A Look At LGBTQ+ Adolescents Concerning Self-Harm & Suicide: What Can We As A Community Do?

Image by Jasmin Sessler from Pixabay

I have been asked in my current Introduction to Mental Health Counseling class to take the population I most desire to work with and discuss a particular issue that exists and what we, as the public, can do about it. Because of the suicide of a 12-year-old girl last summer, I have become a huge advocate in youth mental health. The public school system where I live, has started to educate students at the middle school level. Still, instead of calling out the names of these mental illnesses, they group everything under “stress” and “social-emotional well-being.” My first thought is good, they are doing something, but I think as younger adolescents are affected, schools, parents, and the community need to do more.

My Desire To Work With LGBTQ+ Adolescents

As I researched further, I saw a more pertinent need in helping adolescents that identify as LGBTQ+. This need first arose in me after having a friend back in the late 1990s stay ‘in the closet’ because he feared he would be ostracized. When he finally did come out, we told him that he could have told us sooner. We loved him for him, not for his sexual preference.

This yearning increased as my daughter would continue to tell me about friends and classmates in her middle school who were in the sexual and/or gender minority. I felt compassion and empathy for them because they had to keep everything hidden for the same fear my friend had all those years ago. Some of them had to keep it hidden from their parents as well, thinking they would not understand and would disown them. All of this hiding puts stress on LGBTQ+ youth and can, in turn, cause a severe episode of depression. This depression can get worse and lead to self-harm and suicide.

The Facts

I am no professional so I sought out peer-reviewed scholarly articles, meaning they are reliable and trustworthy.

For reference, when I speak of gender minority, I am discussing those that identify as nonbinary, transgender, gender-queer, gender-fluid, and gender nonconforming (Ross-Reed et al., 2019). When I speak of a sexual minority, I am referring to those that are gay, lesbian, or bisexual (Oginni et al., 2019).

One of the first articles I read concerned a study done in the Avon area of England. The group that was studied was 4,274 children from infancy up to the twenties. They were observed at several points throughout their lives including at the ages of 15, 17, 18, and 20. They were looked at for sexual orientations and the relationship to depression, self-esteem, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. It was noted that the individuals who identified as in the sexual minority were more likely to develop depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation due to the societal stigma that surrounded them (Oginni et al., 2019)

Then, I reviewed a survey performed by the schools in Albuquerque, NM. This was one of the few school locations that looked at gender minority students with regard to their cisgender counterparts. The survey looked at the likelihood of developing violence victimization and self-harm as well as support systems in play for adolescents. The overall consensus was that the gender minority group had a higher percentage of victimization and self-harm than their cisgender peers. They also had significantly less support from family, school, the community, and peers (Ross-Reed et al., 2019).

A similar look at the under-served population of gender minority adolescents noted that these teens had a higher percentage of depression and suicide than their sexual minority peers. It was suggested that there is a clear need for prevention and intervention programs to serve this population especially due to the lack of data that is available. In one study it was noted that 83% of gender minority youth reported feeling depressed, 54% of them contemplated suicide, and 29% of them attempted suicide compared to their cisgender peers (Price-Feeney et al., 2020).

What Can We Do?

So, what can we actually do to help our stigmatized sexual and gender minorities? I am not going to lie, this is a tough question. Support is key. These adolescents need to know there is someone that supports them. They need to know that there is an adult who will advocate for them whether it is a parent, a neighbor, a teacher, or someone in the community. Once licensed, I will be their advocate with the schools, their parents, and the community. Adults that support this population need to come forward and publicly let these students know they are there for them.

One way my town supports our LGBTQ+ youth is that there is a yearly Pride Parade at the beginning of May. This event was created by two eighth-graders for their final middle school project. Every year there has been a large turnout. There is a walk which includes several local groups, including Free Mom Hugs, which I am apart of. There are many tents that have valuable information regarding the LGBTQ+ community as well as supportive local organizations.

We as a whole population need to learn acceptance and have empathy for LGBTQ+ adolescents (Ross-Reed et al., 2019). To just imagine the struggles they are going through breaks my heart.

What suggestions do you as my readers have to help the LGBTQ+ youth feel accepted?

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Important Resources for LGBTQ+ Adolescents

National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-TALK

Crisis Text Hotline: 741741

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

LGBT National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

References

Oginni, O. A., Robinson, E.J., Jones, A., Rahman Q., & Rimes, K.A. (2019). Mediators of increased self-harm and suicidal ideation in sexual minority youth: a longitudinal study. Psychological Medicine, 49(15), 2524-2532. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.1017/s003329171800346x

Price-Feeney, M., Green, A.E., & Dorison, S. (2020). Understanding the mental health of transgender and nonbinary youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 66(6), 684-690.

