Depression and Guns: One Fathers Perspective

“Please, please, just kill me now.  If you have any love for me or if you have any mercy at all you’ll just end my life and end this pain.”  My son while laying on the floor in my room pleading for an end to his depression.

Thoughts and prayers.

This phrase has become politically charged.  For many, it is an honest expression of sympathy and hope for a better future.

For others it has become a punchline.  A phrase devoid of hope used to say something and nothing at the same time.  For many, it is a sign of inaction, even complacency, in the face of another all too common human tragedy – the death of 17 individuals this last week in a Florida school.

I can’t imagine what the families of those affected are going through, and I’m not going to assume that I will ever know.  Instead, this is an effort to explain my own feelings and emotions.

I am a Mormon.  I believe in a loving God.  I believe in prayer.  I’m also a father.

Two years ago, one of my sons was struggling with depression.  I began to pray for him specifically and fervently.  He got worse.  I began to pray for him more frequently, more deeply, and more personally.  He got even worse.

The situation reached the point where I would watch him go someplace with my wife, and I would wonder if I would ever see him again.  We would grudgingly let him drive, and I would pray for his (and everyone else’s) safety.  I wouldn’t stop praying until they got home.

During my many sleepless nights, I would go downstairs to his room, kneel by his bed, and plead with God to help him.  To show him some mercy.  To show him some love.  To remove the pain from him – even if it was for just a couple of hours.  I would sob.  I would pray.  I would sob and pray at the same time.

My son continued to get worse.

I was now basically thinking and praying constantly. My son was getting worse, his siblings were struggling, my wife was struggling, and now I was angry.  For the first time in my life I had anger coursing through my entire body.  I continued to pray, but God felt distant during my better moments.  Mostly it felt like He was nowhere.  I felt completely alone.

Then rock bottom.

In a depressive episode, my son looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said the quote above.  It was two years ago, and I can remember it like it was 15 minutes ago.  He wasn’t angry or yelling.  He was calm.  I looked at him, and asked him if he would let me drive him to the hospital.

He stayed in an inpatient adolescent mental care facility for 7 nights.  We changed and increased his medication.  He increased the frequency of his therapy sessions.  The two of us worked on our relationship.  We worked hard on our communication with each other.  He began to get better.  At first, only a little.  Then larger steps forward.

We prayed together.  We still pray together.

Two years later, I’m thrilled to report that he’s doing incredibly well.  In many ways, he’s a different person – I have my son back.

Today, he occasionally struggles, but he’s healing.  I marvel at his strength and his courage.  I admire his openness and honesty.  Please don’t tell him this because he’s 17 years old, but in many ways he’s a better man than I am.

I believe his compassion and sensitivity to others prevented him from hurting anyone else when he was in so much pain.  I also believe this compassion saved his life.  However, two years ago while we were in the grips of the abyss, I was grateful that we didn’t own a gun.  I don’t believe anything bad would have happened, but I’m still grateful we don’t own a gun.

The tragedy in Florida (and, horrifically, so many other places) is absolutely a mental health problem.  Mental health challenges are widespread, and largely ignored.

Mass shootings are also a gun problem.  Yes, a gun problem.

Just as I learned two years ago that thoughts and prayers weren’t enough for my son (we needed good professional medical attention, medication, etc), I believe that thoughts and prayers are simply inadequate for the killing epidemic in our country.

I care more about innocent life than I care about your guns (and I’m not really sorry).  I have zero tolerance for the “slippery slope” argument that we can’t start anyplace because it may lead to something bad.  People are dying.

Kids. Dead.

Everyday I express gratitude to a loving God that my son is still alive.  I tell my son how much I love him more times than he wishes.  I hug him.  We spend time together.  I text him – and he even responds (remember, he’s now 17)!

Each moment is a gift – one that every father should get.

One that every person should get.

Thoughts and prayers.

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