It’s been hard to come up with posts the write these past couple of days, and I didn’t really want to delve into the reasons why. The more I try to avoid it, the more the it stands in the way.
Lee Thompson Young.
I didn’t know him personally. When The Famous Jett Jackson debuted, I was 10 years older than the target audience. I watched it anyway. I wanted to support a show that had a strong African-American family at it’s center. Plus, there was something about his eyes. They were kind.
Throughout the years, I saw him in other shows. He popped up on Scrubs and Smallville. I continued to watch Rizzoli & Isles week after week because he was a series regular.
As far as I could tell, Lee Thompson Young avoided the pitfalls that derailed other child actors. I imagined there was a content, mild-mannered soul behind those brown eyes.
But you never really know anyone.
While I was growing up, I was enamored with my older cousin Evan*. Tall and handsome, he moved with a confidence I wished I had. He had friends and teenaged adventures. Evan was the responsible one. The one parents entrusted to keep an eye on the younger kids. The one who never got into any trouble.
He too, had kind eyes.
But you never really know anyone.
I was 12 when my mother got the call to inform us that Evan attempted suicide. Momma grilled the person on the other end of the line. Dissatisfied with the answers, she headed to the hospital to see Evan for herself. We sat with him and talked about everything from upcoming holiday plans to the latest episode of The Cosby Show . The “Incident,” as my mom would later call it, was not discussed.
A few months later, the family pretended as if the Incident never happened. I tiptoed around my cousin, but I felt like I was only one doing so. To me, Evan was smaller, less jovial. His eyes held no sparkle.
Whenever our family gathered, I watched Evan closely, fearful that he would slip into another room and try to kill himself again. I wanted to ask him if he was OK, but I was afraid to do that too. I didn’t know the source of his sadness, and I didn’t want to be the one who reminded him of it.
I asked my parents and a few others about his recovery. I was stonewalled.
I haven’t seen Evan in 20 years. I never learned why he attempted to take his own life, and I have no idea how he was able to move past it or if he ever did. Something I remember most about that time is the state of mass confusion and the overwhelming pressure to keep things quiet. There was a lot of effort spent hiding the Incident instead of dealing with it. No one wanted Evan labeled as “crazy.”
The stigma associated with seeking mental healthcare is still prevalent. I recently heard during a sermon that people should get on their knees instead of going to therapy. I was stunned by the number of folks who clapped in agreement. I wanted to jump up and scream that it’s not that simple. Some of us need a relationship with God AND help from a mental health professional.
As we move through our day and interact with others, we don’t know what another person is going through. We toss out words like “crazy” and “bi-polar” without fully considering their impact. I know I’ve been guilty of doing so. Even these small moments can perpetuate the stigma and impact a person’s decision to seek help.
Since Lee Thompson Young’s passing, there’s been an increase in dialogue about mental illness and treatment. I pray that it will encourage those who need help to reach out for it.
(*I changed my cousin’s name out of respect for his privacy.)