Why we have Mental Illness Awareness Week

By Ryan Robbins
The Maine Campus

Saulee Glick was a little abnormal. He was a 40-year-old freshman living in Aroostook Hall when I met him in September 1993. He wanted to be called Christopher. He was a little on the short side, had a receding hairline of brown hair that was fading to gray on the sideburns. The skin on his face was beginning to lose its form from age, and he wore black-framed glasses.

Saulee was quiet and kept to himself. He dressed in mismatched clothes, frequently wearing wool socks outside of his pants. Many times he wore sweat pants. He wasn't particularly neat, his room was a mess, with papers and things strewn about. And when he shaved in the bathroom he left gobs of shaving cream in the sink and on the counter.

I didn't need to see the cross on his necklace to see that he was religious, for he always made religious references.

If Saulee had a question, he never hesitated to stop me in the hall or knock on my door. His questions were rather elementary, but that didn't bother me, as I could see he was looking for confidence.

He liked sports. He also liked journalism. One day he came to my room to ask me a question and he asked me if I wanted to see his autograph collection. He had Ed Bradley's autograph and autographs from other popular national journalists. He even had autographs from Channel 5 anchorman Don Colson and former Channel 2 anchorwoman Eloise Daniels.

Saulee had a big imagination. He talked about how he wanted to play basketball for Maine and that he wanted to try out for the baseball team. When I saw a tennis racket laying on his bed, he told me he liked to play a lot and that if I ever wanted to borrow his racket all I had to do was ask. During our conversation he mentioned that he had family in New York and that his home was in Brewer. He alluded to having a troubled past and of how he wanted to do really well in school.

As I finished eating at the Bear's Den one evening, Saulee came up to me and asked if I had a minute or two.

I wasn't surprised when he said he was uncomfortable around the other residents. They made fun of him because of how he dressed and because of his age. I told him I didn't have any hard and fast answers but that things could only get better with time. I acknowledged that the generation gap was a real issue, especially because the other residents were all 17- and 18-year-olds. Hang in there, I told him and give it some time. After a while everyone will settle down and get used to you. Don't take it personally.

I wish I could have given him better answers.

A little more than a year later, Saulee jumped off the old Bangor-Brewer Bridge on a cold December morning just after as police arrived.

According to witnesses, Saulee screamed for help after landing in the water. He screamed that he didn't want to die shortly before going under.

It took divers five hours to recover the body.

I was shocked when I heard about Saulee's death on the evening news. I wanted to cry, even though I had known him for only a short while.

I cannot help but think back to a conversation I had with the resident director shortly after the school year began in 1993. She asked me if I thought there was anything strange about Saulee. I pretended to think for a moment before answering no. I didn't think there was anything strange about him.

The R.D. said Saulee had asked her that morning if she had been experiencing any problems with her bed. Saulee told her he'd been getting strange electrical shocks from his bed and they had kept him up all night.

The R.D. laughed as she told me the story. I laughed too - at her. I didn't think it was funny. Sure, electrical shocks sounded bizarre, but that didn't mean there wasn't any truth to what Saulee had experienced. It could have been static electricity. After all, it was still summer.

Something troubled Saulee so much that he had to kill himself. It didn't matter whether it was something recent or something in the past. I cannot imagine the horror he must have gone through when he realized he was going to die. I cannot imagine the frustration he must have felt when one of the officers at the scene threw a life preserver to him, only to have it fall short.

Nothing can bring Saulee back or the hundreds of thousands of other people who had mental illnesses and took the drastic decision to end their lives because the pain of being ignored and misunderstood by society was just too much. Mental Illness Awareness Week, however, is a step in the right direction.

This column originally appeared in the Oct. 10, 1997, issue of The Maine Campus.
1997, Ryan R. Robbins.