This is Stephen Rose, my next-door neighbor.
He died last week.
I want to say that again—he died last week. Age: 29.
This is a post that’s as important as anything I’ve written. A few moments ago we returned from a visit to the home belonging to Steve’s lovely parents. Inside there was food served and small talk and sighs and laughter and stories and empathy. Lots of empathy.
Mostly, there was a discussion about mental illness.
I only knew Steve in passing—we probably spoke three or four times in the 11 years I’ve been here. I had no idea what he was going through; no idea of the battles he faced and the demons he fought. Evan Rose, Steve’s younger brother, wrote of these things in a beautiful Tumblr post, noting, “We often have preconceived notions of what someone struggling with mental health issues looks like. Steve did not fit any of them. He was polite, athletic, good looking and highly intelligent. He was a Harvard graduate and achieved a GPA of 3.5 in his recently completed psychology masters program. He applied to law schools and was receiving acceptances and even full scholarships. He planned to visit one of his top law school campuses and had social events planned for the week. Steve struggled with, but was not defined by his mental health issues. While his affliction sought to isolate him, he fought to connect with others. Where anxiety would cripple most, Steve put on a brave face and did his best to reach out. He wasn’t a tortured soul, crumbling under the weight of an impossible burden. He was a warrior, fighting an invisible and silent assailant in a battle to the death. His story—and the stories of many others struggling silently—must be told for the war to be won.”
I can’t possibly agree more. Even though we talk about mental illness, we don’t talk about mental illness. Too often, it’s either dismissed as a phantom malady or concealed because we’re too embarrassed by the implications. We’re 60-some years removed from the 1950s, but when it comes to mental illness, we behave as if we’re still living in an age when the image of the happy home needs to be preserved. Everything neat. Everything tidy. Everyone content.
Well, I call bullshit.
The Rose family wants Steve’s death to have meaning, and I agree. It’s time we start talking about mental illness—openly, passionately. It’s time we stop treating the symptoms with proverbial Band-Aids. It’s time we address the symptoms and stop asking the most inane of all questions—”What do you have to be depressed about?”
He wants his brother’s passing to bring forth life.