Tuesday, December 30, 2008

23-year-old jumps to his death

This morning I called Edie Mannion to see if she could attend our New Directions' Planning Meeting on New Year's Day, "I'm trying to think of the smartest people I know in the area of mental health," I said.

She asked if I'd read the Philadelphia Inquirer's account of the suicide of a 23-year-old man who jumped from a hotel window on December 1. I had not & immediately went online to read the tragic story. My first thought was, Had this man come to New Directions? If so, had we recognized his potential vulnerability & what had we done about it?

This is the usual response a person has when they hear of a suicide. "What could I have done?"

When I called Mary, one of our members, to invite her to the Planning Meeting, I expressed this sentiment to her. So many young people attend our meeting never to return again. It's imperative, I said, that we make an indelible impression on young people, even if they come only once.

There are so many things they need to take away from the meeting. The first is that it's okay to have a mental illness. No one wants to admit it. I sure didn't when I was diagnosed at age 38. It's hardest though when you're a kid. You've got to accept it & move on with your life. And, for heaven's sakes, take your medication!

Mary came up with the idea that from now on at meetings we oughta make sure we call people between meetings. Phil, one of our small group facilitators, sends out emails after meetings with everyone's phone number.

How wonderful for newcomers - and especially young ones - to know that one of our veteran members is thinking of them enough to give them a call.

It's unclear why Zal, the 23-year-old, jumped to his death. His family and friends were incredibly supportive. His family, orig. from Mumbai, India, had taken immediate steps upon learning of his illness six years ago to get him professional help.

At the time of his death he was allegedly on a med cocktail with the all-important injection of an antipsychotic plus other meds. His delusions such as believing he could fly & that he was in direct contact with God, as well as hearing destructive punishing voices made living in reality increasingly impossible.

Why did he jump? Did his rational mind tell him, This is the only way to get out of this veritable hell? Or did his voices dictate, If you jump, God will reward you. Like many people with either bipolar or schizoaffective disorder, he was in the grip of fierce religious thinking.

His parents noted in the article that they never received a proper diagnosis for their son. He reminded me of the brilliant John Forbes Nash who won a Nobel Prize for his Brilliant Economic Mind. Nash, now 80, (b. 1928), refuses to take meds for his schizophrenia, relying instead on his cognitive powers to differentiate between reality and illusion.

Read the Inquirer story by Melissa Dribben here. She did a fine job in documenting his mental decline while portraying him as a talented young man with a world of promise ahead of him.

The only thing that can occur with tragedies of such personal magnitude is to learn from them. That's what I hope we at New Directions will do. Our illness is not to be trifled with. When well-controlled we can go on to live happy productive lives. When we slip up and forget to take so much as one dose of medication, our brains retaliate and our symptoms break out anew.