Ross-Reed, D.E., Reno, J., Penaloza, L., Green, D., & Fitzgerald, C. (2019). Family, school, and peer support are associated with rates of violence victimization and self-harm among gender minority and cisgender youth… Head To Toe Conference, April 25, 2019, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Journal of Adolescent Health, 65(6), 776-783. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/101016/j.jadohealth.2019.07.013

Covid-19: A Glimmer of Light

I have been absent, silent, and honestly, very confused by Covid-19. The world of US residents has been turned upside down since mid-March, and we are just now slowly climbing out of our dark holes. Although most of the country is experiencing something similar to what professionals deem “the second wave,” I would like to stay in the bubble of New England where (knock on wood) we have flattened the curve.

How can there be any light among the despair of a global pandemic?! The rollercoaster ride I’ve ridden these past four months had mostly drops instead of inclines. I had no positives in my life except for the health of my friends and family. I had lost my job. I had lost my uncle. I had lost the intimacy of actually spending time with friends face-to-face. I was spiraling fast, and it was not a place I wanted to go again.

At the urging of my therapist and psychiatrist, I made concrete schedules for my former workdays. I had to keep myself busy; otherwise, my brain would wander off to the wonderful (note sarcasm) negative thoughts that have plagued it for decades. The schedule worked fine for a while, but soon it was becoming mundane. I needed more. I needed a light bulb to go on.

And then it did.

I decided there could be a positive outcome from this pandemic for me. I decided to pursue a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The pandemic had given me the time to reinvent myself, to change careers.

I started at a CACREP accredited university on June 1st and am almost finished with the first quarter. There are two classes per quarter with a one week break at the end of the courses. The first two classes were Foundations of Graduate Study in Counseling and Introduction to Mental Health Counseling. The former was only a 6-week course, which I finished with an ‘S.’ I know, I know, only an ‘S’?! This course had two final grades: ‘S’ for satisfactory and ‘U’ for unsatisfactory. I have to say, though, the ‘S’ really deflates the 99.95% I had in the course.

My Intro to Mental Health Counseling course has proved to be very informative and interesting. While this is an online program, we have a professor and classmates which we interact with on weekly discussions. We have had a brief overview of the history of mental health, self-care, ethics, and multicultural counseling.

I just finished my assignment for this week, which was a reflection on our own biases and differences and how, as a counselor, this could affect us. We had to examine our self. What I have realized upon reading all the material and taking a few self-assessment quizzes, is that although I am a relatively unbiased person, I do have some slight prejudices. I accept this and will learn from this assignment that I will always need to self-assess and, of course, put my clients first.

The final project for this course is to interview a licensed counselor who works with your desired population. I tended to flip-flop on the population I want to work with. First, I wanted to work with women from postpartum to post-menopause. Then, a local girl took her life and that changed everything for me. I understood this girl because I was similar to her in my adolescence with severe depression. At the point I read about her suicide, I decided if I ever went back to school to become a therapist, I would counsel youth and adolescents. I believe helping this population can have staggering effects on their future as adults. Luckily, I know a fabulous child therapist. She is the one my daughter sees and has done wonders with her.

For next week’s assignment I need to advocate for my desired population concerning a topic that affects them. We can present this as a Powerpoint presentation, brochure, flyer, and blog post. What better way to express my advocacy than doing what I have already been doing through my blog!

So, in the next day or two, you will see a new blog post from me. It will not be in my usual format as I am required to use a couple of citations, but it will concern the mental health of our youth. I am sure many of my parental readers will find value in it.

I hope that you, my readers, will join me at the end of the tunnel, where the glimmer of light shines in this currently dismal world. Maybe by reading this post, you can find your own glimmer of light, your own glimmer of hope.

Poetry and Covid-19: “Droplets of Red”

I tried to remain positive but, hey, all of our lives have been turned upside down and I am fully convinced we are living somewhere in a cross between Groundhog’s Day and The Twilight Zone. To say I wasn’t back to the thoughts and feelings of last year would be a complete lie. It’s as if I never left.

Because of this I have been having some thoughts, bad thoughts, ideations, things I haven’t thought about first when I was 18 and then again at 35. I’ve expressed some of this in the poem below (again, not sure where the rhyming came from):

Droplets of Red

Eyelids heavy,

eyes darting beneath,

left to right,

What else would

happen on this

wretched night?

