The Preventable Tragedy of Jessica Upshaw

When the news wires revealed that a Mississippi Republican state representative apparently shot herself to death Sunday, the hurried rush to look for possible scandal was tempered with the restraint passed on to current day scribes by journalists before us,

I am a political columnist. That means I’m one of the writers inhabiting the great Washington swamp chronicling the food chain in action.  No quarter is asked, and little is given. Folks in my craft know it’s a rough and tumble game. We regularly go for the jugular, and can sniff blood in the water faster than a Great White Shark looking for a bikini-clad snack off Australia’s Bondi Beach.

Journalism covers news, and often bad news and tragedy. The public needs and wants to know, particularly when it impacts the government that impacts our lives. Bar-side hen party gossip of, “That’s disgusting! TELL ME MORE!”  lurid sensationalism is best left for the fallen angels who write for supermarket checkout line tabloids chasing celebrity infidelity and cellulite.

upshawjessicaofficialJessica Upshaw is dead. All known indicators to date point to suicide. Skulls and brain matter are no match for a .40 caliber bullet’s kinetic destructive force. She was a single mom,  trained attorney, and respected state politician dating another GOP pol who had lost his seat in a previous election. Divorced; emancipated, as are untold millions whose walk down the aisle also didn’t work out the first time. No apparent sign of scandal.

We are left with tragedy, and the need to understand.  It’s time to put aside the partisan battle for a moment, and consider the terrible, but ignored, human toll of depression and mental illness.

Her relationship partner, at whose home Rep. Upshaw took her life, revealed that she had long been battling depression. Depression affects tens of millions of Americans, and has only recently begun to be appreciated as the debilitating health crisis factor it has always been. Treating depression and other mental disorders challenges patients, families, therapists, and psychiatrists.  The complicated pharmacology of antidepressants and psychotrophics all too often results in a hit-or-miss search for an effective agent, in the right titration, and with a tolerable side effect profile.  Not “take two and call me in the morning.”

The PTSD suicide death toll from the two latest wars continues to mount daily, a decade after Dubya proclaimed “Mission Accomplished.” When will we get serious?

Generations who idiotically dismissed mental illness as a character failing are still with us. Depression and mental disorders, however treatable, are all too often swept under the rug, and hidden as family embarrassments.  Their idea of therapy usually consisted of lame admonishments to “lift yourself up by the boot straps,” a swift kick in the pants, or some hokey suggestion for prayer.

Depression kills. It can, however be mitigated, treated, and controlled.

Real mental illness is not to be confused with the elective carnival barker delusions of politicians such as Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who this columnist regularly lampoons for their gaffes and mindless missteps.  They are fools. Depression is real. It has real morbidity statistics. It devastates families and communities.

The “free market” health insurers prefer illnesses cured with an excised dodgy appendix, than depression, which is not so easily and quantifiably treated. They see effective mental health care as an undefined assault on their profit margin. They need to be dragged from their spreadsheets, kicking and screaming to real mental health care parity.

Ms. Upshaw’s pistol was most likely not obtained to provide a quick way out of a debilitating depressive episode.  There is every indication she tenaciously fought the good fight to overcome a debilitating illness as long as she felt she could.   Sadly, she wasn’t and isn’t alone. The gun lobby has long used their influence to keep meaningful research on the domestic hazards of unregulated firearms from the public.  It still remains that a loaded firearm at home will statistically generate much more tragic  mayhem on family than foil an assailant a la mode de Charlie Bronson.

She was young at 53, vivacious, very smart, and was an accomplished attorney and legislator passionate for issues facing her constituents.  We probably would have disagreed on political issues, but she would have made it a spirited, principled, and challenging discussion. She, by all I have read, did not make a political career of haplessly stepping only on cracks in the sidewalk for media attention. A worthy public servant in the governance of society.

I think I would have enjoyed the debate, one we will now sadly never have.