I was 12 years old when my brother died in a vehicle accident. He was a little over a month away from turning 22. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, and the person he would have become. Would he have gotten married? Had children? Where would life had taken him if he hadn’t been taken from us? My daughters, nieces, and nephews would have adored him. I wear a picture of him in a locket around my neck everyday, just to feel close to him. I go to the cemetery as often as I can with my daughters. We pull weeds, keep it cleaned up, and we talk about him. It’s the best way to keep the memories alive.
In high school, I took an Intro to Art class. The class was mixed of students of all grades. There was a senior, and he was so funny. He was always cracking jokes. He drew the same funny little cartoon guy into all of his artwork. One time, I was daydreaming and the teacher called on me to answer a question. He was across the table whispering the answer so I didn’t get caught. Then, one night, he died in a vehicle accident with another senior. Going in to art class that next day was tough. He didn’t get to graduate with his class or go on to do great things.
When I was a senior, an underclassman I did not know died by suicide. She was talking to her boyfriend or ex-boyfriend on the phone when she shot herself. I had a hard time with it, despite not knowing her personally. It was another person who was gone too soon. A death that could have been prevented.
Then, on September 7, 2018, news broke that Mac Miller died of an overdose. I really didn’t know too much about him. I didn’t listen to his music. But he was young. Only 26 years old. He had so many great years ahead of him, and just like that, it was all gone.
There is something so profoundly sad about the death of a young person. It’s like the book is slammed shut before they get to write an ending to their story, and it just isn’t fair. We didn’t get to experience the greatness of what they would have become. Even if I don’t know the person, or it was a celebrity I wasn’t familiar with, my heart sinks to my stomach when I hear about the death of a young person. Especially when that death could have been prevented.
When the news publishes a story about someone dying from an overdose, or being hospitalized because of an overdose, people spend most of their time arguing about whether or not addiction is a choice. That the person should have just stopped using drugs. That they should have gone to rehab for help. Or, what makes me furious, is someone saying they deserved to die anyway.
And when someone dies by suicide, we get sad for a minute. Wondering what we could have done. Or wondering how they could have felt that way when they had x, y, z going for them. Then we go about our day.
So when have we had enough? When do we get tired of burying young people? Sons? Daughters? Nieces? Nephews? Friends?
And all because we are too busy arguing about whether addiction is or is not a disease. Or just saying that someone who died by suicide should have reached out for help. Then washing their hands clean of it and going on with their life. Until next time, it is someone they know. But why do we have to wait to lose another life before people change their perspective about addiction and mental health?
72,000 overdose deaths occurred in the US in 2017. 44,965 died by suicide in the US in 2016. And numbers for both overdose deaths and suicide deaths continue to rise. Those are facts. Statistics. You cannot argue with that.
It is a problem. We have to do something. We need to breakdown the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health. Keep talking about it. Keep supporting nonprofits trying to end the epidemic and get people the help they need. We shouldn’t have to keep burying young people who would have had a chance at life if given the opportunity to get treatment. Stop arguing about mental health and addiction as a disease and JUST HELP THOSE WHO NEED IT.