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John Curley: When mental illness hits home

The Connecticut school shooting has John Curley remembering his own painful encounters with mental illness. (AP image)

All of the talk of mental illness surrounding the Connecticut school shooting has opened some pretty painful wounds for KIRO Radio’s John Curley, who’s seen the impacts hit home.

Curley recounted the painful memories on Monday’s Seattle’s Morning News. When he was in sixth grade, he got into an argument with his brother and hit him in the mouth. It caused serious damage, and he knew he’d be in big trouble when his father got home. So he ran away and hid in the nearby woods. After some time, his close friend came to comfort him and talk him into coming home.

“She sat quietly, did not judge me. She just simply held my hand and told me things would be okay.” It was a moment that still brings tears to Curley’s eyes as he recounts her compassion.

20 years later, he would have to comfort her. After learning their parents were divorcing, something happened to her and she “snapped.” Curley says she became suicidal and “completely out of her mind.”

“This individual graduated from the top of their class in grade school and high school, got a scholarship, went to college, was surrounded by friends and family and was one of the most popular people you’d ever meet,” Curley says.

But then things changed. Desperate, his father took her to the family doctor, who was instantly alarmed and recommended she be institutionalized. The family grew even more fearful when she climbed out of his office onto a fourth story ledge, then into another window and declared she had “passed the test.”

“She was literally out of her mind,” Curley remembers. “This was someone that showed no signs of mental illness, none whatsoever.”

It went from bad to worse when his father drove his friend to the hospital. Along the way, she told him she was thirsty and asked her father to stop for a drink at a convenience store. When he did, she locked herself in the car and refused to come out. The Curley’s had to call police, who busted into the car and dragged her away.

It was devastating to see. And the painful memories have come rushing in again as Curley contemplates what demons or sickness could have compelled the Connecticut shooter to reach such a desperate and sick place. And tearfully, he’s issuing a plea for increased mental health treatment and understanding of the issue.

“You have to realize we are surrounded by people that are very, very complicated and they need our love and respect and it starts in the family. It starts with a brother and a father and a mother, someone has to reach out and we have to be able to respond to one another. That will be the only way.”

While there’s been plenty of talk about gun control and school security, an emotional Curley says he hopes sharing his own experience will help spark a much greater debate about mental illness.

“If someone in your family needs help, reach out and get it , but start the conversation right now. Because we can’t afford to lose another person.”

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