Recently I was crushed to find out about the death of a young man lost to suicide.

Noah was a creative, kind, compassionate person who left others better than he found them. He had a bright, caring, gentle spirit.

What should have been the best part of his life was still ahead of him; he was only 22 years old.

But Noah had been fighting a battle with brain disease for most of his young life. He was one of the luckier ones -- his family rallied with unyielding support and immovable love and compassion.

His mother lived his pain right along with him, the crushing blow of disappointment each time a new and promising treatment did not suffice in easing his troubled mind. She held his hand through every attempt he made at becoming well and whole. He was brave and relentless, like his mom. Everything that was to have been a solution failed Noah.

It is not because Love wasn't enough. It's because the answers we have available right now are not enough.

Suicide is only a word and does not begin to explain the journey, the struggle -- the blood, sweat, and tears -- that went into trying to stay alive.

It doesn't begin to express the endless efforts poured out on the behalf of those who suffer. It doesn't begin to tell about those who go to the ends of the earth and back looking for answers, (countless medical regimens, therapies) ... and are still not able to find something strong enough to keep their loved ones here.

Assumptions are made about people who die this way. And that's a shame. It isn't for weakness or a lack of strength. It is a result of desperation after suffering for so long. People hold out for as long as they can. Hopelessness takes hold.

It takes them sometimes. But, this should not be the case. Not in 2021. Not when we are as advanced a people, a society, as we are.

Too many still do not understand what existing with brain disease (commonly referred to as "mental illness") means. We don't think of it as we would cancer or diabetes or heart disease.

But we should. It exhausts one's faculties, taking a toll on the mind as well as the body. Noah's mother, a writer, uses her blog to share what her journey with Noah taught her about brain disease and to help raise awareness.

"'Mental' implies that it is something that originates in our thinking. It works the other way around. A diseased brain influences thoughts, emotions and behavior. The problem does not originate in the thoughts ... There is a physiological cause for the effects of this disease ... Lives depend on our shift in thinking and commitment to a cure." - Alicia Larkin Cartwright

There is still a stigma associated with the phrase "mentally ill," while statistics show that more people suffer from one or more types of mental health issues than do not. This stigma is deadly.

It perpetuates the shame that keeps people silent. And silence kills. Ignorance kills.

It takes time to find the right therapist, the right medicine, the right regimen. Those who are fortunate enough to not slip through the cracks and remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed often spend years jumping through hoops before finding the correct combination of medications and therapists. And once a person does, it is an ongoing journey.

I realize that there are marvelous medical professionals out there who do good work and are taking amazing strides in helping people. Many have made it their life's mission and have saved lives, are saving lives.

But there is still too much of a disconnect. Because we are losing people who are looking for help and are not finding it.

We can do better. We have to. So that the next 22-year-old is able to live to see his 30s, 40s, and beyond.

So that another mother, another father, doesn't have to bury their son or daughter.

The deepest wells of compassion and generosity amongst us often struggle the most with guilt and hopelessness. The ones gifted with the ability to lift others up often battle darkness we do not hear about.

Some of us need others to be our shields and bucklers. Some of us were born with weakened defense systems, and as much love as we extend, we need that much more support when it comes to withstanding the things the world throws at us.

Faith-based organizations are places many turn to for help and comfort in troubled times, but, too often, I have seen people failed by the notion that all answers are found within the walls of a church or within religion itself.

It is a deplorable reality, how much money is channeled through the hands of "ministries" and evangelical causes that offer lasting solutions to wounded people in the name of God. There is an "us vs. them" narrative in multiple sects that encourages vulnerable people to uphold spiritual advice over medical knowledge and lean on their faith, encouraging the belief that healing will come through clinging to "God's promise in Scripture."

People who suffer from brain disease, or the effects of trauma, or any type of mental anguish, usually struggle with shame and guilt for their struggle in the first place. When promised solutions do not work, they tend to further blame themselves.

It's easy to offer a "peace be with you," or "I'm praying for you," or even assign a Scripture of comfort to someone when we see them in pain.

But when desperate people turn to spiritual guidance for help and still do not find it, they are not only left feeling misunderstood and abandoned by God's people, but by God as well.

Medical issues need medical answers, but since mental health involves the mind and emotions much of the time responsibility for this type of torment is assigned to some sort of spiritual affliction.

It has been a prevalent norm in churched communities. But pastors are not doctors of medicine.

Deacons, elders, Sunday School teachers, and small group leaders are not professionals.

Unless you are a clinician in the field of mental health, you should not be assuming this role.

Lives hang in the balance.

The idea that peace can be found if one prays hard enough and "keeps the faith" is a dangerous one for those who need medical attention.

People are being lost, are losing the battle with brain disease (the anguish and injury that still, too often, goes unseen and remains misunderstood).

So I wanted to issue a reminder. Especially as the holidays are upon us -- these times when loneliness and hopelessness are more of a struggle for so many.

In memory of Noah and all those who continue to fight.

Born in Rome, Olivia Gunn returned to her roots after a brief time of study at a university in Scotland. She is currently working on a book of essays and poetry as well as a memoir.


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