Americans are struggling: According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, over 81,000 Americans died from drug overdose from May 2019 - May 2020, an 18% increase from the previous year. Emergency room visit rates for mental health conditions like suicide attempts and drug overdoses were higher during the pandemic, according to a recent JAMA Psychiatry study. Last summer, the CDC reported that 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse.
With no clear end to the pandemic in sight, mental health experts have warned families to stay alert.
That is one reason why Bravo's Carl Radke is opening up about his brother's recent death due to an overdose. Radke, a star of the reality TV show "Summer House," spoke to TODAY about his brother's lifelong struggle with addiction and mental health.
What was your brother, Curtis, like?
I remember sitting in the stands or playing in the dirt at his baseball games as a child with my parents. Some of my favorite memories with him were hanging out together at baseball games or weekend soccer games. Because of the five-year age gap between us, we didn’t always quite get along like competitive brothers do. I wanted to be just like him as a kid. He was an amazing athlete who played five different sports and was well respected.
When did things start to change between you and your brother?
Things changed in high school. We have a very competitive community with sports and academics, and I always felt like we were measured by social status. That pressure was a lot for a 14-year-old entering high school. I think when you're young and don't feel like you fit in, it's easier to run with a crowd who may not be the best to surround yourself with. We definitely noticed a big change in his school work and he found himself getting into trouble a lot more.
At the time, I did not fully realize Curtis struggled with his mental health and then soon enough his run with addictions. It wasn't until much later as an adult I gained better insight into what this really meant.
Going off to college allowed me space from my brother, who unfortunately was becoming worse. He dropped out of college and continued to struggle with addiction. I still cared so much about him, even though it was really hard at times. Loving someone with an addiction is extremely tough. For a long time, I felt a lot of fear and shame about my brother because of the stigma that remains around mental health and addiction.
Was your brother supportive of your decision to join "Summer House"?
I think like any older brother he was excited for his younger brother. But the hard part of reality TV is all our personal lives are on display — the good, bad and ugly. So I know as some of my behavior on the show wasn't very favorable and he was concerned about what impact this would have on me and our family. I know he had issues with me being on it and it definitely caused a rift.
When was the last time you saw him?
I saw him in 2017 for my grandfather’s funeral and I told him I loved him. It was difficult and emotional, but it was the truth. I had no idea that it would be the last time we spoke.
You've been open about your mental health struggles. Why did you decide to become sober?
When COVID-19 lockdown hit, I started going to therapy and working on myself and my sobriety. It's very sobering watching yourself on TV for four seasons and you have several drunken moments that are hard to remember and watch. Without a doubt it was a hard decision to look myself in the mirror and really examine my relationship with alcohol.
I had never ever opened up about the amount of drinking and partying I did. With all the crazy things going on in the world it was important to invest in myself with therapy and putting it out in the open that I struggle.
Why is it so important to talk about mental health?
Mental health and addiction is so incredibly powerful and so common yet people are afraid to talk about it. The pandemic has not only opened our eyes to how many people are struggling, but we’re seeing how many don’t have the proper information to get help, or know where to even start.
I want to help those people by letting them know they are not alone, and the help is out there. The only way to do that is to talk about it. I have partnered with Shatterproof, a nonprofit dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis.
Being on "Summer House" has given me a platform to talk about important issues and to raise awareness and hopefully encourage some change. After my brother passed, I helped design some T-shirts and merchandise, where the proceeds were donated to a rehab center that my brother spent time at. The funds raised will help other families who are struggling.
I hope we can have more conversations about mental health and addiction. If one person see this and picks up the phone or logs onto Shatterproof to get help, it's a win. My brother had a big heart and was so willing to help others around him when he could.