Andrew (Andy) Wade was a person of exceptional kindness who possessed the gift of being able to accept and relate to people in all stations of life. He thrived on loving and being loved by his friends. He was a beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and uncle within a close and adoring family. He was quiet unless you knew him well, quick-witted, with a dry sense of humor, a great tennis player, a sports fanatic, and he loved music. Listening to it. Playing it. He was a guitarist in a band called ‘Uncle Funky’.
Andy suffered from episodes of depression throughout his life that became more serious his first year of college. When he was 22-23 his thoughts and behavior became increasing disordered and erratic. He was eventually hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In the year after his diagnosis he lived with great courage and dignity attempting to 'get his life back' as he adjusted to different dosages of medication, engaged in intensive therapy, volunteered at a homelessness services center, returned to school and work. To those who were close to him, he seemed to be feeling better and his life was coming back together. In spite of the appearances of recovery, he left home one afternoon and didn't return. The next day, October 14, 2011, the coroner came to the door of his family home with the shocking and tragic news that Andy's body had been found in the mountains, about 20 miles from home. He had jumped from a 150 foot bridge. He was 24 years old.
It was only after his death that his family leaned that research shows that about 25% of people with bipolar disorder die by suicide. That shocking statistic motivated Andy's family and friends to do more so that others would understand the high possibility of premature death by suicide when a major depression or bipolar depression is involved. Andy's family believes that had they known about this statistic, they would have had different types of conversations among themselves, with Andy, with his doctors and with his friends, about how to talk about suicide and suicide ideation (thoughts of suicide). Just as chest pain is a frequent symptom of heart disease, a symptom that requires medical attention to prevent a possible death, thoughts of suicide are a symptom of a potentially lethal depression that equivalently signal the need for medical attention. Instead, many people with suicide ideation keep the thoughts to themselves, quietly battling with the toxic content of their thoughts. Tragically, a moment of despair may come along when they give in to the overwhelming sense of shame, worthlessness, and hopelessness wrought by 'sick' thoughts.
The Andrew Wade Friendship Foundation embraces people at all ages, all stages of life, who are dealing with a mental illness themselves, or in a loved one, or who are surviving the heart-wrenching aftermath of a suicide. However, because of our personal experience with the evolution of Andy's illness through adolescence and young adulthood, we focus special attention and outreach regarding mental illness in this early time of life, when the major mental disorders tend to manifest. We have deep concern that mental health professionals, and mental healthcare systems are not well equipped to provide effective pathways to recovery from serious episodes of mental illness. We are in favor of comprehensive recovery programs that go beyond simply dispensing medication and/or the occasional hour of talk therapy in an office. We have seen for ourselves how long and complex the struggle to recover from a serious episode of mental illness, with psychosis, can be for a young person, with the accompanying feeling of life passing them by. Much information already exists about the nature and symptoms of the different mental illnesses. However, there is not enough widely available information regarding how long recovery takes, and how best to manage one's life, or to support someone who is on that long road.
The idea for The Friendship Festival as a music-filled event began with Andy’s closest friends who met with Andy’s parents and sister shortly after his death. Patrick O’Connor, Tim Spencer, Haley Clause, and Liliana Neremberg were the initial core group that worked with Andy’s family to bring the first Friendship Festival to life to honor Andy’s 25th birthday on February 12, 2012. It was held at the Kingston Café in Pasadena with an attendance of 135 people. We raised funds for St Francis Center on Hope Street in Los Angeles, a feeding and services center for the homeless and food pantry for low-income families in the area. Andy had volunteered there as part of his recovery. The Andy Wade Friendship Fund at St. Francis Center existed for the first two years after his death while plans for the Foundation were being formed. Over $10,000 was raised. We were able to support the hiring of a staff position to assist those ready to accept assistance in stabilizing their lives and getting off the streets. A Friendship Initiative was also started, based on Andy's example, whereby volunteers learned to develop authentic relationships with the residents on the streets surrounding St. Francis Center. We are grateful to SFC for providing a place for our wishes for Andy’s legacy to begin. Click here for more information about St. Francis Center.
The Andrew Wade Friendship Foundation was launched by his parents, Christopher Wade, Karen Wade, and his sister, Lisa Wade Devine. Our treasured last family photo is below, December 2010, 10 months before Andy's death, and a few weeks after he was released from the hospital.