One body,

Two bodies,

lain on the floor

Within a

few days

are many more.

For them it was

the virus that

took them alive,

for me it was

the mental pain,

a plunging nosedive.

Ashamed

to admit this is a

selfish disease,

trying to think of

others as I ignore

my brain’s pleas.

Makes me

solidify my guilt for

feeling this way,

but we all have

valid feelings,

isn’t that what ‘they’ say?

I have felt

loss so great

in the last week or two,

my career, a loved one

and myself

to name a few.

I do not

deserve sympathy

for my grief,

It is so

selfish to think

that this would be brief.

My sanity, a

tiny grain of sand

on this lonely beach,

That blows in

the wind and

is just out of reach.

And now I look

down and see

crimson red,

and for the first time

in a long time thinking,

maybe, I should be dead.

No longer

contributing to my

family’s worth,

pondering

so much especially

my birth.

The bitch within

screams I am

no longer needed,

And at times

I believe

she has succeeded.

Living last year

severely depressed

still feeling the same,

There is no one

I more despise

than me insane.

I can’t explain all the

thoughts that swirl

in my head,

so I express my

internal pain with

droplets of red.

copyright 2020 – Stephanie Paige

*Disclaimer: I am under the watchful eye of both my psychiatrist and therapist. If you are self-harming or considering suicide, please reach out to someone. There is always help. Text CONNECT to 741741, the Crisis Text Line. Or call the Self Harm Hotline at 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8388)* or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Chronic Depression and COVID-19

I have had diagnosed depression for the last 26 years. I can barely remember a time when I didn’t have it. Honestly, I probably was depressed since birth. It is just how my brain is wired. I have always been a chronic pessimist, seeing the glass fully empty. I was the one who knew I wasn’t invincible and expected bad things to happen to me. I would stare at happy people and wonder why I wasn’t circuited that way. And then as I aged, I just accepted that I was never ever going to have a sunny disposition.

In the beginning, my depression started out with episodes of major depressive disorder. As a teen I had MDD because we moved to a different state right before high school. Then came the stress of completing my senior year in high school followed by beating myself up over a poor semester in college.

Then it morphed. It became postpartum depression bringing anxiety, a new friend, into the mix. At some point it changed to dysthymia with episodic MDD. Then, it metamorphosed into cyclical depression last year becoming difficult to treat and adding several bipolar disorder medications to my regime.

I was somewhat stable, let’s say status quo, and then COVID-19 hit, the global pandemic that has made us all feel like we’re living in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

At first it was my anxiety disorder that took possession of my body. I was worried that I would obtain this novel virus. This was enhanced by my daughter’s anxiety that had her thinking we were all going to contract and die from this coronavirus. It kept me awake as I could not shut my brain off even with 100mg of Trazodone, 100mg of Lamictal and 300mg of Gabapentin.

Then on April 1st anxiety departed and my chronic depression stood center stage. In the cruelest April Fool’s Day prank, I was laid off, except this was no joke. After I got off the phone with my boss, I told my husband I was going on a long walk. I was upset, crying (which is rare for me) and needed to clear my head. I wound my way through many local streets and the educational park. I couldn’t understand why. Yes, I knew on a large scale this was happening everywhere. I knew my company laid off 70% of their workforce and shut business down for who knows how long.

It was the smaller scale ‘Why me?!’ that was driving me into the dark abyss. There were four of us in the department who did the same thing. Two of us were let go. Why didn’t I make the cut?! I understood why one of the people in my department stayed but I couldn’t understand why the other one was there and I wasn’t. I had excellent reviews, my projects hadn’t been shut down yet, and I was not the last one hired. My husband explained to me that it was probably due to salary and I most likely was making more so to save the company money, I had to go.

But I couldn’t let go of this. It gnawed at my brain. The negative thoughts repeated themselves over and over again:

“You’re useless!”

“You’re worthless!”

“You sucked at your job! Why would they ever keep you?!”

“You’re not needed!”

“You couldn’t hold on to your job. Are you stupid?”

The guilt and self-loathing are the worst. I now feel as if I am not contributing anything to the family anymore. My income was almost equal to my husband’s. In my head we are now going to lose all our savings, including the savings we created for emergencies, you know like for a global pandemic! I just never thought we would have to actually use it. I have applied for unemployment and miraculously have not had to wait long as others have.

