By: Paula Walter
Assistant Editor

My phone rang last evening and as I glanced at the caller i.d., I saw it was our oldest son, David, who now lives in Wisconsin. His first words to me were “are you sitting down?” My immediate thought was he was going to announce that he and his wife were expecting a baby, but that wasn’t why he called.
“Tommy died,” he said, his voice full of emotion and shaking. In shock, I asked him to repeat what he said because there was no way I heard him correctly. It took him a few minutes to calm down before he was able to tell us what happened to his best friend of nearly 20 years. Tommy, who suffered from mental health illness for the past several years, had taken his own life, ending it with a gun shot to his head. It was all I could to do to comprehend what David was telling me. In my head, I was seeing Tommy at church as a young teenager, at our home in Virginia and continuing his visits with us when we moved to Tennessee. We have pictures of Tommy among our family favorites we will forever hold close to our heart.
About three years ago, Tommy’s mother passed away from cancer. We knew that it hit him hard. It was then that he began to experience noticeable mental health issues. He was having trouble holding down jobs. He would start as an auto mechanic and then decide to go to school to become a certified nursing assistant. His goals were frequently lofty and grandiose. They even included becoming an anesthesiologist, regardless of the fact he didn’t have the education for it. We noticed his thinking was irrational at times and he often pulled into himself. He was in treatment at psychiatric hospitals several times.
Two years ago, Tommy came to Tennessee for Christmas. I was looking through our messages on Facebook last night after hearing about his death, and I came across this saved message from Tommy: “Are you gonna try and get all the boys up to your place for Christmas? I’d love to get David, Brian, and Michael to occupy the same space again. Just like the good old days without the crazy stuff of course.” My reply was: “I would love it if all my boys were home for Christmas and that includes you.” I knew something was seriously wrong when he began to give away his possessions that Christmas morning. His condition worsened, and he often self-medicated with alcohol, as well as prescriptions from his psychiatrist. As bad as it was, we never dreamed at that point he would be suicidal, but we were wrong, so wrong. His mental status continued to deteriorate. Tommy’s life ended way too soon.

Mental Illness Awareness week is October 4-10. One in five adults in the United States, roughly 43.7 million people, or 1 in 25, experience some form of mental illness in one given year.

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