On June 7, 2015, my son Mark ended his life; he was 30 years old. The horror of mental illness is never more implicit than when your son is removed from your home by the Medical Examiner’s Office.
Reality is never clearer than when your brother, brother-in-law and stepson remove blood-soaked bedding, mattress and carpet from your son’s room.
The finality of death is never more acute than when final arrangements are made at a funeral home to honor your son’s life.
Pain is never more overwhelming when you realize your son is not coming home.
Mark suffered from severe bipolar disorder. It is difficult to describe his mental illness without using terms of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, shame, self-loathing, severe depression, anger and insignificance of life.
For Mark, death was always an option, and he eventually chose death because he would rather die than continue in his tortured life. Mark did not give up; he was exhausted from fighting his bipolar disorder.
Mark’s psychiatrist described bipolar disorder as living with postpartum depression every day of your life.
The disease creates an exaggerated irrational distortion of internal feelings which intensely distort cognitive associations and beliefs often rendering the patient incapable of sustaining a functioning life.
The last words from my son: “I’m going to kill myself tonight. I’m sorry dad. Please don’t blame yourself for this. I just can’t take it anymore. Please forgive me. I love you dad with all my heart.”
Mental Health America, formerly the National Mental Health Association, was founded in 1909, and is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit mental health entity committed to America’s mental health.
The compilation of their data is in cooperation with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education.
MHA assesses a total of 15 variables to rate the quality of mental health care, access to care and other topics related to mental health.
Their comparisons rate each U.S. State and the District of Columbia with a total of 51 comparisons (the higher the number, the poorer the rating). As you will see, Arizona rates poorly and has been rated below par for the last six decades.
· Adult ranking of high prevalence of mental illness with lower rates of access – AZ #42.
· Youth ranking of high prevalence of mental illness with lower rates of access – AZ #50.
· Prevalence of mental illness – AZ #45.
· Adult access to care ranking – AZ #39.
· Adult alcohol dependence and illegal drug use (marijuana, heroin, and cocaine) – AZ #42.
· Adult alcohol dependence – AZ #42.
· Youth prevalence of mental illness – AZ #43.
· Youth alcohol and illegal drug dependence – AZ #50.
· Youth alcohol dependence – AZ #48.
· Youth Heroine use – AZ #50.
· Youth Cocaine use – AZ #49.
· Youth severe major depression episodes – AZ #46.
· Survey reports that 48.77 percent of children ages 11-17 report significant thoughts of suicide and self- harm.
Arizona suicide rates in 2018 show: Almost twice as many people die by suicide in Arizona annually than by homicide; suicide is the eighth leading cause of death, the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34; the third leading cause of death for ages 35-44.
Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death in Arizona for ages 45-54 and seventh for people over 65.
In 2010, suicide cost Arizona: $1,246,005,000 in combined lifetime medical and work loss compensation – an average of $1,139,987 per suicide.
Suicide rates in Arizona are 4.17 percent higher than the national average
Arizona continually failed to meet the needs of the mentally ill for six decades and remains uncommitted to this exasperating issue.
Arizona continues to fail the residents of Arizona in providing adequate care for the mentally ill; a continual assessment since the 1960s.
In 2018, Arizona ranked 50 of 51 in the United States for overall care for mental illness (MHA, 2018).
Interestingly, Arizona is at the top of the list for allocation of monies toward mental health care but continues to miss the mark in providing adequate treatment for the severally mentally ill population.
We spend more money without improving the system. Either Arizona is unable to locate the right personnel having the expertise to fix the problem or cannot induce radical change to the policy for evidenced-based treatment programs.
Either way, the results remain constant: unacceptable.
Arizona public education spends less money on their students than any other state in the United States.
Further, public schools in Arizona have the least number of school psychologists than all other states and we wonder why teenage suicide continues to rise.
Thankfully, Gilbert Mayor Daniels is attempting to address our societal concern for teenage suicide, and hopefully bring change to a much-deserted topic through substantive policy execution and community involvement.
My son made numerous suicide attempts during his teen years and was eventually successful in 2014. My hope is that no parent should endure the pain and suffering that follows the suicide death of a family member.
I have never been the same and suspect I never will.
- Dr. Tim Hampton has been a Gilbert resident since 2012.