But the guilt is still there. I have self harmed several times since April 1st because I feel I deserve the pain. The loathing got worse when my coworker texted me for some information regarding one of my projects (the one who was hired after me). That day I had strong suicidal ideations. If I had a plan, who knows what I would’ve done. Luckily, I did not act on them and virtually met with my psychiatrist the next day and my therapist the day after.

It scares me. It scares me to not have anything to ‘do’. I’m petrified of how my thoughts may worsen. I thought my depression that lasted all of 2019 was bad, but this, this has gotten worse and in such a short amount of time.

I try to avoid my former coworkers because I am afraid of how this may trigger me. This is hard to do sometimes as my boss calls me weekly to ‘check in’. Check in on what? How sucky my life is right now? He called last Friday right after I found out that my uncle passed away due to COVID-19. Talk about triggers. I was done. I seriously did not know how I was going to survive anymore pondering the question ‘What else could go wrong?!’. Because, you know, I cannot view anything as a positive.

Both my psychiatrist and therapist suggested I create a schedule that way I am not dwelling on the negative thoughts. I am working on several of them now: One for rainy weekdays, one for sunny weekdays and one for weekends. I logically know this will help me. When I have things to do I can easily get out of my head. My negative thoughts do not stay away all day. They flutter in and out like a butterfly seeking just the right nectar. For the most part though I can tell them, my Inner Bitch, to shut up.

I am not really sure what the next few weeks or months will bring. I am sure I will be riding this rollercoaster for awhile, with a few contently lucid climbs, many spiraling downfalls and some corkscrews constantly circling my brain.

I just have to hold on for the ride and not let go.

I Am My Own Worst Enemy

Worst Enemy 001

I scroll through social media often, probably too much honestly. During 2019 it often made me more depressed than I already was seeing all the positive things happening to my friends. Yes, I know of impostor syndrome and I know people rarely like to post about negative aspects of their lives, but these positives were too much for me to bear. I felt happy that my friends had great things going on in their lives albeit new babies, new jobs, exciting vacations. Then I would turn inward and repeatedly tell myself how horrible I was and that I haven’t accomplished nearly what I thought I would. Because…

I am my own worst enemy!

We all are. Most of us tell ourselves we can do better. Just strive harder, work longer, sleep less to have more time to do more stuff. The one major addition to this is the two (yes two!) episodes of major depressive disorder I was going through in the majority of 2019 (I swear there were maybe 3 months I was my typical self). Because of this stagnant disorder, I kept repeating the horrible thoughts about myself and the lack of things I succeeded in fulfilling that whole year.

It wasn’t enough that I was successful at my job. It wasn’t enough that my husband and daughter were happy and healthy. It wasn’t enough that I spoke with the school superintendent concerning mental health awareness with our youth. It wasn’t enough that due to the latter, the schools have actively been creating more awareness through round table meetings and district meetings. It wasn’t enough that I had two amazing events surrounding my book.

I just wasn’t enough. Because I am my own worst enemy.

2020 started off with me coming to the realization that I had to leave my major depressive episodes behind. I had to be the change. I gave myself a chance to look at life with a new perspective and with an exception of a couple of days, I have been a content and determined woman. I am deeply adamant to not take up residence with major depressive disorder this year.

And then I scrolled through my social media accounts. I noticed several of my friends amazing activities. One just completed a marathon in Disney world. Another had images of almost daily breathtaking hikes. And a third was showing off the muscles they have gotten due to the gym routine they started last year. And me… what did I have to show off my former strength?! That’s right… Nothing!

I have gone to the gym two times since the new year. I went on several dog walks with my mush, Princess. This time, unlike all of 2019, I had an epiphany. The only one who was stopping me from regaining the stable and strong version of myself was me. As hard as it will be, I need to motivate myself to head to the gym, to hike, and to (hopefully) snowshoe. I need to stop make excuses… I’m too tired, I don’t feel well, I’ll start next week (or month, or year). I was never going to be strong if I didn’t even try.

It will be difficult. I had a whole year of making excuses. A year filled with lack of hunger and mobility. But I have to at least give myself a chance, right?! I have to stop being my own worst enemy because if I stay this way, I won’t ever become stable. I know from past experience how much exercise helps my mental well-being. I feel strong after a good strength training session and I feel so rejuvenated after a long hike or snowshoe excursion. I guess this time I have to keep reminding myself how I feel after and that may be all the motivation I need.

I will always be my own worse enemy, but maybe, just maybe, this year I could be accepting of who I am and become my own friend. I deserve to feel better. I deserve to be stable. I deserve to be happy.

