By: Brendan R. Schubert
Warning: The following post speaks to mental health and suicide prevention as September observes Suicide Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. Please be advised this content may be sensitive for some readers.
September marks both Suicide Awareness and Mental Health Awareness Months. A smart woman tells me, sometimes quite often, “our minds can be our worst enemies-Schubert!” I struggled to write this because I started thinking about how the intersection of 9/11, mental health, and Suicide Awareness Month collide with each other and my own personal relationships and professional experiences.
Throughout my career, we have seen some great movement in the general assembly to address mental health issues, which can have very direct correlations to suicide and suicide awareness. In Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, Rep. Schlossberg has been a champion for mental health issues and has not been shy about sharing his own personal struggles and experiences.
A good example of that positive movement is when Act 69 became law and mental health protocols were established for first responders in the Pennsylvania Department of Health for Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), and most specifically accomplished the following:
Act 69 was part of a package of recommendations that came out of Senate Resolution 6. One of the other important bills recommended in the report, House Bill 432 is workers compensation coverage for first responders who have been inflicted with PTSI, either from direct exposure or from cumulative effects of their normal working conditions. The analogy has been used that it costs more for a municipality to have a first responder out on a broken arm than to receive care in the workers compensation system for PTSI. For the first time we have TWICE as many first responders dying because of suicide than in the line of duty.
While I have had the honor to help further work on some of these pieces in my career, I’ve also had an up close and personal view, watching two individuals in my life address these issues first-hand - my friend Patrick Murphy and my younger brother, Neal. Both are veterans of war and two people whom I admire in different ways.
I met Patrick when I was considering going to law school and made my dad drive me to Harrisburg to hear Patrick speak at Weidner Law School. I admired him because he had served his country. He was fresh off a tough political defeat as he had just lost his congressional seat, after being the first Iraq War Veteran elected to congress. Patrick’s experiences are seen through his countless advocacy efforts on the issues of mental health for veterans and suicide prevention.
My brother is like Patrick in some of his experiences both military and personal, but not as an outward speaking advocate. He is someone who served during the War in Afghanistan and had tours in Northern Africa. He has several accommodations and awards which I won’t mention as he’s a relatively low-key person. In our private conversations, he has reflected on some issues related to mental health that he and members of his unit have suffered with because of their service.
I mention each of them here because their stories are personal to me and have informed my own thinking about mental health and the need for measures to help people who are struggling.
My colleague Brandi often says in meetings, “let’s get real.” And if I’m being real, we all struggle, and it is ok.
My struggles have led me down a path of service to try to right some things that once went wrong. I am constantly looking for those examples like Rep. Schlossberg, my brother, and my friend Patrick as inspiration to continue to push through.
Perhaps Suicide Awareness and Mental Health Awareness Months as they relate to the recent anniversary of Patriots’ Day should remind us to be more curious and ask questions and be willing to step up and help our fellow humans. We never know what private battles one may be facing.
For more information on suicide prevention or crisis resources, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 800-273-8255. Magellan Behaviorial Health of Pennsylvania also has financial, food, shelter, and mental health resources available online.