Law­mak­ers share per­sonal sto­ries in wake of sui­cides

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHRIS CASTEEL Staff Writer ccas­teel@ok­la­

The sui­cides of Kate Spade and An­thony Bour­dain last week led some Oklahoma state law­mak­ers to share their own strug­gles with de­pres­sion to un­der­score the fact that any­one is sus­cep­ti­ble.

“There is no pro­fes­sion and no walk of life that is free from de­pres­sion,” Rep. Mon­roe Nichols, a Tulsa Demo­crat, said in an in­ter­view Tues­day.

Rep. Cyndi Mun­son, an Oklahoma City Demo­crat, said de­pres­sion crosses all lines of gen­der, race and class and that she has seen it in friends and col­leagues who are, by all ap­pear­ances, very suc­cess­ful.

“I want peo­ple to know what you see on the out­side is not nec­es­sar­ily what’s go­ing on in­side,” she said.

Mun­son said she de­cided to re­veal some of her strug­gles on so­cial me­dia af­ter two Demo­cratic col­leagues, Reps. Emily Vir­gin, of Nor­man, and For­rest Ben­nett, of Oklahoma City, wrote of theirs on Twit­ter late last week.

In one of his posts, Ben­nett wrote:

“Be­cause a few of the peo­ple clos­est to me know, they check on me. Be­cause I know, I check on my­self. I stopped ig­nor­ing it and let me tell you, it was the most em­pow­er­ing thing I could’ve done. I’m okay. I’m no less ca­pa­ble be­cause of it. The stigma is the worst part about it.”

In an in­ter­view Tues­day, Ben­nett said that was the first time he had dis­cussed de­pres­sion in such a pub­lic space. He said he had talked to a high school class about it re­cently and that, af­ter­ward, a stu­dent with bipo­lar dis­or­der told him

“you made me feel like I can lead a nor­mal life.”

Af­ter the deaths of Spade, a de­signer, and Bour­dain, the star of tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary se­ries about food and travel, Ben­nett said he de­cided to ad­dress a larger au­di­ence.

The response, he said, has been “re­ally over­whelm­ing and 100 per­cent pos­i­tive.”

Be­sides words of en­cour­age­ment and sup­port, Ben­nett has heard from peo­ple who were in­spired to talk about their own strug­gles.

Nichols said his de­ci­sion to ad­dress sui­cide pub­licly was prompted by a mes­sage on Twit­ter last week that par­ents who com­mit sui­cide gen­uinely be­lieve their chil­dren would be bet­ter off with­out them.

Nichols, who has a young son, posted a re­ply, “Even at the risk of be­ing judged, I’ll be hon­est. I’m not one to open up much, but when I saw this tweet and all I thought was ‘I get it, I’ve been there.’ More than once I’ve thought that maybe every­one I know would be bet­ter off if I wasn’t around.”

The Tulsa law­maker said Tues­day he has never con­tem­plated sui­cide but had ex­pe­ri­enced the “in­cred­i­bly tragic kind of per­spec­tive” cited in the tweet about par­ents.

Mun­son said she was so worn out men­tally and phys­i­cally from con­sec­u­tive cam­paigns that she had trou­ble some­times early in 2017 get­ting up in the morn­ing.

“It just felt like a drag,” she said.

In one of her post­ings on Twit­ter, Mun­son wrote, “I have never reached the point to want­ing to com­mit sui­cide, but I have wanted to crawl out of my own skin. It’s a feel­ing that I still re­ally can­not ar­tic­u­late.”

All three law­mak­ers said that, in speak­ing pub­licly about their prob­lems, they hoped to reach peo­ple that might look up to them.

“If shar­ing my story helps one per­son, I’m per­fectly fine with it,” Mun­son said.

They said they’re also hop­ing the Leg­is­la­ture can work on ways to pro­vide care for the men­tally ill.

“It should be the most bi­par­ti­san is­sue there ever was,” Nichols said.

Ben­nett said, “I just think from a moral per­spec­tive it’s im­por­tant to make sure peo­ple have ac­cess to qual­ity men­tal health care.”

Rep. For­rest Ben­nett

Rep. Cyndi Mun­son

Rep. Mon­roe Nichols

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