Guest Columnist,

Steven M Arkin MD

As we mourn another young suicide in our community, we take pause to remember all those that have passed before and those that still struggle and live with their mental illnesses. Suicide is a symptom of real disease. People with mental illnesses do not have character flaws.

Their brains are not letting them react or adapt to environmental triggers appropriately. This leads to feelings of inferiority then hopelessness and helplessness and then isolation which is most dangerous. And unfortunately, we as a society do not know how to react and interact appropriately to those with mental illness.

We must learn together, to first understand these illnesses but more importantly how to talk to people about theirs. We need to allow the difficult conversations to take place, to encourage them and provide support by knowing your limitations and have proper resources on hand.

Let me introduce you to our son, Jason Arkin, a brilliant sensitive boy. He was an Eagle Scout, an Optimist Club winner, a National Merit Finalist, graduating in the top 1% of his class at Blue Valley Northwest.

However, Jason also had his battles, with depression, anxiety and perfectionism. He told us about it when he was 12 years old, after seeing a presentation about suicide.

Devastating, heartbreaking to us. But a call for action. For aggressive treatment. Successful.

He lived with mental illness for 9 years. He got his dream college admission to Northwestern engineering and continued to battle.

He became a vibrant member of the solar car club, became involved in nanotechnology research and participate in the Northwestern Dance Marathon.

Smiling on the outside, intermittently in deep silent pain on the inside. He continued fighting until his brain told him that he had used up all the resources the world would allow and did not have enough to give back.

We learned his philosophy in his suicide note as well as in a number of essays he had written at age 14.

He died in May 2015 5 days shy of his 21st birthday.

We learned at his funeral how he had literally saved other’s lives through his knowledge and understating of their illnesses and the correct words to say.

Jason is our inspiration. And each succeeding death means that we need to try harder.

To talk to each other. Not be afraid to ask the tough questions. Are you thinking or planning to kill yourself.

To be trained to know what to say if given certain answers representing a desire to kill oneself.

How important they are to you and others. Strive to allow for failure, to learn from mistakes, not ruminate about them.

Strive for progress not perfection. To encourage resiliency and adaptation to a lower achievable standard.

Speak up , for yourself and others. Eliminate stigma. Strive to live mentally well. There is a place for everybody. We just have to find a way to live within our skin and get there.

Steven M Arkin MD
Staff Neurologist Saint Luke’s Hospital Kansas City, Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute
Associate Professor University of Missouri Kansas City
Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advocate
Founding Member Speak Up Foundation –
Married to Dr. Karen Arkin, Father to Jennifer and Jason Arkin