The New York Times published an essay by two Ann Arbor high school students – Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld – about their experiences with depression and their efforts to write about it for their school newspaper. They report that the school principal wouldn’t allow their articles to be published: “We were surprised that the administration and the adults who advocated for mental health awareness were the ones standing in the way of it. By telling us that students could not talk openly about their struggles, they reinforced the very stigma we were trying to eliminate.” [Source]
Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting (Dec. 19, 2012): The board opened its final meeting of 2012 with a reflection offered by board president Deb Mexicotte on the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut and a moment of silence to honor the families and community affected by that tragedy.
The board received two informational reports — one from a cross-governmental working group charged with assessing the viability of continuing to provide non-mandated school transportation, and another one on the district’s partnership with the University of Michigan Depression Center (UMDC).
The transportation report generated significant discussion, as the board examined the working group’s recommendations and considered the impact of making significant reductions to transportation. Even if the district were to eliminate all except mandated transportation for students, that would save only about $5.5 million of the roughly $17 million gap projected in next year’s budget.
A key element of the transportation discussion was a suggestion to consider redistricting – that is, reassigning some students to different school buildings based on where they live. Trustees discussed redistricting in the context of possible steps like eliminating some or all busing and closing schools.
The board directed administration to begin looking into a redistricting process.
I last saw Greg O’Dell at the November meeting of the University of Michigan board of regents. At the time, he was UM’s police chief and head of the department of public safety, a job he’d taken in August.
We spoke only briefly, and he was polite and respectful – just as he’d been in all the other interactions I’d had with him. Though he seemed a bit more quiet and restrained that day, I thought nothing of it. After all, he’d taken on a significant high-profile responsibility, and was standing in a room full of his new bosses at a public meeting.
Just a few days later, I was surprised to learn that he had decided to resign from UM and return to a post he’d previously held at Eastern Michigan University. EMU had rehired Greg as police chief in late November, and his public statements indicated that he’d decided his position there was a better fit.
Less than a month after that, on the Friday before Christmas, Greg was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, an apparent suicide. He was 54. Shocking is the only way to describe the news – a sentiment I’ve heard expressed repeatedly over the last few days.
As a respected and well-liked leader in local law enforcement – he had spent the bulk of his career with the Ann Arbor police department – Greg was well known throughout the community. That fact was reflected in the hundreds of people who came to pay their respects on Wednesday night at the visitation held at the Nie Family Funeral Home, a diverse crowd of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
He was smart and easy-going with a wry sense of humor, professional yet personable, confident and approachable. His death has stunned us, and even those of us who weren’t close to him will mourn the loss.
I’m sure I’m not alone in spending much of the past few days reflecting on Greg’s death. Not well-known outside a limited community was his struggle with depression. I don’t know the circumstances of his personal situation – and it’s not my business. But as the daughter of someone who suffered from chronic depression, that dark landscape is familiar to me.
This past summer, in the same regents boardroom where I last saw Greg, the director of UM’s Depression Center, John Greden, spoke to regents about the difficulty of fighting the stigma of this illness called depression. In the wake of Greg’s death, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the way that nearly all of us, at some point, grapple with our inner demons or unfathomable despair, and how those struggles can be even more profound for those who work in law enforcement.