December 22, 2020

Lived Experience Story | Tragedy of Suicide

General Health

Fort HealthCare Guest Blog Post | Focus on Mental Health

“My story is personal and painful. And though these events took place years ago, they remain fresh in my mind. I learned a lot about depressive disorders, suicidal tendencies, self-harm, and their signs. I have learned to be attentive to these signs. To not take them lightly or to minimize. My reasoning is, I would rather be wrong than lose another life to suicide. Here is my story:

I have four children. Though now grown, at the time two were in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school. I had become involved in all three schools. I volunteered in the classroom, I was an advisor for a high school youth group, and I coached a high school team. I knew the children my kids were surrounded by. Many were part of our home and regular gatherings. One night I received a call from a student on my team asking for help. She told me that one of her classmates had just committed suicide and she feared for the life of another classmate. Could I please come? I went immediately to the high school to find the student that called and the child she feared for. They were grieving and distraught. I took them to my home. My home quickly became the hub for all those who were hurting. Classmates came to console one another. They came to check on one another. They came to talk. They came to try to understand. The student who took her life was well-loved, funny, smart, talented, and involved. No one knew of her hidden struggles. Only her immediate friends knew. The other girl they feared for was making claims of self-harm. Health providers, counselors, and her parents were informed. Later that same evening, she was taken to the hospital for observation and treatment. Another traumatic event for these children.

In the days and weeks that followed, as we were all learning how to deal with the tragedy of suicide, I was seeing signs in my own family that were concerning. My bright, funny, loving son was becoming withdrawn. He was tired and disinterested. He was quick to anger and sullen. Unbeknownst to me, a friend of his had ended a longstanding friendship with him that had broken his heart. He was hurting and on the tails of the suicide of one of his classmates, this became a dangerous combination for him. He was the kid who was used to providing emotional comfort to those in his class who were hurting, and no one could see how much he was hurting. He tried to take his life; the pain was so bad. He drove to the local pharmacy and told the clerk he was doing a project for school. He asked if there was one over-the-counter drug available that would be dangerous, even life-threatening if taken in full, what would that be? Thinking she was helping him with his project, she shared with him which drug that would be. He then drove to another pharmacy and purchased several packs of that drug. He swallowed all the pills in one box before he became frightened and contacted a friend. His friend and her mother drove him to the hospital. But this is where the story begins for me.

From that point on, we learned together about counseling options. We learned about medications that help one manage this disorder. I attended counseling sessions with my son at first. He was particularly good at telling people what he thought they wanted to hear. He was not convinced counseling was something he needed. He simply didn’t know how to use a counselor. We learned together HOW to utilize a counselor. We learned that counselors are not all created equal and you might have to try a few to find the right match. We learned about medications and the effects they have on one’s mind and body – especially the developing mind of a 17-year-old. I was scared every day he walked out the door. I didn’t know if I would see him that night. You see, a person with suicidal tendencies can use anything as a weapon: a gun, pills, drugs, knives, our lake, their car. We didn’t have guns, but he had plenty of friends who did. The suicidal are creative and smart. If hurting bad enough, they find a way.  My son struggled for many months to get a handle on his depression. At one point he was so low he asked to be admitted to a psychiatric unit of a hospital. He was tired of hurting and wanted to get on with his life. He learned there that he could manage his illness with the right medication and further counseling.

In a small town, there is little that goes unnoticed. The stigma of mental health disorders was a real hurdle for my son. We made a point of speaking about it often. I made a point of sharing with other parents the struggles and challenges we faced. The more we talked about it, the less we were concerned about the stigma. We shared what we learned with others. We also soon learned that depressive disorders present very differently in males and females. My youngest was entering middle school and showing signs of unrest. She didn’t like school. She struggled to get through the day. She became detached from friends and family. She was having thoughts of suicide. My daughter had shared her thoughts with a family friend. The friend knew enough to inform her mother who was strong enough to inform me. My daughter began counseling. She too had to try a few counselors until she found the right fit. I attended with her so she would know how to utilize the counselor. You see, my children were incredibly good at telling you what you wanted to hear – not to hide things, but so you wouldn’t worry or think poorly of them. I learned she had been cutting. I learned she was being bullied at school. She was also very worried and scared for her older brother. Though he was doing better, she was close to losing him and was afraid it would happen again.

As a parent, I suffered too. Seeing my children in such pain was HARD! Balancing the needs of all four children, when two of them needed extra attention was HARD. Anticipating what would or could happen next kept me on high alert. I also sought counseling to help me deal, to help me understand, and to help me balance. Through it all, I learned so much. I know that my children are not unique. That there are many others out there that have the same issues, concerns, and struggle with suicidal thoughts. I know that depressive disorders do not discriminate. It can hit anyone of any age at any time. I know that I didn’t do everything right, but I am grateful that I saw the signs and acted upon them when I did. I am grateful for the mental health experts that were able to assist in my children’s healing. I am grateful for the community of friends and teachers that were attuned to the challenges my children presented and were willing to help. I have learned to forgive those “well-meaning” people who thought they were giving support and saying the wrong thing. I encourage all who struggle with this illness to seek help immediately. To learn as much as possible about this illness. To be persistent in the management of it. With the right interventions, suicidal ideation can be controlled. My children are LIVING proof.”

Please never question this…ASKING FOR HELP IS A SIGN OF STRENGTH. Staying silent about suicide does not help anyone. It is our hope that sharing this story may help someone else who is struggling. The holidays can be particularly difficult. Know that you are not alone and support is only a call, text, or conversation away.   #ZeroSuicide   #MentalHealthMatters