If I'd had a gun nine years ago, I would have done what Mindy McCready did.
Like the country music star who killed herself with a gunshot to the mouth on Feb. 17, I was, in the summer and fall of 2003, deeply depressed. I struggled to get out of bed. I stopped brushing my teeth, combing my hair and eating. As down as I was, I believed my life would only become worse. I was convinced my wife would leave me, taking our two daughters with her. A thousand times, I lifted a finger to my head, wishing it were a gun.
Before shooting herself on her front porch, McCready, whose debut album, Ten Thousand Angels, has sold more than 2 million copies, had been distraught and depressed. Her boyfriend had killed himself a month before. Her two children were, by court order, living in foster care. Her career had plummeted from its incredible heights.
But despite her troubles, she wasn't destined to become a suicide. Had she not had access to a gun, it is likely she would be alive today.
A gun is by far the most reliable means to kill oneself. Eighty-five percent of gun-aided suicide attempts are successful, according to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. In contrast, only 2 percent of pill-aided suicide attempts succeed. Even the most ardent defenders of the Second Amendment cannot claim it was designed to help people with mental illnesses blow out their brains. It is therefore imperative that any discussion of new gun control laws include proposals to help families disarm their depressed loved ones.
As soon as McCready became a danger to herself, her family should have been able to call for help to remove weapons from her house. Precedent suggests her family would have done so. Not long before her death, her father had had her committed to a rehab facility.
In 2010, roughly 20,000 of the 30,000 gun-related deaths in the United States were suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Even a weak law that would empower families to remove weapons from the homes and hands of their suicidal loved ones could save thousands of lives. And of course the families of depressed sons and daughters (and parents and grandparents) should make their guns inaccessible, preferably -- and this recommendation comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics -- by removing them from their living spaces entirely.
It's easy to write off someone with a mental illness as a train wreck, a phrase that has appeared frequently in commentary on McCready's life and death. This language suggests -- falsely -- that people with mental illnesses are incurable and that there is something sadly predetermined about their lives. It suggests that their afflictions cannot be contained or controlled, massaged or managed. To people with mental illnesses, such judgmental words often exacerbate what they already think about themselves --and increases their pain and therefore the likelihood that they will seek drastic means to end it. "Train wreck" becomes a prophecy by doubling down on despair.
One of the frustrating aspects of depression and other mental illnesses is that there is no immediate or guaranteed cure. Talk therapy generally doesn't bring relief after a single session. Antidepressants can take weeks to work -- if they work at all. A stay in a mental health care facility can speed recovery by removing the possibility, and therefore the temptation, of suicide, but it can be expensive, with insurance contributing minimally or not at all. Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) can be effective, but not for everyone, and there can be side effects. New therapies such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and deep brain stimulation (DBS) are showing promise but are not used widely.
Even so, some of the above treatments, as well as the vigilance and devotion of my family, helped me emerge from my depression. While I was fortunate, I was, fortunately, not unique. Whether thanks to medical or other interventions or simply to time and the brain's mysterious ability to restore itself to health, people's mental anguish usually ends.
Amid the terrible suffering and pain of a mental illness, it is only natural to seek a quick cure. For people with a severe mental illness, contemplating suicide is no more cowardly than someone with a headache considering popping an aspirin.
A gun isn't aspirin, of course. But if it's as accessible as aspirin, it can be used as easily.
I didn't know Mindy McCready. I am confident, though, that had she not killed herself, the mental anguish that led to her suicide would have run its course or at least have diminished. She may never have recorded another platinum-selling album. But in the company of her children, she might have found cause to smile.
Brazaitis, a professor of English and the director of the Creative Writing Program at West Virginia University, is the author most recently of "The Incurables: Stories."