Around this time last year, I was finishing up a summer internship where I had the opportunity to work with my best friends. One of those best friends so happened to be my father; the other was my cousin, Michael. Michael and I spent days working at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with my father, leading the charge to lower drug prices in the United States. We worked as interns for two different staff divisions; I worked as a mandatory health intern for the Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs, while Michael worked as an intern for the Assistant Secretary of Public Relations. We spent our nights picking my dad’s brain, as he continually made huge changes to the industry that he had spent years gaining an understanding of.
Then November 1st, 2018 that all changed; I woke up to a phone call from my mom telling me that my dad was gone, for good. I thought it was a joke, a lie. Anything but reality, but it was a reality. A reality that quickly came crashing down; my brain filled with what felt like concrete. I was unable to think properly or even function. Since he worked so many hours a week with little sleep, it seemed like my dad had superpowers, but this thought was slowly changed to the realization that he, and everyone else who has suffered from mental illness or burnout, was not thinking rationally at times. Especially not when he took his own life.
"... I was finally able to connect with my father again, but our journey has only begun."
A few weeks ago, that concrete that filled my head subsided and I felt a lot more connected with my dad - spiritually, mentally, and physically - after summiting a mountain in Innsbruck, Austria. It felt as though I was finally able to connect with my father again, but our journey has only begun. I am still recovering each day from the struggles and the demons that I have faced since the moment of my dad’s passing.
That’s why I’m an advocate for breaking down stigma and educating others on how to find help, not just for themselves but for others. I know and truly believe that as this movement for mental health continues to gain traction, we’ll begin to understand that it was more like a cancerous tumor that took my father’s life rather than a random event. If there was a disease or virus which had the same devastating effects on people as poor mental health does, it would be much bigger news! Instead, we treat the discussion of mental health the same way as we did communism during the heart of the Cold War; with a fear of succumbing to it if we talk about it.
Well, I challenge you to take a step back and look at all the ways in which lack of discussion, awareness, and research have had an impact on you, your family, and your community. Then join me in saying ‘I will not remain silent’; let us stand for all those who are unable, and fight against this horrible disease that is mental illness! My entire family continues to wake up every day with the drive to keep going and make my dad proud because we all know he’s smiling above us every day!
- Matt B.
Matt and his brother, Nick, founded Shed Some Light, an organization centered around breaking mental health stigma and supporting research. The company makes and sells candles, a portion of whose proceeds are donated to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
This story was submitted for publication to the AB Korkor Foundation for Mental Health by Matt B. If you would like to submit your story, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.