Thomas Raskin, known by his inner circle as Tommy, was an accomplished young man. He graduated from Amherst University and from there began his post-graduate career at Harvard University Law School. While attending Harvard University, Tommy interned at Cato Institute, J Street, published political essays and became a teaching assistant. On paper, Tommy’s achievements were impressive, but those close to him say his spirit was even more captivating. His love for people and animals led him into the world of activism. He fought for the humane treatment of animals and donated the money he made from teaching to charities in his students’ names. His father told NPR’s Scott Simon, “it wasn't his mind that marked him as so extraordinary. It was his heart. The stories of his love and compassion are absolutely astounding.” In his early 20s, Tommy began his battle with depression and sadly died of suicide on Dec. 1, 2020. He left a letter for his parents writing, “Please forgive me. My illness won today. Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.”
Depression is a disease so innately familiar yet so rarely acknowledged. In a world full of pandemics, riots and Capitol attacks, the struggle of mental illness has swept the nation. Since the pandemic hit in March, broadcasting stations have hit record-high ratings. Ulrik Haagerup, a former Danish news editor and founder of The Consecutive Institute, was quoted saying, "In times of crisis, people really understand the need for decent journalism...[but] it's getting overwhelming because there's basically been nothing but corona stories.” Depression, anxiety, suicide as well as many other mental health issues have skyrocketed since the beginning of the pandemic. A study was done by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) in which they took 1,000 public news articles that referenced suicide. Out of those articles, “only 16% of them included information about suicide prevention despite the general availability of such resources in the nations studied and the relative ease with which such information can be included.” PNAS concluded that the reasoning behind this lack of preventable information was that there were too few incentives for publishers to add this additional content. News sources show us every day how to prevent Covid-19 but rarely give us insightful knowledge on how to prevent suicide. Tommy, a man sensitive to the hardships of the world, battled his illness through days rich with uncertainty and darkness. Like Tommy, many Americans struggle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), Major Depressive Disorder affects more than 16.1 million American adults, and Anxiety Disorders affect 40 million American adults. The importance of Covid-19 awareness is significant, as well as mental health awareness.
Tommy’s parents wrote in a statement remembering their son, “On the last hellish brutal day of that godawful miserable year of 2020, when hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of people all over the world died alone in bed in the darkness from an invisible killer disease ravaging their bodies and minds, we also lost our dear, dear, beloved son, Hannah and Tabitha’s beloved irreplaceable brother, a radiant light in this broken world.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is also a crisis text line. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.