time and do so. She does a good job of showing what it is like to live with that dark feeling that envelopes the sufferer and blocks out the happiness and light around them.
I am not writing this from the perspective of someone who suffers from mental illness. Instead, I am writing from the perspective of someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. My older brother killed himself during one of his deepest downs. It has been more than 10 years and I still struggle to understand it, much less write about it.
In her essay, Barron talks about the eyes of the truly depressed and the haunted look they have.
“This sickness lives inside many people, even though they smile and laugh at times, it is there lurking behind their eyes. You might even catch a glimpse of it if you know what to look for. Theirs are sad eyes, ones that see ghosts,” Barron writes.
For the last few years of his life, my brother had those eyes. If you look at pictures of Robin Williams, you’ll see he had those eyes too. Even when he’s flashing a smile, it doesn’t quite reach those beautiful blue eyes.
My brother had blue eyes and auburn hair like Robin Williams. And also like Williams, when he was in his Up phase, he ate up life and loved hard and gave himself to everyone around him.
My brother had a mobile home repair business and he kept an eye on his mostly senior clientele. As he made his rounds during the work day, he stopped to chat with his customers and to make sure they were okay. If someone needed a ride to the doctor or had an errand to run, he offered to help. Sometimes, he cleared fallen tree limbs or straightened a mailbox that he had noticed as he was on his way to some other job. He did things like that without charging, just a small kindness for the people he cared about, like a neighbor bringing over the newspaper that had been tossed in his driveway by mistake.
Many of his customers had family on the other side of the country or children who were too busy to visit. My brother stepped in and filled that gap. He understood their needs.
And their loneliness.
When I was a child, I never thought of my brother as a lonely guy; he always had friends around. He was the life of the party and could be counted on to reach out to people, to bring them into the circle. I didn’t understand then that one could be surrounded by people and still be alone.
Like Williams, my brother left behind a family—a wife and children. My niece found him. That devastates me even now, thinking about how traumatic it would be to walk into the house intending to share some good news with your father only to find the worst thing imaginable. That she was legally an adult at the time doesn’t matter. She was still his child and that relationship never changes no matter how old the parties get.
As I went through the stages of grieving, I felt a lot of anger at my brother for doing that to his child. To his children.
But, I also felt a lot of sadness. I also felt something that bordered on guilt. I was devastated that nothing we had done to help him had worked. My brother had been in therapy, taken medications, even spent time in a hospital, but none of it lasted. When he felt his super-high ups, he didn’t want the therapy or medication.
“I feel fine now,” he would say. “I don’t need that shit.”
But he did need it; if he didn’t need the medication, he did need something. He needed something that could keep the pendulum in the middle instead of swinging wildly back and forth.
None of us knew what that something was, though. Even if we had known what to do, we couldn’t force it on him. My sister cried when she had to make the call to have him Baker Acted for his own protection. Our other brother is haunted by memories of taking a gun away from him and having his younger brother sit on the garage stairs and weep like a child.
I think the shame and stigma of mental illness helped push my brother away from treatment. He grew up at a time when mental illness was often looked at as weakness or a character flaw, not an actual medical problem. My father, not understanding the reality of depression, often told my brother it was all in his head, that he just needed to snap himself out of it. And so on.
My father was his step-father, but he felt the pain of my brother’s death and deeply as he would with his own son. After my brother’s suicide, my father’s eyes filled with tears every time he spoke about him. One night as we were talking, we got on to the subject of my brother.
My father stared out the window into the darkness and said, “I wish I had known it was real. I wish I could have done something for him.”
We all did.
We all wished we could have done something more. But, what do you do when someone you love refuses the treatment? How do you help them?
You need to accept the fact that you can offer all the support and love in the world, but it might not help in the end. You still need to try, though. If someone you love is hurting and suffering from mental illness, it can be exhausting and frustrating to live with. Reminding yourself that the person is sick, just as someone with diabetes or cancer is sick, helps. Reminding yourself that it is real and that they have a disease helps.
Getting them help is the first step. Getting yourself help is also a good idea. Mental illness is not something one person can tackle alone and the people who love them need some extra help and support, too.
Reach out to the local mental health resources in your area or start with a call to one of the national organizations.
If you are in the United States, click here for a list of resources. Canadian readers can start with the Mental Health Helpline. If you’re in the UK, click here for help.
#Real #Suicide #MentalIllness #Depression #RobinWilliams #SocialStigmas #GarrettRiggs #CourtneyBarron
Visit our shop and subscribe. Sponsor us. Submit and become a contributor. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.