If there’s one issue that’s come to light the last couple years in America, it’s the lack of proper attention given to mental health awareness. Give credit to events such as the Colorado movie theater shooting spree and Gabrielle Gifford’s near-assassination for making everyone heighten their understanding of mental illness. When left untreated, victims of bad mental health are capable of harming not only themselves but also those around them with little or no rational thought.
But depression and mental disease are tough issues to tackle. There aren’t swollen lymph nodes or abnormal red blood cell counts or any outward, diagnosable symptoms at all, for that matter. Victims normally look fine. And everyone goes through down times and rough patches in their lives. How do you distinguish between a temporary off phase and the more extreme depression while it’s actually happening in real-time, and not after the fact?
The whole thing hits me close to home. My old college roommate took his life earlier this year, seemingly out of the blue. But, upon some investigation the signs were all there. Unfortunately, none of us around him were fully aware or able to help in his time of need.
He was always the insecure type. Very sincere and genuine, but never brimming with self-confidence. Looking back, I think he felt like he was lacking something on the inside and that substances would help him compensate. Alcohol helped his fortitude. Weed helped him “think.” Adderall helped him study. They were his crutches, and towards the end of school, he ventured even deeper into drugs. That was when I firmly told him how I felt about the direction he was heading and then consciously made the decision to distance myself from him.
We hung out a few times after that, but graduation was the last time I saw him even though he moved home last fall, less than an hour away from me. I heard stories. He was weaning himself off coke. He had a mental breakdown. He was better. He was Schizophrenic. He had another fall. He was fighting depression. Lord knows what was true and what wasn’t.
I got caught up in my life, and the closest we got to meeting up again was through a mutual friend but nothing ever panned out. Unbeknownst to me, he deactivated his Facebook account and stopped returning calls in December, even to his closest confidants, shutting himself out from the rest of the world completely.
In February, I got the call informing me that his internal demons were too much for him to bear and he had committed suicide. On the verge entering the prime of his life, he left behind family, friends, and loved ones in a death that possibly could’ve been prevented had the symptoms been properly identified and dealt with.
In light of all this, J. Cole deserves a standing ovation for speaking out on mental health, and dealing with the pressures of his profession. A part of a culture that glorifies invincibility and frowns on weakness, it’s refreshing to hear him address depression awareness and its treatment.
At the end of the day, even celebrities are still real people who face an exponential amount of stress relative to the average Joe. To put it like he did, “Pressure is pressure.” It happens to everyone. But it’s how people respond to the adversity that separates one from the other. The pre-championship LeBron James comparison is spot on, and the fact that Jermaine has the ability and fortune of being able to channel his darker emotions into art is admirable. Some people are unable to do so. Cole’s blessed to possess a strong, determined mind that doesn’t allow him to fall into the trap of negativity. But, there are those who can’t pull through on their own.
And for their sake, it’s important for the rest of us to stay knowledgeable about mental disease, vigilant to identify its symptoms, and willing to help those suffering, instead of reminiscing about their lives when it’s too late.