Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Javon Belcher-How and Why?

Everyone is talking about the Javon Belcher tragedy and it is a tragedy indeed. His girlfriend is dead, he is dead, and his daughter is left without a father. It was a murder/suicide. Javon Belcher was a bright student at the University of Maine and was a part of an organization that fought against violence. In addition, he majored in child development which means he had an idea of what this would do to his young daughter. Belcher went on to play football alongside the likes of Brady Quinn in the pros.

The question is, why?

The answer, this was a young man struggling with mental illness. In our country mental illness has a  stigma against it. We judge the mentally ill. We say someone is "schizo"or "nuts." We use crazy in the punchline of jokes. We laugh at celebrities like Katt Williams when they have public meltdowns as a result of stress and poor mental health. In a way we don't take mental illness seriously. It's not cancer. Plus when we speak of cancer, cancer victims have no fault. Yet someone suffering in the silent prison of bi-polar did this to themselves, not genetics.

As an added bonus, many times people with mental illness do not believe that they are sick. In part it is because as a society we tell them to stop being so depressed and to start doing a happy dance. Also, there are those who don't take their medication because either it makes them feel different, not better, and at the urging of those around them who say, "Toughen up." Often this comes with serious consequences.

Belcher in many ways seems to be someone suffering from a mood disorder from what I read. He had violent mood swings, often associated with bipolar disorder. In addition, on occasion from what I understand he had elevated moods and was either happy go lucky or depressed and was using lots of alcohol to cure his pain. Javon Belcher had no where to turn. No one to talk to. Javon Belcher had a tough childhood raised by a single mother in Long Island and had overcome that to become a star college player and a promising pro player. He had a beautiful girlfriend and a young child. Why couldn't he just do a happy dance? It's because that is not the way mental illness works.

Why didn't Javon Belcher reach out? I believe it was shame and the stigma attached. He was a hero to so many and a tough guy on the grid iron. Seeking counseling for depression did not fit into the profile that others created for him, and moreso himself. Javon probably was living in hell. Unlike cancer or any physical illness, you sometimes can't put a finger on your symptoms or where they are coming from because you don't even know.

We laugh at mental illness but it is no joke. My friend Joe, a talented artist, took his own life last summer because he couldn't stand life with drug addiction and bi-polar depression any longer. Joe got me to write again and it rips my heart out that he is not here to enjoy my book with me. A former boyfriend of mine who I call Holden Caulfield, who I really loved, suffered bi-polar depression and refused to take his meds. He is a nomadic drug addict now that people laugh at and it hurts me greatly.

We see how untreated mental illness can be dangerous on a larger level. We saw it during the massacre at a movie theater in Colorado. That young man was receiving help but unfortunately the shrink too overpaid and too busy, didnt get the package with the laid out plans.

Bottom line, the issue is not guns. It is mental illness. It is the stigma we put on it in this country. It is the fact that insurance companies do not cover drug/alcohol/mental health counseling. It is the fact we feel it is a punchline to a joke. But then something like this happens and we ask why?

Answer: We need to learn to understand that mental illness is a chemical imbalance,not a character defect. People suffering need and deserve compassion and love. Like anyone else, they need accessible, appropriate, and affordable treatment. They also need the medication they deserve, and those around them need to understand that this is not a choice. If they want a functional person that person needs to take their meds and as a society we need to remove the judgment pronto.

I pray Javon Belcher and his girlfriend have found peace in the hereafter. I pray that we do not blame this on guns but rather use this as a time to become compassionate and knowledgeable.

April E. Brucker
I Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girl

Come to my book signing
December 27,2012 @ 7pm
Bethel Park Library
5100 W.Library Ave
Bethel Park, PA 15102

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