Recently I was put in touch with a family who lost a loved one to suicide. They were referred to me because they were looking for a worthy cause to donate some money to. The story that unfolds is one that is unfortunately all too common: `
Michael Prince was a handsome, loving and dynamic young man who is described by his family as a gifted youth who felt that family was everything.
He was a well-liked high school student who was the captain of both the football and the wrestling teams. He loved “hanging out” with his cousins, loved babies, animals and music. Having grown up in a beach town, he had a passion for the water and could be found swimming and boating in his free time.
He had an emotional depth that was a rarity in one so young. It was unacceptable, by his standards, to be judgmental in any circumstance. His family recalls that he would quickly shut down any person he heard saying a bad word about anyone. He was known for a genuine empathy and compassion for anyone less fortunate than he.
Michael was known by his family for having a tremendous sense of humor, upbeat personality, caring and playful demeanor.
In his senior year of high school, Michael began to experience signs and symptoms of mental illness. (Most persons who suffer have symptoms appear anywhere from the late teens to early thirties.) In an effort to find normalcy, Michael struggled with attempts to self medicate. He began to experiment with substances. As his symptoms worsened, he began to isolate, become paranoid, and to hear voices when no one was speaking. The devastation that mental illness can cause has a tremendous effect on not only the individual who is stricken, but loved ones and family as well.
Michael’s family fought long and hard to try to help Michael, but ultimately the disease of mental illness won and Michael took his own life on January 10, 2018.
Michael’s love for his family was truly evident when he left suicide notes for family members that not only gave advice, but were written with a loving sense of humor. The last thing Michael wanted was for his family to suffer. Although his own suffering was too much to bear, there is some solace in knowing he believed he would be going to a better place where he would watch over his family. Michael’s note to his mother told her “Don’t be a buzz kill at my wake!” and he wrote “I love you mom, I will always be with you, Love Mike”. Mom has this signature tattooed on her arm in loving memory of her adored son.
Likewise, Michael’s grandmother had an endearing passage in the note that she felt was left for her. His love and concern for his family was evident even during this tumultuous time. Grandma also has a tattoo from the note written in Michael’s hand : “you cry, I cry, you’re happy, I’m happy, remember that”.
And so when the anniversary of Michael’s passing grew near, his mother and grandmother rallied to do something in his honor. Michael had collected some sports memorabilia over the years and the family had sold it. They wanted to do something with the proceeds that he would have loved. Michael was known for having a unique affinity for the homeless even after he was stricken by mental illness. His sympathy and compassion for persons on the street was endless. The search for the homeless population led Michael’s family to me and Tom Finnerty who run OceanMHS’s PATH Program (Program for Assistance to Transition from Homelessness).
Mom and Grandma wanted to be sure that Michael’s money went directly to those he cared so much about.
Tom and I met with Michael’s family. Mom and Grandma, still stung by overwhelming love, sense of loss and grief, met with us to come up with a plan. It was agreed that they should meet the people who Michael would benefit. Coincidentally, there was a code blue the very next day. Tom would meet the family at the Haven Beat the Streets warming center and they could see for themselves what kind of difference Michael would make. Armed with clothes, shoes, and emotion, the family arrived at the warming center and through them Michael made a difference. This is definitely what he would have wanted.
Michael was the kind of guy who cared for others. He insisted that he become an organ donor the minute he could. Michael not only helped the people who were seeking shelter from the cold, but his organ donations made a tremendous impact. His corneas helped a person in Abudabi see again; His bones and skin were able to help hundreds of burn victims. I am sure that he is looking down at his family proudly for allowing him to continue making a difference.
Unfortunately Michael is just one of many who succumb to a devastating illness that not only causes suffering by virtue of the disease but also the stigma associated with it. We must promote education regarding mental illness and fight hard to reduce the stigma so that every possible step is taken and every suffering individual is afforded the opportunity to seek treatment without fear of being seen as weak or damaged. Mental Illness does not discriminate. Michael’s grandmother states, “We tried so hard to save him. Just didn’t know how…”
The National Alliance for Mental Illness has outlined some clear statistics:
Prevalence of Mental Illness
- Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.1
- Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.2
- Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.3
- 1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.4
- 2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.5
- 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.6
- 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.7
- Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.8
- An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.9
- Approximately 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition.10
- 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness.11
- Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Among adults with a serious mental illness, 62.9% received mental health services in the past year.8
- Just over half (50.6%) of children with a mental health condition aged 8-15 received mental health services in the previous year.12
- African Americans and Hispanic Americans each use mental health services at about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.13
- Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.14
Consequences of Lack of Treatment
- Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.15
- Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.16
- Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions.17 Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.18
- Over one-third (37%) of students with a mental health condition age 14–21 and older who are served by special education drop out—the highest dropout rate of any disability group.19
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 10–34.20
- More than 90% of people who die by suicide show symptoms of a mental health condition.21
- Each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with a mental illness please get help.
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