Twenty-one red balloons lifted off into the sky on Sunday, August 15th as friends and family gathered at The Concourse to celebrate the birthday of Michael Aaron Rich.
On July 1st, Micheal lost his battle with mental illness, a condition he fought most of his life. Red was his favorite color.
Northeast News readers may recall first hearing of Michael in a story we reported in 2016, when he was one of three young men who rescued multiple drivers from a flash flood on Truman Road. On the evening of August 26 of that year, Micheal, then 16, joined his older brother Matthew and younger friend J.J. Tijerina in an impromptu rescue as rain waters flooded out the railroad underpass at Truman and Askew. In water that was 6 feet deep in some areas, they waded in to pull drivers from drowned vehicles and pushed others to safety. They were later awarded citations from the Jackson County Legislature for their actions that night. In photos taken at the ceremony, Michael stands a bit off to the side, not smiling.
“It’s OK to not be OK”
Jeanette Herron. Michael’s mother, repeats that phrase often. By the time he entered his teen-aged years, Michael had been diagnosed with multiple mental health issues; Schizophrenia, Bi-polar disorder, severe depression and severe anxiety.
In a recent Facebook post, his mother laments: “ Mental Illness took my son Michael. He fought demons all his life. He wanted to die everyday….I had to talk him out of taking his own life. …He did not want to feel this way any more.”
According to data posted on the National Institute of Mental Health website (www.nimh.nih.gov) suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States, with 47,511 deaths in 2019. Among those aged 10 to 34, suicide is the second-leading cause of death, with twice the number of males completing suicide than females. In the past decade the rate of suicide has increased nearly 4 percent in most age groups.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers help on its webpage (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org) and a crisis hotline that is available 24/7. For those who know someone exhibiting suicidal behaviors, the page suggests starting a conversation, providing support, and directing them to help (hotlines, websites, hospitals).
Despite his daily battles, Michael carried on as best he could. He graduated from Northeast High and worked at a Family Dollar store, where he was known for being friendly and helpful. During the balloon release, his family and friends recalled his helping spirit.
“He helped feed the homeless. He would go out and help others, he would show love to all. He had a kind heart…smiled every time he was out.. He was happy around people that loved him. He never bothered most with his problems,” was said as each balloon was released.
An avid fisherman, he fished nearly any chance he could, even at the nearby “green lake” on Cliff Drive. Michael entered tournaments and always came home with a prize. Usually, he would catch and release but would also catch fish to help feed the homeless. That’s why his mother uses a photo of Michael fishing to promote the national suicide hotline, 1-800-273-8255.
Herron said in a Facebook post, “ I think, and probably Michael too, he wanted to tell this story so people wouldn’t think just one day he jumped out of bed and wanted to die. No, he fought all his life to stay here. I think that’s the story he wants you to know.”
During Suicide Prevention Week, which runs from September 5th through the 11th, Michael’s family will be passing out custom bracelets with the suicide lifeline number printed on them.