A couple months ago, I mentioned a family tragedy as an excuse for not writing a witty prologue that week. It was one of those nebulous “Vague-book” comments people typically write when they’re trawling for attention.

On cue, you lovely people sent me hundreds of thoughtful replies. All with zero idea what the hell I was talking about.

So, here you go.  

My 15-year-old niece committed suicide.

It happened while Tara and I were at dinner with my sister and brother-in-law, a mile between our two houses. Alisa and Todd showed up late, after an argument with their youngest daughter, Katie. An hour later, they went home, and she was gone.

To call it devastating gives the word devastating too much credit.

Our families are intertwined. Every holiday, most Sundays. Six kids, six years apart, thick as thieves. Tara and Alisa are like sisters. I hit the BIL jackpot with Todd. 

There were warnings. Katie struggled, bitterly, with depression. But her parents were superheroes. She got the best help. She was surrounded by love that would make most kids jealous.

In other words, if it could happen to them, it could happen to anybody.

Among the many unexpected aspects of the experience was how public it was. The school district emailed everyone before the sun came up. Social media did the rest. The outpouring of support from our community was staggering. So was the feeling of being in a fishbowl. 

And that was just for Tara, our girls, and me. Multiply that times a million for Alisa, Todd, and their kids.    

I’m sharing all this because May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And because, as an audience of business leaders, celebrities, and journalists, you can do something about it. 

Katie was battling a deadly disease, no different than cancer. Worse, maybe, because at least you can see cancer on an X-ray. You can measure how the drugs are working. Doctors know when it’s terminal. 

But mental health is a mystery. A ghost. And because people are afraid of ghosts, we’d rather believe they don’t exist – while shunning people who believe otherwise. 

It will take decades – if ever – to grapple with the impact of the last year on our collective mental health, particularly our kids. We can only pray that it somehow makes us stronger in the long run. 

Because we need to summon all the strength we can to fight a disease none of us can see.

Here’s what we can see:

If you want yet another sign that Americans are flush with cash right now, the percentage who say they’re using their tax refund to pay down debt is at a record low. For the decade we’ve asked this question, paying off debt was always the number one answer, followed by saving it. But this year, the debt-depleters fell nearly 30% from 2020. The biggest increase this year was among people who said they’re using their refund check for home improvement. It jumped over 50% YoY. That’s great news for Lowe’s. Bad news if you’re trying to find a contractor. Or buy lumber. 

Speaking of lumber, I’m still going to talk about inflation because I call the shots here. Inflation might be good or it might be bad for the economy. It might be a blip or have long-term effects. I don’t really know. But I do know this: Consumer views of inflation are undeniably political. Republicans are nearly 3X more likely to be worried about inflation. Is it because they’re more likely to put more miles on their cars or buy building materials? Partly. Or it could just be because they don’t trust the people in power to deal with it. What you need to know is that consumers will adjust their spending behaviors differently as things progress. 

One of the few things concerning people more than inflation right now is cybersecurity. I’m fairly certain the next “pandemic” we need to worry about in America is a digital one (Geez John, you’re really a downer this weekend). People were pretty quick to shrug off the hacking of an oil pipeline, even as nearly 90% of Americans tell us they are at least somewhat concerned about cybersecurity. Meanwhile, only a fraction of people use tools to protect their passwords, and barely half use any kind of security software on their devices. Lots of people whistling through the graveyard, as they say.  

Charities aren’t benefiting from today’s deeper-pocketed consumers and that’s sad. The inability to put on in-person events has been a major culprit, but individual philanthropic giving across nearly every sector is down since the beginning of the year, particularly in areas like healthcare, arts, and environmental causes. Religious organizations are an exception, presumably because people have begun trickling back into church. And human services, like food banks. Here’s hoping more people realize all that reduced debt and increased savings is a recipe for helping others.

If you want to lighten the mood, watch me try to write about organic menstrual products. After 10 years, 300,000 poll questions, and hundreds of studies, we’ve finally reached the topic I know the absolute least about. As the resident grocery shopper and lone male in a post-pubescent family of four, I’ve had to fumble my way through a new aisle in the store with photos of products texted to my phone. Have I learned any great insights about the category in my recent years as a buyer? No. Not a single one. Fortunately, other people in our company can tell you everything you need to know, right here.

We published a bunch of other stuff this week:

The most popular questions this week:

Answer Key: No; No, but I would; No, gross; Hyperactive; ½ lb.

And one more important thing… 

We created a fund for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Katie’s honor. Maybe you’d like to help. Just click here.

I’ll never ask for anything like this again. I promise.  

Hoping you’re well. 

JD