Unintended Covid Consequences . . .. Depression and Suicide During Quarantine

In life, we all have good and bad days. Most of us wisely focus on the good ones, but have you ever wondered what was the worst day of your life? I know it is hard to consider but close your eyes and try to recall that day, the day when a tragic event changed your world forever.

For me, October 29, 2020, was that day, a day I will never forget. It was around 4:30 PM and I had just settled in at a local coffee shop to talk with a good friend. The conversation was abruptly ended before it began when my 26-year-old daughter called in tears and said between sobs, “It’s Matt, it’s Matt… Dad, he took his life.”

The rest of that dark day is etched in my mind. Driving the 15 minutes to my brother’s house wondering if it were really true while talking on the phone with my inconsolable wife who was already there. Spending three hours at what had now become a crime scene that was being investigated by the very gracious yet “we have a job to do” Sheriff’s department. Making phone calls to other family members with the terrible news, including my brother-in-law who would have to break the news to my parents. Helping my sister-in-law sign a release that would allow officers to search her home for clues. Watching my brother get wheeled from the back yard in a body bag and lifted into the Medical Examiners van. Making more phone calls to shocked family members in the short drive to my house after the Detective left my brother’s home. Sleeping that night in my living room with my sister-in-law to keep her company because she was so numb, she could not move off of the couch.

This was  just the beginning of a deep pain that continues to today.

My brother Matthew was an amazing human being, a strong Christian who had become a believer at a young age and walked with Jesus his whole life. An accomplished actor with credits in film and stage (even a key role in a commercial with J.J. Watt for Reliant Energy). Matt was a beloved Professor of Theater at a local Houston community college.  Matt was also a brilliant musician, including credits for writing, composing, and performing. He enjoyed a 20-year marriage with the love of his life, Jackie. 

Matt had parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and friends who loved him and with whom he interacted regularly. In fact, he often shared amazing words of wisdom with friends who were walking through hard times, words that pointed them to hope and a loving Savior who knows intimately the struggles of life. Here is what Matt shared with a dear friend wrestling with a difficult life issue

“Thank you so much for your words! Yes, the world has got more pain and evil than I think we were expecting when we were kids. I know that is true for me.

The way I have wrapped my head around the reality of evil is to have faith in what the Father is doing. Somehow, he has allowed the world as it is. He does not create evil, but he allows it.

The way this reality works seems to be that all of our pain and struggle is a part of a delicate ecosystem that God has allowed. Evil assaults us and our heart fights back with faith, hope and love. That back and forth is creating something beautiful and full of glory that God is at the center of. I believe that “beautiful thing” will be fully realized in Heaven where his creation will be complete.

All of our trials and tribulations and the ugliness is a price that we are paying to grow, become more like him and participate in the glory we build with him, a glory we will fully realize in heaven.

But I am so glad to see you fighting the good fight as a mother. I can only guess at the struggle. I do know that your faith and love in the face of your trials inspires me. I do believe that your faith and love in the face of your trials are creating something wonderful with and for God. I believe that faith and love add to the beauty waiting for us all.”

Obviously a question those who knew and loved Matt have wrestled with since his death is, “How did Matt get to a place that he could do something that had such final and devastating impact on us all?” Over the last few days, I have been able to piece together some of the issues that led Matt to this life-altering decision. Our family has chosen to share openly and honestly, hoping that our story will inspire others to reach out for help in their time of need. Here are seven factors that horrifically converged for Matt on October 29, 2020. I encourage you to evaluate your own mental, emotional and physical health against these multi-layered, contributing factors:

