When we go throughout our day, we see hundreds of people who appear happy, confident, and loving life. Many, if not every one of us, wear what I have often called a “gameface” to create this illusion.

Our gameface is a mask that we wear before we leave the house in the morning. We construct our mask to reflect the way we want others to view us.
Yet, the surface below our mask can be very different. Many of us struggle with severe depression and other forms of great pain deep within the darkness of ourselves.

Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Stephen A. Goss was found dead behind an Albany home late last month. The coroner determined that the 60 year old Goss died from a self inflicted gunshot wound.

He is the second person I have known to die in such a way. I still suffer from the death of one of the most outwardly happy, selfless, and caring people I have known; Federal Probation Officer Kasey Novinger.

Judge Goss appeared happy and content on the outside as well. Amongst many accolades, he served as judge in Dougherty Superior Court for 19 years after being appointed to that position in 1999, was named to the Georgia Court of Appeals by then-Gov. Nathan Deal on August 1st, 2018. He was re-elected to his post as Superior Court judge five times after being appointed to the position by Gov. Roy Barnes.

Perhaps most importantly, he was lauded nationwide as the founder of the Dougherty Superior Court Mental Health/Substance Abuse treatment program that evolved into the Mental Health Court that became a nationwide model.

Supreme Court of Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton described him best when he said, “Judge Goss was a man who brought so much dignity and compassion to the delivery of justice all across this great state. He was a national figure, known for his work on mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. His legacy is as great as our sense of loss. Our Court and this state’s judiciary express our profound condolences to the Goss family.”

How could a successful family man who helped countless people during his lifetime take his own life?

No one will ever know. However, this is known. The issue of suicide in America today is met with profound ignorance, stigma, intolerance, embarrassment, and other negative reactions. These play a huge role in the ever increasing suicide rate. Our society understands and applauds our fellow citizens who overcome physical health problems. The star running back who returns to the field after a gruesome knee injury, the wounded soldier, and the cancer survivor are all justly considered heroes. Yet, the person with even the slightest mental health problem is considered by many to be weak, “crazy”, or somehow unfit. For example, if a person overcomes clinically severe depression, they may be quietly hugged by family members and friends. But, in the minds of many others, the person was, is, and will always be “crazy.”

Many, if not most, suicides in America happen when a person suffers from severe depression. This medical condition is oftentimes compounded with other factors such as self-medicating with alcohol (a depressant) or other substances. Yet, depression and other mental health conditions are treatable if a person sees his or her doctor.

Addressing suicide will require education. But, educational tools are useless if they are not properly and widely communicated. It will take massive public service announcements from trustworthy sources, brave public figures telling us about how they have become more mentally healthy, the removal by voters of opportunistic politicians who broadly threaten to take firearms from “the mentally ill”, and the health care system treating mental and physical health the same to even begin to break through the concrete wall of ignorance and intolerance.

So, what will we choose to do? The easy route is to ignore this column, the people mentioned in it, and keep the status quo while we watch people die. The arduous path is for this politically fractured nation to unite on this one issue.

Based on history, Americans have always had what it takes to conquer what we set our sights on. This is being done with the issue of autism in west Georgia today. My prayer is that we will acknowledge that we all wear our own unique gameface mask, take the difficult steps to confront suicide as a non-partisan health related crisis, and gather the courage to address the problem face to face.