Rueben Brock was 7 when he heard the gunshot.
He was sitting in the basement in his home on Duncan Avenue in Washington with his sister and brother when his father, Bill Brock, committed suicide.
“We all heard it,” Brock remembered. His father was only in his early 30s, and whatever prodded the elder Brock to end his life remains a mystery. “He clearly felt the pain of his life was too great, and he couldn’t handle it,” Brock said.
His father’s suicide, in many respects, set the stage for challenges Brock faced as he grew into adulthood, and influenced his decision to pursue a career as a therapist. It was a circuitous and sometimes fraught road that Brock ended up traveling.
After graduating from Washington High School in 1994, Brock briefly attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and then William Paterson University in New Jersey before heading back to Washington.
“I had a lot of stuff to think about and process,” Brock said. “It just didn’t go well.”
Feeling despondent, Brock one day decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and commit suicide. He swallowed a fistful of the medications he had been prescribed by therapists who tried to decode the puzzle of his mood swings. Then, when his mother happened to return home, Brock realized he didn’t want her to endure the agony of losing another loved one to suicide. He confessed what he had done and was rushed to Washington Hospital. His stomach was pumped and he spent a week there, being counseled by therapists who were trying to calm his troubled psyche and put him on a path to stability.
Finally, after doctors considered that he was suffering from depression, then bipolar disorder, they realized that Brock was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – that his father’s death was so deeply disturbing that it threw a wrench into his thinking and emotions.
“It had a profound impact on me,” said Brock, who is now 40 and the father of a son and a daughter. “With trauma, children don’t have the cognitive ability to understand what happened. It’s very difficult for a child to understand that properly. And I went about my life not understanding that it was a major issue.”
He continued, “No one could ever figure out what was wrong before.” Some days, Brock remembers, he would function at a high level. Then, the crash would come and he would be unable to rouse himself from bed.
Once he was back on his feet, Brock enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh and tried to launch a career in music – his brother, Will Brock, is a keyboard player who has worked with such artists as Gerald Veasley and Marion Meadows. Eventually, though, Brock decided to pursue a career in psychology. He received a degree in interdisciplinary studies, with concentrations in sociology, psychology and the creative arts, from Pitt in 2006. He went on to get a master’s degree in community counseling at California University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in counseling psychology from West Virginia University. Brock also has a self-help book to his credit, “A Young Man’s Wisdom.”
Brock teaches at Cal U. and maintains a practice in McMurray. He frequently counsels children, some of whom are enduring some of life’s deepest traumas, like the separation and divorce of parents. While he does not give advice, Brock explains, he “helps people to find the answers.”
Though he has found a measure of contentment, Brock said he also is mindful that he could slip back into a trough.
“I can be prone to compromised mental health,” he said. “If I’m not careful, I could slip into a depressive episode.”
Above all, Brock stresses that it is important for people not to be stigmatized or disparaged for seeking assistance for mental health problems.
“Your mind is infinitely more intricate than a car,” he said.