Celebrity Shaming

I’ve seen a few posts pointing out that a lot of attention is being paid to a couple celebrity suicides while the average of 22 daily veteran suicides goes unreported.

I want to go the long way ‘round on this:

Veteran Suicide has touched my family directly and with devastating results. My Grandfather, Captain George R. Morris (Army, Ret) took his own life over the 4th of July weekend in 1966.

He was a decorated officer who fought in the D-Day Invasion and the Korean War. He came home with shrapnel in his back and PTSD overwhelming his mind. He tried to be a good husband and father, but in the end his demons were too much to bear and he made a horrible choice.

At the time there were no services for Veterans. Nothing like we try to provide today. There was no public understanding of what “Shell Shock” really was…or why my other grandfather, Lieutenant Sam Teresi, came home and settled into a quietly distinguished life without any remarkable difficulty and passed of natural causes in his mid-nineties.

We, as a society, have an obligation – a debt of gratitude and of honor – to offer mental health care for every man and woman who serves our country. We’re doing better and I sincerely hope the same scorched-earth tactics our current Commander in Chief is using to (hopefully) broker an end to the war that indirectly took Captain Morris from his daughters can be applied to the bureaucratic morass that keeps the V.A. from doing the best job it can.

I was even thinking of proposing a 1-to-1 tax credit for any mental health provider who provides care for veterans. Just a straight-up: if you charge $200 an hour for your regular patients and Corporal Doe pays nothing you get a refundable credit of $200 per hour for your time with the Corporal.

Obviously there’s a little bit of paperwork required to prevent fraud, but this should fit on a single page. And I want to make it refundable. If a shrink spends an hour a day helping our heroes they deserve to get paid…and we shouldn’t hesitate to pick up the tab.

But, in the meantime, more attention to Veteran Suicide is essential. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the others.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had it all. Money. Fame. Time to Travel and loving fans. They are the most visible victims of a growing epidemic.

The CDC reports a 30% uptick in suicides in 25 states from 1999 – 2016. The fastest growing demographics are middle aged men and women.

There is a crisis in this country. Call it spiritual if you want. I think of it as something more existential. We compare ourselves to others and misunderstand the shallowness of our understanding. We look backward and shed the perspective of context to assume our lives have been less productive than generations that came before. Americans have turned “The Grass is Always Greener…” into an Extinction-Level Logical Fallacy.

We fool ourselves into believing we’re okay because we parrot the names of complicated diagnoses and think that meets the standard for comprehension. That if we name our pain it just fades away like Rumpelstiltskin on his wooden spoon.

Declaring all Veteran mental illness “PTSD” isn’t a panacea. Neither is ignoring the truth of our own complicated psychology. St. John’s Wart might give some people a boost…but it’s no replacement for sitting down with a professional and really examining why we feel the way we do.

The self-hatred or despair Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain must have felt is almost unimaginable. I think it’s an experience you’ve had or it’s completely alien to you. There’s no shame in either.

If things aren’t going the way you want or if you think things have become unmanageable you shouldn’t feel embarrassed for seeking help. Trying to diminish a pair of celebrity suicides as less important than veteran suicides is the most counter-productive argument you can make if you give a damn about either.

The only way we help our veterans effectively is if we take the stigma out of Mental Health Care. We can only scrub away the stigma by acting – as a society – to normalize the use of that help.

Man get depressed. Sometimes they need help.
Women get depressed. Sometimes they need help.
Straight, Gay, Young, Old, Black, White, Educated & Salt of the Earth…we all feel it sometimes. Some of us need a hand managing those feelings.

You’ve heard me use the Airplane Oxygen Mask analogy before, but I think it can apply here, too…

The stewardess tells you to secure your own mask before assisting your children and seat-mates. That’s because you can’t help ANYONE if you can’t breathe. But, once you’ve got your own air flowing, you can help everyone in arm’s reach. By ensuring your continued consciousness you may be the one who saves the life of someone who didn’t understand the instructions.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain both did something I struggle not to be angry about. My grandfather’s suicide did damage to his family that can still be seen today. But they also brought attention to the problem.

It is my sincere hope that the terrible choice they made leads more people to talk about the problem, and that in turn leads more people to open up about their need for help….and that leads to more people simply saying to our soldiers:

“Holy Shit, I had to see a shrink for 6 months after I put my dog down. How the hell can anyone be surprised you’ve got some stuff to work out? Do you want me to introduce you to my guy?”

Make good mental health care an everyday thing. Nobody feels bad about taking a car with a weird knocking noise to a mechanic. So why on God’s Green Earth would you feel bad about tuning up your BRAIN?

Don’t shame people for discovering the problem via any means. Invite them to talk MORE about what it means to them, and why they’re sorry someone they admired took that road. The more of us seeing the problem the better, period.

George Morris: an amalgam of my cousin and my brother, grandkids he never got to meet.

George Morris: an amalgam of my cousin and my brother, grandkids he never got to meet.