Vexations and Conundrums – January 2023

It’s In Your Mind

Yesterday had been uneventful. Daylight was fading to dark gray, and I was preparing to have a glass of wine when my husband’s phone rang. I could vaguely hear a mumbled male voice on the call, and there was a bit of gravity in both the tone and the dragging pace of his speech which grabbed my attention. My husband responded with equal seriousness, and I dreaded to hear what the call entailed.

He finally hung up and I asked, “What was that all about?”

My husband’s sober response: “That was my lawyer. He said a man who refused to identify himself dropped off the keys and garage door remote opener for my property and informed him that my tenant killed himself.”

In that instant, it was as though the ceiling compressed to the floor, snuffing out the lights and air in our home. We both froze, trying to process this awful news.

I remembered seeing the tenant once, walking to his mailbox. He had a snappy little dog at his heels.

“What about the dog?” I worried. “Is it there by itself?”

My husband replied with a flat tone, “He shot the dog, then himself.”

Suicide has a ripple effect on other people. I didn’t know the tenant, yet I was deeply sad. My husband’s eyes as he stared out of the window were moist. I was certain that the lawyer’s evening was going to be filled with dread also. I wondered how many other people had been made queasy by this information.

There had been no communication which could have foretold the dead man’s state of mind. He had been sent a legal letter relating to his lease a while back, which was how the mystery man knew to deliver the keys to the lawyer. No response had been received.

After I sat and reflected about the situation for a while, I thought about resources available to help people who feel a loss of hope. He must not have realized there were any avenues to address whatever life problems he was having. Most cities have social services available for citizens in trouble. I wished he had used some of those resources. We would never know what made him make the radical choice to end his life.

Coincidently, earlier this month, my husband and I had visited the Menninger Clinic in Houston as we considered our charitable giving. This clinic promotes mental health of all kinds. The C.E.O. wore a lanyard holding his identification badge which was stamped “Stop the Stigma.”

During our discussion with some of the staff, we were told about the increased mental health challenges facing hospitals, including children and teens, after the Covid pandemic.

I find that many people don’t want to admit that they could ever need mental health treatment. I recall something brilliant my mother once told me. She said that she thought people should treat mental health like the dentist and go for checkups on a regular basis. Our society is nowhere near this viewpoint yet, but we need to consider changes as chaos seems to reign in today’s news and there are far too many senseless killings.

A quote by the late Dr. Karl Menninger seems fitting. He said, “Mental health problems do not affect three or four out of every five persons, but one out of one.”

As we enter 2023, I think all of us may want to remind ourselves to approach troubled friends and family, or even remote acquaintances, with deep compassion. We never know what burdens people hide behind their polite composure. My goal for the new year is to grab every opportunity to destigmatize the act of reaching out to mental health professionals.

I have personally found therapy extremely beneficial at times when I run out of answers. Like any other treatments, just be certain you select a qualified individual if you choose to explore your mind.

Katina Pontikes
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