Winders: Mental health a matter of reaching out, looking out

I didn’t see it coming. Trite, I realize. It’s also embarrassing, even shameful for me to say all these years later.

But honestly, I didn’t see it coming.

Hard to believe it has been more than 20 years now. But I remember every moment when I got the call that my best friend in university had attempted suicide.

I remember waiting for word of his condition, finding out he would survive, that drive to the hospital days later to see him and his family. I remember that first face-to-face meeting and the look in his eyes when he saw a pack of these god-awful Camel cigarettes I once smoked in my pocket. As he had been hospitalized and, therefore, kept from smokes for three or four days, he may have been more excited to see them than me.

Here was a guy I thought I knew better than anyone. He was an only child; I never had a brother. We spent hours together in class, working at the student newspaper, in the bar, hanging out at his house. He never liked my place as I didn’t own a guitar or let him touch my stereo. I would visit his family on long weekends, often enjoying an amazing lasagna he called “Mom’s Magic Meatloaf.”

He was – and is – my best friend.

And I didn’t see it coming.

He was one of the lucky ones. He got help in time, and they saved his life. He spent a few days on that special floor at the hospital being evaluated and then returned, for the most part, to his life.

To this day, when I read stories about the warning signs of mental health turmoil for young adults, I flash back to those days. My mind rewinds and replays those months looking for something I might have missed along the way. Yes, I admit the mental tape is a bit worn with age and repeated play, but I can never come up with a single thing.

Turns out, it was all about a girl. Or at least that what he says. So often, we’ll never know the truth behind ‘why.’

Healthy or not, we have never spoken about it again. Time and distance have limited our contact, but don’t lessen my concern for him. I would drop the world to help him if he needed it. He knows that. And when you share that kind of bond, you don’t need to Facebook each other three times a day.

At the time, I was a kid, a naive kid who barely knew himself, let alone was prepared to handle his friend’s mental health issues. I had no idea what services our university offered, if anything in those days. Mental health wasn’t exactly on the radar in the late-1980s/early-1990s.

That’s why I applaud any effort by this university to pound the mental health resource menu into the heads of our young adults. This is not a time for subtly. In an often noisy world, these resources need to stand out.

And I am not just limiting this to students. Faculty and staff need to take note as well. They are on the frontline every day.

Western is not perfect. Far from it. Our services need streamlined. Like many things on this campus, the services are still too decentralized, too siloed off that it is difficult for a potential client to decipher. It needs to be quicker, easier. Even the clearest mind would have trouble navigating our current menu. We must look at these services from the user’s vantage point.

But we’re getting there; we’re talking about it; and we’re one step closer to seeing it coming.

And you don’t know how important that is until you have missed the signs yourself.