“They just wanted to stop hurting.”
They ranged in age from 19 to 56. One was a high school football standout whose Mom was his biggest fan. Another was a history buff with a degree from Indiana University. Some battled drug problems for years, did stints in jail and survived previous overdoses. Others went online to buy their drugs and used technology to hide their transactions. They left behind grieving parents and children, siblings and friends and community members. These are the stories of 11 people in Monroe County, Ind., whose lives were cut short by opioid overdoses in 2015 and 2016 (“This is opioid addiction: A Herald-Times special report,” December 17, 2017).
Sometimes their pain was physical. Kelly Whaley, 48, worked in factories until she was sidelined by the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Her doctor prescribed an opioid painkiller and anti-anxiety medication, which her husband carefully doled out. But Kelly started buying pills on the street and eventually turned to heroin.
Sometimes their pain was emotional. Dominique Tafoya was depressed in high school and began cutting. She sold her father’s Gibson Les Paul guitar for drug money. Parker Curtis, 25, who overdosed with his girlfriend, Ashley Hughes, 21, used street drugs to self-medicate his bipolar disorder.
They weren’t without support. Dominique Tafoya’s parents had their church pray for her. John Harlow, 42, lived with his parents until his death. They first sent him to rehab at age 14.
The legacy of these lives lost too soon can be one of compassion and healing if individuals and whole communities know how to respond when people are hurting. Mental Health First Aid helps restore a sense of community and the connections that bind us by increasing awareness that mental health is essential for health. It destigmatizes mental illnesses and substance use disorders and makes clear that help is available.