One Reason Why
There are not 13 reasons why a person commits suicide, there is one: mental illness.
This photo of me and Dan was taken at Christmas. Ironically, my mom got out a photo portrait of him when he was 2 years old, and you can see it next to me.
Warning: This blog is about suicide and may be too graphic for some.
My sweet, amazing, creative, handsome brother Dan hung himself on Tuesday night. Unlike that ridiculous book and TV series, there are not 13 reasons why a person commits suicide. There is one reason – mental illness. Dan suffered from depression for most of his life. Yes, he tried to get help. He tried so hard to get better. Medication, therapy, meditation, prayer, micro-dosing – you name it, he tried and tried and tried until he just couldn’t try anymore.
Dan lived in Los Angeles. He was a writer, a film editor and the kindest, sweetest person that I have ever known. He would often call me when he was walking his dog, Sylvie, and our calls would be interrupted by Dan talking to the UPS delivery guy, the mailman, the pharmacist, the barista, neighbors walking their dogs…everyone knew him and loved him.
Dan was also one of the most courageous people I know because every day was a struggle for him to stay alive. Going to sleep was not a release from pain, but an exercise in terror, knowing the demons would awaken him to their chant of “I hate you. I hate you.” One time he told me that the anxiety was so great that he went into the kitchen to plunge a knife through his heart. I don’t know what stopped him that time. Or any of the other times.
Because Dan was such an honest person, and we talked so openly about suicide, I want you, who are reading this, to know how hard my brother worked to get better. He had many friends, people who loved him, yet he could not love himself. Something innocuous that he posted on Facebook might cause him to feel shame and horror that his comment might have hurt someone or might have been taken the wrong way. He would be tortured endlessly by those thoughts. Many times, he would call me, or probably more often, his dear friend Sharon, sobbing in emotional pain.
The last time Dan tried to kill himself was almost exactly a year ago. Through a series of events that I won’t go into here, he stepped back onto the chair just before the noose tightened completely. He called the suicide hotline, which ended with a 5150. A 5150 is what happens when police officers come to your house when you are suicidal. The officers talked to Dan, put him in handcuffs, took him to the police station to wait in what Dan described as a “concrete cell” until there was a “bed” available for him at the mental health hospital. Dan had serious back pain, so the ride in the police car while he was handcuffed was excruciating. But Dan didn’t blame the officers. He told me they were really good at talking to him, and he knew they had protocol to follow. Dan was always fair and kind with people. He was in the cell for several hours before the bed, which was actually a recliner that wouldn’t recline, was available. The recliner was in a big room full of other “crazy people"; the light was on all night and the TV was blaring. When I was able to talk to him on the phone, I asked him how he would get home, and he told me that they gave him a bus pass.
He was told to make an appointment with a psychiatrist at Hollywood Mental Health. They scheduled it for about six weeks or more out. This is how a person who is suicidal is treated! He would not have survived even one week on his own. This is how we deal with mental health in the United States.
Because of Dan’s friend Sharon, and the compassion of a psychiatrist who saw him for free, Dan was able to find help quickly and get on medication that changed his life. But that was also the beginning of more despair. Once he got to see someone at Hollywood Mental Health (which Dan called “The Death Center”), his psychiatrist tried to take him off of the medication that made him feel “normal” for the first time in years. Dan was treated as if he were a drug addict or an alcoholic. He was neither. He was depressed. It took a couple of visits for him to convince the psychiatrist of that. By cutting his meds, the psychiatrist sent Dan into a downward spiral. He called me scared and sobbing. And there was no help. I called The Death Center, but had to leave a voicemail that my brother was in crisis. No one called me back. No one called Dan. Evidently, if you leave a message at The Death Center, it goes to a centralized system where all the employees have to go to the basement to hear their messages. It took me, Sharon, a psychologist and somehow getting his medication restored to bring Dan back from the edge. I don’t even remember everyone I called or the loops and turns and how it all happened. It wasn’t an easy task. Every phone call to clinics, to psychiatrists, to suicide prevention centers, to hotlines was a dead end. It took a lot of maneuvering. I wondered what happened to the poor people who didn’t have friends and family to help them. How could they possibly navigate all of this while in the depths of depression? My brother, who always kept a sense of humor, suggested that The Death Center was trying to weed out the weak people.
I don’t know. What I do know is that I called the suicide hotline and I was told, yes, there’s help, and all roads led back to Hollywood Mental Health, The Death Center. My hopes would be dashed. My brother needed immediate help, not something two months away. There was no psychiatrist who took Medical, even though he was given a list of maybe 60 or more people. He called them all. It was as if it was a fake list. There was no real help for my brother.
For wealthy people, it’s a different story. The minimum cost to even see a psychiatrist in Los Angeles and the surrounding area was $300, if you could even get an appointment.
I don’t know. What I do know is that I lost my lovely, talented, amazing brother to mental illness, and I am heartbroken. Maybe if I had called him every day; maybe if I had told him to come live with me; maybe if I had…. I failed my brother.
Most of the time, people with mental illness are locked up in jail cells. Fortunately, my brother never broke the law. And he wasn’t schizophrenic. He was just a talented, funny, kind person. Everyone loved Dan. I loved Dan. I miss his humor and his incredible sweetness. I miss him so much.
If you feel suicidal, call someone – a friend or family member who will listen to you. Or put the number for the suicide hotline in your phone: 1-800-273-8255 or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.