IF he were still alive, Brandon Magalassi would be approaching his mid-20s. Nearly a decade after their son's suicide, Michele and Billy Magalassi are focused on outreach, talking to other parents whose children have committed suicide.
“I just hope it helps,” Michele told Oklahoma Watch. “We just never know who it's going to touch.”
They aren't alone in trying to raise awareness and reduce the stigma attached to suicide and mental health. It's unfortunate that they're fighting such an uphill battle.
Whether it's suicide, in particular, or even the more broad topics of mental health and mental illness, Oklahoma isn't a bastion of openness. We've lost count of the number of times we've heard state health officials hammer on the need for better identification and support services and for treatment opportunities. These are long-standing issues in Oklahoma that only perpetuate silence.
Meantime, the Mental Health Association in Tulsa is doing its outreach with the goal of equipping a variety of people with the skills and knowledge to spot troubling behavior and connect those in need with help. The “Question, Persuade and Refer” method involves a one-hour training that can help anyone recognize and aid someone who may be suicidal. Such programs are clearly needed and worthy of support.
Let's be real: Almost across the board, Oklahoma's health statistics are bad — disturbingly, alarmingly bad. It's no secret that there's a tie between overall poor physical health and issues with substance abuse and mental health.
If Oklahoma is ever to turn its health statistics around, it must address all types of health. Personal responsibility — laying off the fast food, quitting smoking and drinking within reason — is critical. But making improvements in mental health is decidedly more complicated, which circles back to the issue of silence.
Reports from the state's mental health agency show rates of serious psychological distress in Oklahoma are routinely above national rates regardless of age. Suicide rates are high, too.
Many people who lose a loved one to suicide wonder what signs they missed or how they might have prevented such a tragedy. There is certainly no guarantee that catching early warning signs would have changed an outcome. But the mere possibility of saving a life warrants the investment of time and resources to reduce incidences of suicide and other mental health indicators.
Families like the Magalassis are beacons of hope. Through their tremendous pain, they speak hope into others. Through a scholarship in their son's name, they encourage high schools to pen their thoughts about suicide prevention — a small but undoubtedly meaningful step in eliminating the taboo of talking about such a tough issue.
The “why?” questions won't go away when someone commits suicide because there are no easy answers. But Oklahomans should be grateful for the Magalassis and others like them who match the questions of why with the determination to help save others from experiencing their pain.