Worst Enemy 002

2019, The Year and The Decade

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2019, I can’t say that I am not happy to see you go. I spent most of you in a chronic depressive state. Riding a roller coaster to the point of  my depression becoming cyclical but not quite bipolar. You taught me about self-harm, the urge to see myself in pain, to control something in my life, to feel some sort of emotion. You brought me death of someone close to me, death of my book and its publishing company. You made me lose myself again and again. You turned me into a weak being so unsure if my strength would ever return.

But, 2019, I can’t say all of you was bad. I did two book signings and with that made a good group of friends with other authors. One night together in May and we became so connected that we still chat almost daily. You gave me Princess, the sweetest rescue dog who has brought me so much solace and love. You sent me to California, albeit via a stressful project. I got to see the desert of southern CA including pieces of Joshua Tree National Park. You brought me to some beautiful trails in Vermont. I can definitely say I saw many beautiful things in nature this year.

And your decade, 2019. So much has occurred from 2010 to now. I went through my hardest, deepest episodes of depression. I almost had a son. I loved this boy from the moment I met him and there is still a piece of my heart that is his. You sent me to the short term psych ward in the hospital once again. A place that both scares me and helps me. You introduced me to EMDR therapy, a therapy that saved my life after the grief of having to return my boy to DCF due to my failing mental health. You rewarded me with a new job that gives me the opportunity to travel to places I have never been… Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia and areas of California. You were the decade of my 30s, my decade of learning.

Now I need to turn my attention to 2020, and the decade that will be my 40s. I bid you farewell 2019. My aim will be to try not to look back. I am determined to make your successor the year of strength. I am not going to make excuses anymore and live in your shadow.

I woke up this morning a little giddy. Excited that you will be gone in less than 24 hours. That I can take my life back, take me back from the spiraling depression you put me in. I will return to the gym. I will eat correctly again (heck, I’ll eat again). I will take back what is rightfully mine. I will focus on my mental health, taking inventory of what I need and exploring other therapies, other medications. I will welcome 40 with open arms in February, living it up with friends and family (trying new craft beers, yum!). I will get back to my blog, back to True Crime Tuesdays, back to possibly republishing Rising From the Ashes.

And this decade coming up… there is so much that will happen. My baby girl will graduate middle school in 2020, high school in 2024 and most likely college all in the next ten years. There is a chance I will see her get married toward the end of the decade. There will be many more trips to see places & things I never have, like the redwoods of northern CA and the cheese state of Wisconsin. I will continue to write, focusing on the other books that have be swirling around in my head. Maybe I will become a peer specialist, just a plethora of possibilities.

There is so much that I can make happen, and for the first time in a long while, I am excited!

Adios 2019! Sayonara 2010-2019! Good-bye 30s!

Welcome 2020, my 40s, my time to bring me back!

“Reflection”

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When I used to look into the mirror,

I saw a happy, sunshine smile, confidence, compassion and empathy,

Colossal amounts of love, being loved, giving love,

I saw strength the trifecta; muscles, grin lines, intelligence,

And then it all drifted away on a stormy wind.

Now I see hatred with my bitch taking the lead,

On a chariot, riding fiercely with her friends, negativity and loathing,

I see the emptiness in my lack of emotion (laughing no more)

In my eyes that used to shine it’s grassy green hue (now forlorn),

I see my weakness’ growing in numbers,

They prevail over any good I once saw.

I see the scars, tiny slashes on my wrist,

The memory of the internal pain, guilt, and yes, some shame,

The urge rising to repeat the action,

The bitch yelling I deserve the agony, the suffering,

More scarlet droplets trailing down my arm,

And the repetitive thought of how much worse will it get.

The reflection I see, is not a happy one, not a sad one, it is a blank one,

One that feels nothing, embraces apathy,

I am not sure it will change, although I know it did before,

What was that? With pills, therapy and self care I’ll thrive?

Ha, I am doing all those and still nothing changes, fight no more.

With the bitch infinitely cackling, I now take on advice given many times:

Acceptance is key; I invite you in, on my sofa, to envelope me, for eternity.

© Stephanie Paige 11/26/19

Just An Unhealthy Fantasy

I was doing well. It had been over 2 months since I last cut myself. The mood stabilizer was working (thank you Lamictal!). All was good… until it wasn’t.

I should’ve known.

For some reason, I am not allowed to be stable for long periods of time. The last time I self harmed was Saturday, July 13th.

