In recent months, I lost two great personal and professional friends to depression and, ultimately, suicide — Raul Valdes-Fauli and Ervin Gonzalez. Both seemed to have the world in the palms of their hands: loving families, financial security, and professional success as a banker and lawyer, respectively.
Now I know they also shared a similar mental anguish that became too much for each of them to bear.
We have a silent killer among us. It knows no color, profession, religion, socioeconomic status, age, or political affiliation. It continues to quietly ravage our families and friends in all corners of our community. We must marshal the courage and resources to stop this relentless disease.
The loss of these friends led me to reevaluate my own mental and physical being. I cannot pretend that losing them was something that just happened and have embraced the grief in losing a loved one. Though I still have countless of questions on what led up to their deaths, evoking emotions of anxiety and vulnerability, I hold on firmly to the inspirational memories of their friendship.
Like an invisible gas, this disease can seep into the pores of our souls as it did with my friends. As we debate the complexities of healthcare repeal, replace, or reform, we have lost sight of the fight of living with daily challenges such as depression and other mental illnesses. Our state and local communities have failed miserably in prioritizing budgets for mental wellness.
At the recent Florida Bar Convention, I was encouraged to hear that the incoming president, Michael Higer, planned to prioritize the mental wellness among those in the legal profession. I also am hopeful for the efforts of Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Steve Leifman and other advocates in focusing more attention on mental health in the criminal-justice system.
Equally as important, we must be more vigilant, individually, in magnifying our compassion for each other by identifying and acting on any signs of depression. For example, we must be mindful of changes in behavior, signs of hopelessness, weight gain or loss, sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety or any thoughts or expressions of suicide. Each of us is unique, but we are all vulnerable. There are no exceptions.
Last, the phenomena of social media and other media can also mask the existing darkness of depression. It feeds on us in the dead of night. We must shine a bright light for those who may suffer beyond their own power. Real life demands our action before it’s too late. In the names of my friends Raul, Ervin and others embroiled in their own web of personal suffering, I hope we are able to intervene before we have to involuntarily mourn such losses. We have the power and the choice stop this silent assailant among us.
In Miami Dade and Broward counties, the first line of defense is calling 311 or 211, respectively, to seek counseling or access to other community resources. We cannot give this condition any haven.
Marlon A. Hill is an attorney with Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel.