Addiction Stigma Took My Son's Life

Gary Mendell
Brain smiling in front of a lake, someone off-screen is holding up a fish in front of him.

As we approach my son Brian's birthday, I want to take a moment to reflect on the incredible impact he had on my life and the world around him. It's been 12 years since his passing, and while the pain of his absence remains, so does the love and inspiration he gifted us with.

Brian was filled with empathy, compassion, and kindness. He taught his family and friends the value of truly caring for others and how to be better human beings. His genuine smile, bright mind, and compassionate heart continue to inspire us every day.

Brain smiling at the camera with a friend

Brian’s Story 

Brian was a loving child, full of smiles and light. Like so many children, as he entered his teenage years, Brian tried drugs and alcohol. And like far too many, this led to addiction.

For nearly a decade, Brian battled this disease and its cycle of shame, isolation, and failure. During that same time, my family and I fought to navigate the complex and confusing web of treatment programs and therapies. 

If you know someone who has struggled with addiction, you know all too well the pain and anguish of watching a loved one in the clutches of this disease.

Stigma killed my son 

Loving and compassionate, through it all Brian wished others did not have to suffer from this devastating disease. During a visit home in the summer of 2011, as we sat on our back porch one evening, Brian spoke about the stigma and shame he felt.

“300 years ago, they burned women on stakes in Salem, Massachusetts because they thought they were witches. Later they learned they weren’t and stopped.” Brian said, “Someday, people will realize that I am not a bad person. That I have a disease and I am trying my hardest.” 

Gary sitting down and smiling with his dad, Gary Mendell

A Father’s Promise 

Brian's passing was and continues to be excruciatingly painful. Perhaps just as tragic, is the undeniable reality that it was not just addiction that claimed my son’s life. It was the shame he felt every morning when he opened his eyes that led him to wake up that morning, research suicide notes, light a candle and take his own life, alone.

Brain sitting at a desk

 I made a promise to my son, to spare others this tragedy. From this promise emerged a vision to unite millions of Americans and empower them to create change.

Changing the country’s consciousness will not be easy. However, with your help, we’re building a national movement to treat addiction like the chronic disease it is and offering evidence-based resources for prevention, treatment and recovery.

You can help me keep my promise to Brian by donating to our cause. Together, we have the power to change lives.