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Mental Illness is a Terminal Disease

October 8, 2017

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 74174. The world need you.

By Kellie Julia

The picture above is of three of my most favorite people, 2 are gone. My gram died at 93 of natural causes. My son died at 31 and there was nothing natural about it.

I gave my son’s phone away this week to someone who really needed it. It seems like an easy enough thing to do but I cried for hours after. I saved the last text message I had from him which said “I love you too”, that was 5 days before he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. That was 5 months ago.

I still wonder what would have happened if I had gotten to his house 5 hours earlier than I did, what if I would have begged him to please hold on just one more day. No matter what I did or said for many years I could not take his pain away. Believe me, I tried. Do I find comfort in knowing that he is free of pain, yes. Would I rather have him still in pain but here with me instead, yes. Do I feel that is selfish of me, yes. Many suicidal people believe that the world would be a better place without them. Is it? No! Mental illness is a terminal disease and it should be treated that way.

Suicide is among the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, approximately 44,000 a year. There were 23,000 documented suicides by May 1st this year in our country (I suck at math but it’s easy to see that we were already over half way to the average for the year and we weren’t even half way through the year yet). Suicide is on the leading causes of death list with cancer and heart disease. The most common cause of suicide is depression. Depression is a cancer for those who have it, it eats them from within. Depression is a heart disease for those that suffer from it because many of them have a broken heart. We live in Maine, a state with a higher than national average of suicides, the stats say that someone dies by suicide in our country every 16 minutes. Someone dies in Maine by suicide every 37 hours. But the average wait to get someone into counseling or some type of crisis program is 3 weeks. That is too fucking long people! When someone is desperate enough to swallow a bottle of pills, throw a rope around a beam, or slice their wrists open with a paring knife they probably have less than 3 minutes to wait NOT 3 weeks! Before you get done reading this it is likely we lost another beautiful soul to suicide.

Mental health issues are often misunderstood. Society tells these people that they need to “suck it up”, “get motivated”, “just be happy”. They can’t. My child starting showing signs of depression when he was in his teens. He started drinking to self medicate. The onset of depression and the issues that came along with it led to behaviors that were uncharacteristic of him. His depression led him to at times be a real asshole to those close to him and push them away. He lost friends. He lost jobs. He lost his license. He just kept losing and losing and losing.   He would have periods when he was doing well, sometimes long stretches, but than his illness would take over and down the rabbit hole he went.

We spent hours at counselors, nights in the emergency room, sometimes we would just sit together and wait for the darkness to fade and he would cry. Once when he was 18 and having an “episode”, I was desperate, I called 911. Two state troopers came to our home. What I wanted from them was help getting him someplace that he could get “better”. What I got was a big dose of reality. They told me “He is 18 and unless he is actively threatening to hurt himself or others than there is nothing we can do”. At that point he was pissed at me for calling the police, he slung a backpack over his shoulder and left. He couch surfed for the next 6 months. I layed awake every night worrying and wondering where he was.

I still lay awake at night sometimes even now but not because I am worried about him or wonder where he. I know where he is. He is sitting on my mantle in a marble box. Obviously I know that the contents in that box simply hold ashes. I know that his light and energy are everywhere. What I don’t know is how do we prevent this from happening to others in the future. To your child, to your brother, to your friend.

Many would answer “medication”. Well guys and girls, several of the current medications that are prescribed for people suffering from depression list side effects like insomnia, fatigue, agitation, irritability, anxiety, and here’s the kicker……SUICIDAL TENDENCIES. WAIT! WHAAAAT??!! Okay, so medical professionals are giving patients who have depression medications that can induce many of the issues that they are already suffering from and could possibly be the pre-cursor to suicide. Again, WHAAAAT??!!  I also mentioned “self-medicating” earlier, I truly feel that many deaths by “accidental overdose” should be actually classified as death by mental illness. Most people that end up addicted to substances started using those things to numb themselves from pain. Physical and mental.

I don’t know if I am hyper sensitive to the word suicide now and that is why it seems like I hear of a new one every day but I do know that depression does not discriminate. Rich, poor, old, young, man, woman, famous, unknown, it doesn’t matter. Depression doesn’t care, it will take you any way you are and break you into a million pieces leaving those who love you scampering around to find those pieces and constantly super glue them back together again.

So this is my plea, if you or someone you know (In my head I am saying this in Morgan Freeman’s voice) are suffering from depression SHOUT IT OUT! Depression and mental illness are REAL and can result in death. Mental health issues are not something to be swept under the rug or whispered about in the corner. Do I know the miracle cure for depression? No. But I do know that for many being active helps, eating healthy, sleeping regularly, being involved with community and family are all helps.  I think one of the best things we can do for ourselves or our loved ones who suffer with mental illness is to get rid of the stigmas that surround it.  There should be no feelings of embarrassment or shame, if you had cancer or another terminal illness would you be embarrassed?? Hell no! You would fight to stay alive. As a matter of fact there would probably be a Go Fund Me account being set up for you as I type! If your family members, loved ones or friends show signs of depression do not ignore it, do not think that it will go away on its own, do not think that because someone who has suffered with depression and is suddenly “happy” that they are “cured”. My son seemed happier in the last months leading up to his death than he had been in the past few years.  Looking back now, we thought things were getting better and THAT was the BIGGEST misconception of all.  He was happy because he had made piece with his decision and had a plan. He was suffering in silence like many people who have mental health issues do. Do not be silent. Silence kills.
Kellie Julia lives in Maine with her husband and daughter and a bunch of furry critters.

