It's not a blessing when mentally ill people die.
BY ALAINA LEARY
Earlier this week, my dad—someone with lifelong mental and physical health issues—tried to die by suicide and ended up in the ICU. He intentionally overdosed on his depression and anxiety medication. This was after several months of expressing suicidal thoughts to me and to therapists, and working with medical professionals in inpatient care.
About a month ago, my dad was refused any more inpatient care even though he insisted that he was still dealing with suicidal thoughts. He also received a denial letter for disability benefits, although he is dealing with early Alzheimer's, has had several surgeries for physical health problems, has been diagnosed with several serious mental illnesses, and has had worsening overall health since a car accident in October 2014.
Since then, he's been severely suicidal. Because he has a lifetime of mental health battles, including bipolar disorder and PTSD, this is not the first time I've worried about him attempting suicide. But it is the most upsetting time and it felt the most real. Over the last ten years or so, my dad has done nothing but try; this is his second serious attempt at getting the help he needs, including disability benefits and mental health care. In the last year or so, he's done nothing but try to fight for the resources he needs to survive, only to be failed time and time again.
Last month, doctors discovered a cyst on his breast while he was in the ER. When he later asked about getting it checked out, they repeated to him: "Are you here for your suicidal thoughts or for the cyst?" They refused to prioritize both; his physical health was put on the back burner because he was honest about wanting to die. Several times when he's been in the hospital, I've spoken with staff about his memory issues and cognitive health—all of which was ignored because they were focused on treating his depression. His symptoms of early Alzheimer's shouldn't be ignored, especially because some of his current medications make him even more drowsy and forgetful than he was before. He often forgets conversations we had just earlier in the week, and has had to be reminded about things we discussed. I've never been so angry with the health care system in my entire life.
This morning, I woke up after falling asleep crying about my dad's recent suicide attempt to find out about the now-removed xoJane essay, "My Former Friend's Death was a Blessing." I've never felt so angry at a writer. Yes, we're all entitled to our opinions, but some of those opinions should not be published, as Lisa Marie Basile details in her own piece about editorial integrity. I can only imagine how my dad, who feels useless and unworthy of life, would feel if he were to read that xoJane essay. It would be like a sign saying, "Because you can't take care of yourself right now, you're a burden to your family and friends, just like this writer says about her former friend. Your death would be a blessing, too."
Yes, we're all entitled to our opinions, but some of those opinions should not be published.
Those are thoughts suicidal people are already feeling. I know because my dad has told me. He loves me more than life itself, but he doesn't feel like he can do anything right. He feels like a burden to me and to others, and doesn't see any reason worth living anymore.
It hurts me so much to see that there are people out there who believe that someone like my dad, who can no longer take care of himself after over twenty years of fighting, are "beyond help" and that death is "inevitable." Just because someone deals with serious mental health issues doesn't mean we should give up hope and give them a reason to give up. It's not a blessing when mentally ill people die.
The individual situations are different, obviously. Leah was a young woman and she spoke of schizoaffective disorder. Unfortunately, we don't really know her. We know only of her what the writer chose to tell us through a voyeuristic, cold, empathy-free lens. My dad is middle-aged, physically disabled, and has a history of unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drinking and being a workaholic. But at their core, they're not so different. Neither could take care of themselves completely on their own, and both needed support. And in Leah's case, she failed to get that support, and even after her death, instead of being mourned, she was turned into a sensationalist headline.
Just because someone deals with serious mental health issues doesn't mean we should give up hope and give them a reason to give up.
My dad is mentally, physically, and cognitively ill right now. He needs help taking care of himself. He doesn't need self-care; he needs community support. It's not always an easy task, and for my own health and well being, I can't be all things to him at all times. But the one thing I can always do is reassure him—and any other mentally ill person reading this—that there is hope, and that they're loved. And they deserve to live, even when it may seem impossible.
Alaina Leary is a native Bostonian studying for her MA in Publishing at Emerson College, and working as a social content curator at Connelly Partners. Her work has been published in Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Seventeen, Redbook, BUST, Her Campus, AfterEllen, Ravishly, and more. When she's not busy playing around with words, she spends her time surrounded by her two cats, Blue and Gansey, or at the beach. She can often be found re-reading her favorite books and covering everything in glitter. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @alainaskeys.