Two parents in Washington are coping with tragedy after their son committed suicide on May 29, jumping from the 11th floor balcony of his dorm at the University of Washington.
And they've taken to heart an issue that he shared in a goodbye letter, fulfilling a wish that his death be used to raise awareness of a little-known condition: chronic blushing, likely triggered by an overactive nervous system, coupled with a fear and shame of blushing itself, known as "erythrophobia."
MSNBC reports Brandon Thomas was an affable 20-year-old who, unbeknownst to his mother, father, and even twin brother, grappled in silence with constant blushing -- and a strong social anxiety that accompanied it. In a five-page note he left behind, Thomas attributed his suicide decision to his despair over the condition, reports MSNBC.
“We wouldn’t have witnessed it,” explained Brandon's father, Steve, to MSNBC. “It wasn’t even happening here at home. I think this was his place of comfort.”
Kathleen Timm describes the experience on Ezine as "a very traumatizing phobia" because blushing is impossible to hide, and blushing may cause a negative feedback of additional blushing:
An intense fear of blushing AND a fear of certain situations where people will see their red-faces are all a part of developing Erythrobia. Other sub-phobias can even surface...such as fears of specific people or places. This can be very devastating and the blusher might begin experiencing depression.
According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Brandon's parents learned of their son's chronic blushing in the fall of 2011, and responded as any concerned would: doctor visits, a counselor, and even considerations of surgery were on the table.
"One of the reasons he took his life is that if he took this drastic measure, it would raise awareness," Dawn Thomas told the Daily Mail. "He wanted his death to have an impact."
To that end, the family is building a website to serve as a resource for people struggling with the condition.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.