Dean Clough

September 29, 2021

Portico Darwin: On Mental Health

You might recall that earlier this year and joined by some close family, I sprinkled my mother's ashes at the grave site of her Aunt Ruth and Uncle Don Smith.  It served as a degree of closure for me, as my relationship with my mother was complex - even more so than with most mothers and sons. 

While it's been 10 years now since her passing, and despite the finality of spreading her ashes on to the Earth, I do still wonder what it might have been like . . . if things had been different for her at an awful time in her life. 

I hope this article, on how a lack of mental health care hurt my mother, serves as a reminder to us all that Mental Health >= Physical Health.


Many have written on mental health and its importance.  Many come from an angle of “sharing is caring”:  I went through (fill in the blank), survived, and maybe by reading what I’m sharing, you’ll seek help and get the care you need to survive and thrive.

This article is like that, but it’s also different.  I’m going to share a story about my mother, not myself.  And it’s about how not getting care can hamper a person, sometimes severely, for an entire life.  The story is graphic, but it’s necessary.  

I hope by reading this you’ll never again delay seeking mental health care when you need it.  Because it simply wasn’t available to my mother, and it hurt her, in big and small ways, which she never understood.

My mother needed mental health care in 1944, when she was 17 and in Tupper Lake, then and now an isolated part of New York’s Adirondack Mountain region.  Why did she need mental health care at that time?

One day, my mother, the eldest of 4 children, came home from school, and her own mother was dead.  Her mother, my grandmother, Julia Girard LaBarge, had committed suicide.  She had killed herself by drinking lye, an alkaline substance which, when mixed with water, becomes a terribly caustic and deadly liquid that severely burns anything it touches.  Enough said.

Well, not quite, because the religiosity of the day made it worse and thus must be included.  My mother’s family, devout Catholics, adhered to the strictures of the time and a liturgical wake was held - in the family home.  Thus, my mother had the opportunity for several days to see her deceased mother, at home, in the living room.

This is what my mother experienced, as a teenager.  She received zero counseling, then or ever, up until her death in 2011. 

Growing up as a kid, the family story was that my grandmother had died of strep throat.  It was not until I was told the reality that my own mother’s oft-erratic behavior through the years became more . . . understandable.  
My mother:

  • was always “let down” or “disappointed” (especially by those closest to her);
  • was extraordinarily insecure;
  • was extraordinarily vain;
  • was overly emotional;
  • had little or no self-awareness;
  • threatened to commit suicide herself on numerous occasions; 
  • refused any suggestion of counseling over many years; and 
  • used her generosity and even love as a weapon (especially with those closest to her).

I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist.  Indeed, I have no mental health training or expertise of any kind.  But it doesn’t take much to see what impact the suicide had on my mother.  She saw, in many ways rightfully, the complete and total desertion of a child by a mother, and never recovered.  It manifested itself in ways that are obvious, at least now.

I want to be clear:  I have mostly nothing but gratitude, admiration, and love for my mother.  She did everything in her power (my father, too) to make me a happy and successful person, and she succeeded in ways I wish she could see now.  She also experienced plenty of joy, success, and happiness herself, throughout her own life.  She was married, often happily, to my father for almost 60 years, and was a successful businesswoman in her later years.

But knowing what her life might have been, could have been, and dare I say, should have been, led me to write this.  My mother had no mental health care options in 1944.  I hope you’ll read this and know that your mental health is at least as important as your physical health.

A shout-out to Ol' Purple Label for hosting us at her super-swank new digs, high atop Rincon Hill in downtown SF.  After some great bubbly, we went to a new place, called "Perry's", it's right on the Embarcadero, and maybe you've heard of it?  OPL was kind enough to share this sunrise photo from yesterday.


And To The Unwashed Masses:  I can highly recommend the new Ken Burns documentary on PBS on Muhammad Ali.  No surprise, but it's extremely well done, and each episode brings new information when you'd thought you'd heard it all about this unique and complex man.

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.

Today was about mental health being at least as important as physical health.  Certainly, a big part of great mental health is being generally happy.  So let's be all smiley and stuff to wrap up today's post.

Here is a record that always makes me generally happy any time I put it on.  It's also from some guys that have experienced loss themselves.  This - an all-instrumental, Killer disc you'd likely never guess were them - is Beastie Boys and "The Mix-Up".  I dare you not to enjoy it, despite it not being in high-res.

BB Mixup.jpg

About Dean Clough

Plans To Enjoy Life.