Swindle: Take the difficult step of confronting suicide face-to-face

Published 7:03 pm Tuesday, September 3, 2019

When we go throughout our day, we see hundreds of people who appear happy, confident, and loving life. Many, if not every one of us, wear what I have often called a “gameface” to create this illusion.

Our gameface is a mask that we wear before we leave the house in the morning. We construct our mask to reflect the way we want others to view us.

Yet, the surface below our mask can be very different. Many of us struggle with severe depression and other forms of great pain deep within the darkness of ourselves.

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Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Stephen A. Goss was found dead behind an Albany home late last month. The coroner determined that the 60-year-old Goss died from a self inflicted gunshot wound. Judge Goss appeared happy and content on the outside as well.

Amongst many accolades, he was named to the Georgia Court of Appeals by then-Gov. Nathan Deal on Aug. 1, 2018. He was re-elected to his post as Superior Court judge five times after being appointed to the position by Gov. Roy Barnes.

How could a successful family man who helped countless people during his lifetime take his own life?

No one will ever know. However, this is known. The issue of suicide in America today is met with profound ignorance, stigma, intolerance, embarrassment and other negative reactions. These play a huge role in the ever increasing suicide rate.

Our society understands and applauds our fellow citizens who overcome physical health problems. The star running back who returns to the field after a gruesome knee injury, the wounded soldier, and the cancer survivor are all justly considered heroes. Yet, the person with even the slightest mental health problem is considered by many to be weak, “crazy”, or somehow unfit. For example, if a person overcomes clinically severe depression, they may be quietly hugged by family members and friends. But, in the minds of many others, the person was, is, and will always be “crazy.”

Many, if not most, suicides in America happen when a person suffers from severe depression. This medical condition is oftentimes compounded with other factors such as self-medicating with alcohol or other substances. Yet, depression and other mental health conditions are treatable if a person sees his or her doctor.

Addressing suicide will require education. But, educational tools are useless if they are not properly and widely communicated.

It will take massive public service announcements from trustworthy sources, brave public figures telling us about their how they have become more mentally healthy, the removal by voters of opportunistic politicians who broadly threaten to take firearms from “the mentally ill,” and the health care system treating mental and physical health the same to even begin to break through the concrete wall of ignorance and intolerance.

So, what will we choose to do? The easy route is to ignore this column, the people mentioned in it, and keep the status quo while we watch people die.

The arduous path is for this politically fractured nation to unite on this one issue.

My prayer is that we will acknowledge that we all wear our own unique gameface mask, take the difficult steps to confront suicide as a non-partisan health related crisis, and gather the courage to address the problem face to face.