Joe Giarrusso: In Memory of My Father, Renewed Focus on Mental Health | Opinions and Editorials


It’s been 10 years since my father passed away from his gunshot wounds.

Nothing prepares the deceased’s relatives and close friends for this type of trauma. Less than three weeks after his death – and when I was still sedated – this paper was gentle enough Post a column In which we discussed dad’s depression and the need to remove the stigma around mental health issues.

The old saying “time heals all wounds” is wrong. The wounds are not recent, maybe not deep, but they certainly linger. Some wounds do not heal.

The painful question is “Why did he die by suicide, especially when he was so young and was living the good life?” There is no answer other than that his depression was too much. And once you reach that conclusion, more questions arise, like what led to this level of depression and what, if anything, I could do to prevent it. More questions without any good answers.

In addition to trying to understand “why,” my family also knows the pain of recruiting. My mother lost her husband. My sister also lost her father. My wife lost her karaoke partner. My children are robbed of the knowledge of their grandfather with whom they share so much.

Then, I went and did something arguably crazy: giving up my busy legal practice to become a county councillor.

At my age, I no longer need daily guidance. But in those times when experience is most important, there would be no one better than my father to consult and get honest (and I mean very frankly) feedback, and on those tough days, to hear him say, “This too shall pass.”

Those are the hard parts.

While there is nothing positive after losing a parent to suicide, there is a self-examination and a fresh perspective. Our family and wide circle of friends cannot completely replace what we’ve lost, but they do mention that we live in a city that is also a tight-knit community. We are forever grateful and lucky to have this kind of support.

What is equally evident, however, is the number of people across the country, state and city who lack necessary support and access to mental health services, and the prevalence of mental health service providers. My hope for September 15 is to start changing that.

The city council has three action orders before each meeting during which council members can raise the bar for a discussion of cultural significance, a nonprofit, a major achievement, and so on. This Thursday, I booked all three work orders to discuss mental health.

In the first trimester, I’ll talk about losing my parents and ask if any other council member wants to discuss personal mental health issues.

The second third of the presentation will feature the following mental health care stakeholders speaking about their work and exchanging information: City of New Orleans, Institute for the Studies of Women and Race, Capital District for Human Services, Via Link, Crescent Care, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Odyssey House and New Orleans Children’s Bureau, New Orleans Youth Planning Board, Resilience Center, NOLA Public Schools, Trauma Informed Schools, Children’s Hospital Grief and Trauma Center, and UMC Trauma Psychology.

The final segment will be United Way which will discuss how it plans to hold, host and develop the work of the presenters, as well as other mental health groups. The cooperative’s primary goals are to understand and identify gaps in mental health care in the city. Then work on filling those gaps.

In September 2012, I wrote about having an opportunity to focus on raising awareness, education, dialogue, and therapy.

Mental health stakeholders are willing to collaborate with this focus. With all that New Orleans residents have experienced with Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ida, and the associated pandemic and economic downturn, the need for New Orleans to be a leader in mental health services couldn’t be more evident.

We, along with our stakeholders, are committed to helping all New Orleans residents improve their mental health.

Representing Joseph I. Giarroso III, District A, New Orleans City Hall.


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