Franklin James Cook

Two Random Acts of Speaking Out Are Brought Together

In Advocacy, Grief, Stigma on February 1, 2009 at 10:19 pm

By Franklin Cook, SPNAC Editor

Separate items published over the weekend in two different newspapers–one in California and the other in New Jersey–coincidentally brought together the voices of two people who have lost a loved one to suicide. From opposite sides of the continent, each of them was speaking out against stigma .

The first voice comes to us courtesy of Brian Hamilton, sports editor of the Nevada County Union in Grass Valley, Calif., who last week “watched one of the most courageous performances I have ever seen on a basketball floor.”

It came at halftime, with no ball nor hoop necessary. As he grabbed hold of the microphone and [a] thousand or so basketball fans were sitting in absolute solemn silence, Mike Bratton began to tell a story no parent should ever have to share.

“My son … committed suicide,” he said. “And that’s something that’s so often covered up and hidden because of the embarrassment. My son committed suicide, you know, so did I do something wrong? It’s just had that stigma.”

“It’s an every moment, in-your-face, life-lasting reality. It’s something that never goes away, the aftermath and devastating effects of suicide. But it has to be talked about. People have to know. We don’t want it to be glorified, what my son did, but people have to know.”

The second voice comes to us directly from Augusta Santos, in an op-ed piece at MyCentralJersey.com, the website of the Home News Tribune and the Courier News. Augusta suggests that “it’s time for this six-letter word (stigma) to be removed from the Webster’s Dictionary — in order for it to stop having so much power and control in people’s lives.”

I believe and know that until families, communities, and society accept … emotional disorders the same way they accept their physical illness, this six-letter word called stigma will not go away.

Augusta’s husband, John, died of suicide in 2004, and she thinks stigma played a part in his death, so she wrote to her hometown newspaper this weekend to suggest that people do more to make stigma “go away.”

As I lived with John, a man with a heart of gold, who struggled with deep depression, I experienced first-hand what this horrible and debilitating illness can do to the human body …

Never did I imagine that there is an organization called the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) whose mission is to improve the quality of life of individuals who suffer from a serious mental illness and provide moral support for their families. I believe that health professionals, who have patients suffering with emotional disorders, should go that extra mile to inform the patient and their families of these important organizations.

I’m pretty sure Mike Bratton and Augusta Santos don’t know each other, and it is purely happenstance that what they said recently about stigma got put together here, but the synchronicity of their voices–speaking out bravely against the stigma they and their loved ones have faced–made me wonder how powerful a message we might send to our society about stigma if we all put our voices together.

[The abridged URL for this post is  http://tinyurl.com/SpeakingOut .]

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