REQUIEM FOR A FIGHTERYOUNG MAN WHO BATTLED MENTAL-HEALTH SYSTEM TAKES HIS OWN LIFE

They played one song at Phil Girardin's memorial service last week. "Everybody hurts," the R.E.M. vocalist droned over and over in the small chapel at a Peoria funeral home.

Girardin committed suicide by drug overdose June 8, one week after New Times told his story in a special report ("Mental Health Masquerade"). His mother, Kandy Warden, found his body and a suicide note. Girardin was 28.

Girardin had a history of suicide attempts, and doctors years earlier had diagnosed him as seriously mentally ill.

Though he had seemed upbeat to family and friends, the demons inside Girardin had kept a fatal hold on him. Friends and relatives say an ugly fight with a lover--Girardin was openly gay--and his HIV-positive status conspired to push him over the edge.

"Phil just had had enough," his mother said at the memorial service.
"It's a real comfort to me and my other [three] kids that he told his story before he chose to do this. He was very brave to tell everyone what the system had done to him, so that maybe it wouldn't happen to other people."

The story described Girardin's protracted and often-vicious struggle with ComCare--a private firm that oversees the care of about 11,000 seriously mentally ill Maricopa County residents. Girardin claimed that ComCare had ignored his incessant cries for help during a crisis in late 1993.

A hearing officer in the case last December sided with Girardin after listening to hours of testimony:

"ComCare violated the law and rights of [Girardin] by failing to manage and intervene in [his] crisis. . . . But ComCare's failure is greater than that. This hearing officer concludes that ComCare was not motivated to respond to [Girardin's] crisis. Even a casual review of the case manager's handling of the case would lead to this conclusion."

The victory, however, was somewhat hollow: Girardin had dropped out of the ComCare system months before the hearing officer issued his opinion.

Girardin had proved to be witty, intelligent, frustrated, angry and sad during a two-hour interview with New Times shortly before the story was published.

"Talking to me at times is like talking to a really healthy vegetable," he said during the interview. "But, sometimes, I'm not so healthy. What I don't understand is how these supposedly trained professionals could treat a screwed-up person like myself like I was a piece of shit."

At the funeral service, two women--Pat Pugliese and Marcy Gorman, who had both worked closely with Girardin in recent years--introduced themselves to each other.

Pugliese, an advocate with the state's Office of Human Rights, had supported Girardin during the entire ComCare imbroglio, even after her supervisors instructed her to back off. Pugliese went so far as to pay a lawyer to represent Girardin during his state hearing. Gorman, of the Arizona AIDS Project, had helped Girardin to deal with his illness.

"I thank God that you two were there for Phil," Girardin's youngest sister, Peggy Sue, told the women. "Between you guys, we nearly did it. I really thought he might make it."

But through her grief, Kandy Warden tried to put her son's death into perspective.

"Phil had a lot of things going on in his mind, so many things," she said, pausing momentarily as the R.E.M. dirge, "Everybody Hurts," continued to loop endlessly through the speakers.

"Everybody does hurt, you know that?" she said.

 
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