The Bacon family has deep roots in western Colorado. Their history of philanthropy over three generations is a story of impactful and generous giving- widely known by community members as a family whose reputation precedes itself. The Bacon family’s history of personal loss and struggle, however, is a story probably less familiar to many. Nevertheless, a story just as impactful, and with the unlimited potential to save lives.
Andy Bacon was one of five children born to Herb and Laura May Bacon. Four siblings are alive today. Brad, Andy’s youngest brother, lost his life to suicide when he was 36.
Andy remembers his brother, sharing, “Brad was very bright, incredibly engaging. He had a genius IQ. Everyone thought he’d set the world on fire. But the pressure got to him. People that are depressed are good actors- very good. They know how to protect themselves.”
Brad’s death came as a complete shock to Andy. It was something he and his siblings didn’t see coming. There had been previous signs that his parents knew of, but to talk of mental health struggles during their generation was unheard of. Even after Brad’s death, some of his wife’s family members classified his death as a heart attack. A suicide was an embarrassment.
“In my parents’ generation, you didn’t talk about such things. You didn’t ask about other peoples’ kids- you didn’t want to invade their privacy. People struggled in privacy. There wasn’t anywhere to go for help.”
The stigma surrounding mental health is real. If a person has cancer and is away from their job for a period of time, people can understand that. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with mental illness. It’s not something that can be seen, so therefore, it’s still not treated and accepted appropriately.
“Looking back now, I can see depression ran in our family. It was in our genes. I myself am on medication. I have chronic severe depression. I’m not ashamed of my story at all. It makes it real. It shows people that someone who is a functioning, successful person, can handle and share difficult things.”
“Physically, I’m very active. But the mental part is really difficult. For me and for many, it isn’t curable. You just have to be aware of it and willing to try anything.”
For Andy, addressing his mental health head on takes great courage and perseverance. However, it is through those life experiences where Andy accredits finding true success. To achieve success in one’s career is obviously great. To find success in being empathetic to the struggles of others and truly understanding that pain is another thing entirely.
“Mental illness affects everyone differently. It can feel unfair. But there is a gift side of it too- it makes you feel more empathetic and more understanding of everyone. I give back and try to treat everyone exactly the same. You don’t know what challenges people are going through.”
When asked how a person finds meaning through such a great loss and struggle, Andy shared the following sentiments:
“It’s been a long road for our family. But depression doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, if you’re successful, or if you’re famous.”
“I try to use my brother’s passing as an example of someone who had all the smarts, had everything. But it wasn’t enough. There are a lot of people who are hugely struggling, and no one would ever guess it. Get help and address it head on. Don’t be embarrassed by it. Beat it or it will beat you.”
By sharing his story, Andy is fighting the stigma of mental illness and instilling courage in others that need to understand they are not alone.
“I thought everyone felt the same way I did. I didn’t know any different. But now I know better, and I choose to do better. Try not to hide it. Let people in and stick with it.”
Mental illness is a real disease. Learning how to treat it, seek support, and educate others can make all the difference. It can be the difference between life and death.
Written by: Shiara Hickey Caubarreaux
Andy Bacon currently sits on the Mind Springs Foundation Board. He, along with the Bacon Family Foundation, are friends and donors to the Mind Springs Foundation. We appreciate all of our supporters, as they make the work we do possible and help save lives.
Mind Springs Health and West Springs Hospital provide a continuum of care, inpatient and outpatient, for mental health and addiction challenges on Colorado’s western slope. No concern is too big or too small. If you or a loved one is experiencing behavioral health complications like mental illness or addiction, treatment works and we can help.