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Stephen 'tWitch' Boss's death shows people who seem happy can still struggle

Suicide is up in Ohio, and Black Ohioans fare worse; Cleveland mental health experts ask people suffering in silence to seek help.
FOX 2022 Upfront Red Carpet
Posted at 11:15 AM, Dec 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-15 14:48:57-05

CLEVELAND — Stephen ’tWitch’ Boss, the DJ and dancer from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” has died at age 40.

The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner confirms he took his own life.

Tributes from celebrities like DeGeneres, Justin Timberlake, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and more are pouring in for the lovable entertainer, father, and husband.

In many tributes, people talk about his light and the happiness he brought others and send the message to anyone out there who may be silently suffering to tell someone.

Millions watched tWitch on his social media pages dance with his wife, Allison Holker, and exude happiness. Still, his sudden death is another tragic example that social media or a public persona is a highlight reel that doesn’t always depict the whole story of someone’s life.

Ivan Conard is a licensed social worker and a researcher at Case Western Reserve University. He said tragedies like tWitch’s death, no matter if we knew him or not, hurt.

“It just goes to show some people are good at wearing that mask, you know, that exterior,” he said.

Conard is dedicated to taking a community approach to destigmatizing mental health in the black community.

“That stigma around seeking help, that stigma around going to counseling, of utilizing a suicide hotline or even just having a casual conversation at the dinner table to say ‘you know what? I’m not doing fine,’” he said. “This ideology of ‘this is what a man should be’ and ‘this is how he should contextualize himself in different spaces.’ So whether that's not crying, whether it's saying, ‘hey, you know, put your chest out and, you know, take it on the chin.’ I like to reframe that and kind of think about what is the community response in lieu of, you know, these areas of mental illness and then how do we somewhat rethink mental health.”

According to the Health Police Institute of Ohio, suicide deaths have increased in Ohio over the last 14 years, with black Ohioans faring worse, with a 56% increase from 2011 to 2022.

Conard said there’s not one pinpointed reason for this, but many—including stigma, racial trauma, generational trauma, the need for more community programs at schools and recreational centers, and more dedication to mental health.

“I’ve seen it with my own life. I’ve seen it with clients. It takes, once again, a community approach to say, ‘hey, are we going to decide to do better or are we going to decide to say it’s okay not to be okay,’” he said.

While the world doesn’t know what tWitch may have been going through, Scott Osiecki of the Alcohol Drug Addiction Mental Health Services Cuyahoga County, or the ADAMHS Board, said it is important to know the signs of depression or suicidal thoughts.

The symptoms can vary as each person suffers differently. Still, some of the more general ones include mood swings, depression, withdrawal or isolation, changes in daily habits like sleeping or eating, risky behavior, giving away personal belongings, recent trauma or a life crisis, and threatening suicide.

“If you're considering hurting yourself, tell somebody, right? There's nothing to be ashamed of, you know? And we find out from tWitch’s death that it affects everybody, all walks of life, mental illness or depression or thoughts of suicide,” he said.

He encourages anyone who may notice these signs in someone to ask them what they’re thinking or planning, to persuade them not to do anything until you can get them help.

He said the help that can be provided is proven to work.

“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” he said.

If you or someone you know is suffering, call or text 9-8-8, a 24/7 national hotline, or reach a crisis counselor by text at 741-741.

You can also call the ADAMHS Board at 216-623-6888.

Jessi Schultz at WEWS first reported this story.