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

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  • Reply Roslyn Fain October 9, 2017 at 4:57 am

    I am so sorry you lost your son to suicide Kellie. I second, third and fourth the fact that mental illness is a terminal disease that needs more compassionate attention. So many people believe that suicide is a selfish act because that’s what the masses determined ages ago. Until it happens to your own family it’s difficult to understand the direct opposite is true. Most everyone who commits suicide feels they have failed their loved ones and they believe removing themselves from their lives is the best thing they can do. I’ve been on both sides of this so I speak with authority. I have lived with major depression for 35 years and I can attest to this truth. Suicide has touched my family more than once too – we lost my cousin in 2011, he was 52, and last year my brother-in-law took his life at 41 leaving my sister without a husband and my nephew without a father.
    Until we rid society of the ridiculous stigma that surrounds mental illness we will continue to hear of increasing statistics. Thankfully I am doing well now, since I finally was able to see the fog I had been living in for nearly 20 years, due to self-medicating, I have gotten the help I so desperately needed. I’m not “cured”, not by a long shot, but the substance use program I am in is not only helping me rid my body of the toxins but also teaching me a lot about our brain and how it works. I believe when we have more programs like this available to mentally ill patients, we will see suicide stats decline. This gives me hope that my own son, who also has major depression, will be okay, (heredity does play a big role ).
    Thank you so much for sharing your pain with us Kellie. I pray many who need help will find this post.

  • Reply Eric April 30, 2018 at 10:54 am

    I am sorry for your loss but as someone with mental health disorders of his own i understand why he did it. Every waking moment is a living hell for me and i wish for death mor than anything in this life. Ive done the doctor counseling med route it doesnt work. Ive been on that rollercoaster since i was little and all it did was make things a 1000 times worse. All i want is for it to end so im finally at peace. Yet everyday i keep going and dont know why. Some of us just cant be saved. You gave him as much love and support as you could. All his good happy moments were because of you. Thats something to remember. Again im sorry for your loss but he is at peace now.

  • Reply Kim June 30, 2018 at 7:54 am

    Hi Eric,
    I feel the same way as you do. Been suffering and miserable since I was 12 years old. I’m now in my 40’s. Things are no better, only worse with each day. I have a son who is 13 years old and although I love him more than anything, I hate myself for having brought him into this world. He is the one thing that is preventing me from going through with committing suicide. He would be totally alone, as we have no other family. I tell myself that when he is older and he finds someone that makes him happy and starts his own family, then I can leave this world. I don’t know how to live..never have…I don’t know how to live in this world with any sense of peace. There are days that I wake up crying, knowing that I have to trudge through another day…and for what? For what? My son? I don’t feel I’m doing him any good. I guess when it gets to the point where my being alive is doing him more harm than good, then maybe the choice will be easier. I’m so confused. So lost. So alone. So tired. I’m so tired! I see the world and everything and everyone in it in such a negative light…and much of it for good reason. The world is a fucked up place. Human beings…I’m ashamed to be a part of the human race, with all the greed and backstabbing and pettiness. The plays for power, the corruption, nobody talking to or caring about one another. Then the empty, meaningless displays of grief when someone actually does commit suicide. It’s sad, really. It’s only gotten worse, since technology has allowed people to not interact face to face. I think a lot of depressed people see reality for what it is…and that is one of the many reasons they are depressed. What is there to be joyful about anymore. The only place I find any semblance of peace is in nature…in the mountains, among the trees and streams and wildlife. I’m sorry for all the rambling, but I agree with you…some of us just can’t be saved! Take care!

  • Reply George January 3, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    I’m a 30 year old male, now in a very similar position your son was in. The difference is that I have a mother who cares and who is trying to help but a father who is old fashioned and doesn’t understand. Ive wrestled with depression my whole life. As a child my dad called me lazy because I wouldn’t leave my bedroom. 25 years later, yesterday he came into my room to accuse me of the same thing. (2 MONTHS ago I quit a pretty good job that I hated and moved into my parents house so that I could start over and find a path in life that could make me happy) But he doesn’t understand. He never will. Even if I were to decide to end my life today, he would probably attribute it to do something with my lack of discipline or something.Aside from my poor relationship with him, I just know that every time my mental health has caused me to crash and burn, it gets harder every time to pull myself back together. Im an advocate for pro choice. Abortion and suicide. But I believe you shouldn’t be quick to just jump and decide to do either of those things. But if someone is suffering as much as I am… no one deserves this. If medication, Years of therapy, group counselling, rehab, exercising (to the point of having abs) , eating healthy and socializing doesn’t work, then you should be able to make that choice for yourself. I hope one day, if I finally decide to go, people will understand.
    You’re a strong woman and I’m glad you wrote this. Thank you. Im sorry for your loss. Your son didnt deserve to suffer like he did.

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