On February 26th, Michael Bryan, the eighteen year old son of Marie Osmond, leapt to his death. The Osmond family has asked for prayers of support in this extremely difficult time. According to ET Online, Bryan left behind a note explaining that the suicide was motivated by his life-long battle with depression. He wrote that this battle left him “feeling as if he had no friends and could never fit in.” Although he entered rehab in 2007, the reasons for that were never publicly disclosed.
This is clearly a difficult time for Marie Osmond. Yet instead of conveying sympathy for her loss, comedian Roseanne Barr has publicly blamed Bryan’s apparent suicide on homophobia within the Mormon Church.
The church was very active in the fight to ban gay marriage in California and church doctrine considers same-sex attraction to be a sin. The church has also been known to practice aversion therapy, though its results have proven to be harmful. Barr attacked Marie Osmond in a blog post entitled marie osmonds gay son killed himself: “because he had been told how wrong and how sick he was every day of his life by his church and the people in it.”
Stating that “depression is a lie!”, Barr wrote:
“Marie please don’t talk about how your faith in your church has helped you get through this one! Please get some integrity and tell that church of yours that you will leave it and stop giving it ten percent of your money if they don’t stop trying to destroy your kids’ and all gay people’s civil rights and dreams and hopes!!”
Other than Republican Mitt Romney, the Osmonds remain the most public face of Mormonism in the U.S. and given the churches stance on homosexuality, it is quite easy to lash out at them. Bryan’s death could publicly signify the toll of the homophobic behaviour engaged in by the Church, but since he never publicly stated that he was a gay man, any such assertion is conjecture. Using his death like this simply co-opts his existence.
What we do know, without doubt, is that Michael Bryan battled depression. The true nature of depression, like many mental illnesses, is often discounted despite its seriousness. GLBT youth are more likely to commit suicide than their cisgender heterosexual counterparts, but it is the addition of depression that turns rejection into a life-threatening circumstance.
Men with depression are more than four times more likely to commit suicide than women. Men are also less likely than women to seek treatment. Whether it is the high rate of suicide in Black men, or the high rate of suicides within the GLBT community, the common link is always depression.
In her haste to chastise Marie Osmond, Barr circumvented the seriousness of depression. According to Depression Canada, 10% to 15% of hospitalized depressed patients will eventually commit suicide. Clinical depression is something that needs to be actively managed throughout the entirety of a lifetime.
Medicine.Net reports that “about 10% of adults, up to 8% of teens and 2% of preteen children experience some kind of depressive disorder.” When Barr wrote her infamous blog post, she ignored depression, and therefore participated in one of the largest social myths we have to date: that depression does not exist, or is somehow too ephemeral to be addressed.
In another blog entry, entitled Dear Michael, Bar wrote:
“If I had been your mom, I would have told you that some of the greatest and smartest and most artistic people who ever lived were gay. I would have shielded you from bigots who tore at your soul, like the ones that unfortunately were closest to you.
To all the gay Mormon children out there in the world, I will be your mom!
I love you!”
Barr fails to acknowledge is that had she been his mother and given him all of the love in the world, that may not have been enough to stave off the terrible pain of depression. In a survey conducted by K-Y Brand® Liquid at the Millennium March on Washington, depression and mental health was the number one concern for lesbians and the number one concern for gay men after HIV/AIDS: “When asked where LGBT health organizations should focus their attention in the year 2000 and beyond, respondents identified depression as their #1 choice after HIV/AIDS.”
Though the GLBT community commits suicide at a much higher rate than heterosexuals, depression can touch anyone, at anytime. It is a silent killer, because it goes untreated when the symptoms are ignored, either due to a desire to avoid stigma or an inability to afford treatment. This is especially sad, because depression is one of the most treatable forms of mental illnesses.
Mental illness is an invisible disability. Because we cannot see it, we deny the terrible anguish of those that suffer with it. Even though Michael Bryan had a history of depression, all that Roseanne saw was the possible homophobia that would have been aimed at him. Homophobia is a terrible evil that must be eradicated, but we cannot privilege this oppression in a battle for equality and justice.
There are so many contributing factors to depression, that in a case were the subject does not specifically identify as gay, fixating on homophobia as a cause helps frame depression as solely a gay issue, when it can affect just about anyone. Such reactions does not make it any easier for those in need of help to seek medical treatment.
If homophobia were to disappear from the planet today, gays and lesbians would still commit suicide, because humanity must still deal with the emotional pain of depression. Roseanne honestly believed that she was fighting in the name of justice, but she ignored the many ways that we are always willing to hurt someone else to achieve progress.
Depression is no more an imaginary phenomenon than a star in the sky. It’s just not particularly pretty to look at.