The Stigma

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.)

10 thoughts on “The Stigma

  1. I have depression and anxiety, and I’ve been suicidal, although I never completely managed to actually attempt suicide. And my family is the same way… they REALLY try not to talk about it, and actually ignore me when I bring it up myself.
    As far as people getting on their knees instead of going to therapy… maybe God is the one who inspires people to become therapists and other helping professionals, so that they can save people. I have heard this story before where there is a flood and this man is on his roof praying for God to help him. He sees a car, a boat, and a helicopter go by, and the driver of each one tries to rescue the guy, but he says. “No thanks… I am waiting for GOD to help me!” Eventually the floor gets higher and the guy drowns. He goes to Heaven, sees God, and asks, “God, why didn’t you help me?” God replies, “I TRIED to! I sent a car, a boat, and a helicopter, but you wouldn’t accept my help!”

  2. I had never heard of Lee Thompson Young until I saw the news of his suicide. It was impossible not to notice how handsome and “together” he appeared, and I immediately wondered what in the world could have caused him so much pain that he wanted to take his own life. You are so right… No one ever knows what is going on in the lives of others. Everything can look so perfect on the outside when they’re feeling nothing but turmoil on the inside.

  3. Wow. You’re so right and summed up so many points perfectly. I don’t think that enough people understand the way that mental illness can work. Like you mentioned, It’s not always simple.

    Thanks for writing this. I needed a refreshed perspective.

    • Thanks Lex – I’m glad that the post was of value to you. There’s so much to the issue that I don’t understand either, so I’m trying to keep an open mind so that I can be a help not a hindrance.

  4. I think there’s a huge cultural divide when it comes to mental health care. It seems as though in our community admitting someone has issues that need treatment of any kind is forbidden. It’s almost as if admitting there’s an issue is worse than having the issue. If you go to therapy, people will try to talk you out of it. It’s unfortunate really. But posts like these may help others realize that mental health is like any other health issue.

    • Thanks Bek. I think there’s also some generational differences that make it an even more complex issue. What was considered “mental healthcare” 50 years ago is very different from what’s available today.

  5. Great post. I also wrote about Lee Thompson Young because I always felt like I related to him in that way that only fans can. Lol. And his death saddened me as well because at times it seems we are moving further away from understanding mental illness and the treatment individuals need. I’ve heard the prayer thing my whole life and it makes me wonder how many people are on their knees night after night, trying to pray it away instead of ALSO getting professional help.

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