Models Monday: Mental Illness and Us

Since last Monday, I have encountered at least three tragic stories of youth suicide. Heidi Swapp, the talented scrapbooker, shared that she had accompanied her son Cory to visit his therapist not knowing that it would be her last activity with him before he died. Swapp blogged the experience so as to thank supporters for their condolences and to detail how she was using her skills as a scrapbooker to record shared memories of her son’s life and death.

Another story of a child’s suicide comes from a story a read in the Washington Post about a father writing his daughter’s obituary on Facebook. In the obit, Tom Parks writes honestly about his daughter Molly’s addiction to heroin. Though Molly had appeared to be gaining control over “her demons,” she suffered in private. The family’s hope is that Molly’s death can have an impact on our urgency to help our own loved ones in their efforts to beat addiction.

The final story that I happened upon was featured on “Web of Lies,” a program carried by the ID Network. The episode details the online relationship that 13-year-old Megan Meier thought she had with a boy named Josh Evans. After weeks of friendly correspondence with Josh, his messages turned cruel. Soon thereafter, Megan Meier hanged herself. Eventually, her family learned that Josh Evans was not a real person, but a fiction created by a classmate’s mother to punish Megan for ostensibly being mean to her daughter.

My cousin and I were discussing some of these cases and thought that Health would be a good place for addressing mental illness in schools. Then we wondered whether Health remained a graduation requirement. There was a time when health classes made for public discussion because they included sex education. The debate usually centered on what a responsible curriculum looked like, with some arguing for abstinence being at the center of instruction while others argued for contraception’s centrality. I rarely read about this debate anymore. Today, mental illness serves as one of the most prominent subjects of public discussion. In addition to the stories of suicide discussed earlier, mental illness has been a prism for discussing the actions of mass murderers: Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Dylan Roof, and Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez. In many of these accounts, experts often caution against an entangling mental health and extreme acts of violence; nonetheless, the association remains. In order to be responsible in the way that psychiatrists suggest and in the way that survivors of suicide urge, we need better tools for tuning our witness. As it stands, many of us are limited in our ability to offer meaningful support to those living with mental illness, and the consequences of such ignorance are far too grave to ignore.

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