  1. Family of origin – Matt comes from a great family heritage (Harrison, Mayfield, Beckham, and Spence). While much of what Matt inherited was good, there were also dangerous family traits Matt inherited. In our amazing Harrison family, a family full of brilliant, successful, incredible people, there is a clear thread of mania, depression, and suicide. Be aware of your family lineage, it does not have to define you, but it is important to be aware of how your past is impacting your present.
  2. A creative, sensitive, intense, “deep questions” personality type (Enneagram 4) – Matt was always a sensitive, creative, artistic person who wrestled with the deep questions of life: God, where were you when that horrible thing happened? Why is there so much evil in this world? Why do children have so much pain? This personality type is also incredibly creative and craves outlets for that creativity. Even something as simple as being in front of a classroom inspiring theater students or submitting auditions for various film and T.V. auditions was incredibly therapeutic for Matt. Sadly, Covid destroyed many of these outlets for his creativity.  
  3. Chronic back and feet pain – Jackie, his wife and a nurse, put it this way, “He jacked up his back in his 20’s,” most likely in some very physical stage performance. He also struggled with plantar fasciitis for years. Some of us know what it is like to live in the fog of that kind of ongoing pain. Matt certainly did.
  4. Covid isolation and loneliness – In two different conversations with different brothers-in-law, Matt mentioned his struggle during the isolation of Covid. He commented to both of them on different occasions, “The home is so quiet all day; it is so lonely.” Clearly the isolation that has been implemented to “protect” from Covid had significant negative impact on Matt and his mental state.
  5. Lack of sleep (insomnia) – The Friday night before he died, I had dinner with Matt to discuss how he was doing. Over the last few weeks, it had become more and more obvious that something was going on. Matt shared with me that a new road had opened behind his home and that the traffic on the road was keeping him awake at night. When I asked him how much sleep he had gotten in any given night for the last few weeks, he said four or five hours. My comment to him was, “Bro, that would mess with anyone!” He slept at our home a couple of nights that week and seemed to be doing better. But as many of us know, lack of sleep can impact even the strongest person very negatively.
  6. Demonic influence – In this world we have a real adversary here on this earth whose goal is to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus wrestled over and over with him and so did Matt. In fact, Matt had a whole play he was working on about the Nephilim in the Bible, angelic beings who rebelled against God. Wherever you see theft, death, and destruction you can be sure Satan is working. I passionately believe that on October 29, 2020, Satan hoped to “take out” Matt, Jackie, and our family in his direct and strategic attack on Matt.
  7. Negative side effects of insomnia and pain medication – A simple search online of medication and suicides will turn up story after story where insomnia medications have contributed to suicidal ideation. Please be careful if you are taking pain or mental health related medications.

Thankfully this one tragic event in Matt’s life does not define Matt and it does not define those of us left here who loved Matt. We believe that Matt was “born again” (John 3:16) and is now among that “great cloud of witnesses” described in Hebrews 11 and 12. Matt is with God in heaven awaiting the return of Christ and the consummation of the present earthly age we live in.

Rather than being mad at Matt, I celebrate the incredible fight Matt fought. A fight that was unique, a fight that I have not had to fight. Matt fought with courage, strength, and perseverance. Our family has chosen to share this story with openness and honesty with the prayer that it will inspire you to seek out help if you find yourself in darkness, isolation, and loneliness.

If, like Matt, you are struggling with suicidal thoughts please do not struggle alone. Suicide is tragically a permanent solution to a temporary problem! No matter how difficult your problem may be, and some situations are horrible, God is able to carry us through any and every situation.

Please consider that in suicide, you are giving up on God’s ability to overcome any life situation you find yourself in. Suicide takes away the opportunity for God to show His love and power over suffering and pain and for you to “know Him in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering” (Phil. 3:19). Jesus is an ever-present help in our time of need. He is there for you RIGHT NOW! Please receive his love. Do not leave your friends and family struggling with the guilt and blame that our family is having to daily surrender to a gracious, loving heavenly Father.

If these words are not enough for you and you need Jesus with skin on him, here is my phone number (832-265-6373). If you need a personal contact, please do not hesitate to reach out . . .. you don’t have to fight alone.

Below is a list of other resources available as well. A new beginning is a phone call away:

24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline : 1-800-273-8255

Houston Hotline: 832-416-1177

Live 24/7 Crisis Counselor Textline

Text HOME to 741741

Shield Bearer Counseling Services: 281-894-7222

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