I am not even 100% sure why I did it. It was the first time in weeks that I acted out on my fantasies. These fantasies aren’t romantic, or frankly, happy. It is a constant thought in my head of me with any sharp object, lightly cutting the spot on my body of preference. When I feel sad, the visions are more abundant with the negative thoughts to back them up. I succumbed to them that Saturday evening as I sat with a case cutter and nicked my wrist (nowhere near my arteries). I am not going to lie, it felt good. It felt like a release of stress and tears I so desperately wanted to cry.

But why was I consistently fantasizing about self harming myself?

I attributed the latest episode to a culmination of this delusional thought that I would be laid off and with my daughter leaving for a 2 week vacation in Alaska with my parents soon. At this time, she was crying non-stop about not wanting to go, about the long plane flights, and about missing her father and I. I was stoic in front of her but crying inside. I needed to let my pain out. And so, I cut.

The fantasies still persist.

My daughter left last Sunday. With her away, I have been down and empty, two emotions that feed the depression beast inside of me. I’ve welled up with tears the last few days about how much I miss her and need her with me. It took her going on vacation to make me realize how much I counted on her as a strength for me. My husband, yes is a huge strength, but he isn’t as compassionate and empathetic as my daughter. Once I realized that I relied on her so much, a 12-year-old girl, I felt more shitty. Negative thoughts have been spewing in my brain since then.

On top of my daughter being away, the delusion about being laid off is as strong as ever. Everything that does or doesn’t happen at work I take as a sign that feeds this delusion. I didn’t get a new location to work on… well I must be getting laid off. I am not invited to go see my location that is opening next week… see, getting laid off. It’s August (layoffs happen in February and August), just tell me now.

Stephanie, why couldn’t you be better at your job?! And, on the flip side, if it does happen, what did I do wrong?!

And now, I fantasize about cutting… ALL. THE. TIME.

To take away the pain. To solidify every negative thought in my head. To relieve the tears I can’t physically expel. So many reasons.

But I have remained strong and have not acted on it. And I hope that it remains that way, just an unhealthy fantasy…

*Disclaimer: I am under the watchful eye of both my psychiatrist and therapist. If you are self-harming or considering, please reach out to someone. There is always help. Text CONNECT to 741741, the Crisis Text Line. Or call the Self Harm Hotline at 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8388)*

 

It Takes A Suicide…

July 6th was a rough day for the people in my town. Many somber faces questioning, “Why? Why would she?” They were clueless. All they saw was a happy girl who had a loving family and friends. A preteen about to start the 7th grade in a little over a month.

They didn’t understand. And how could they?!

Unless you have been there or have known someone who has been there, you can’t fathom what would make a person want to take their own life. I understand because I have had that mental pain before, I have suffered from suicidal ideation before. I know what it is like to want to leave the world.

It’s hard hearing when it is a grown adult. Harder when it is a teenager. Definitely the hardest when it is a 12 year old.

My daughter did not know this girl personally. Sophia is a grade ahead and never had any classes or extracurriculars with her. When I showed her a photo, she commented that she had seen her in the halls but that was it. Sophia was saddened to hear about this girl and wondered what we could do.

I, like many others… friends, family, community members, teachers… donated a bit of money to her funeral expenses.

But what more could I do?

How many times I had read articles recently about teens and even preteens in our area taking their life… too many. What could cause this? What could change to prevent this?

I had decided even before this child ended her life to speak to the school about further mental health education at the start of the next school year. Being a huge advocate, I was curious last year when my daughter discussed health class what she was learning. She told me that other than stress and coping techniques, there wasn’t much. We had discussed her anxiety disorder at the beginning of last school year with her guidance counselor. He expressed to us that he would meet with Sophia once a month to check in with her. How many times did he meet with her?

… Zero!

That was when the anger in me started to boil. It was beginning to rapid boil, a pot about to overflow with lava hot water. I was furious. Not necessarily in the case of my daughter because she had a therapist and parents who could recognize her anxiety. But what about the next child? What if that child had no support system at home? What if their parent(s) didn’t believe mental illness is real? What if their guidance counselor was their only support? What then?

That child could have easily taken their own life because no one checked in with them.

We received an email from the school superintendent on behalf of her and the middle school principal regarding the recent suicide of this young girl the day after she took her life. At the end of the email it stated that we should not hesitate to contact either one of them.

I immediately wrote them both an email.

I told them my story about how I was diagnosed at 14 with major depressive disorder but probably had it earlier. I reiterated what Sophia told me about lack of mental health education and wanted to know what the schools were actually doing aside from the one 2-hour grief counseling session. I really didn’t think I would get a response. To my shock, the superintendent wrote me back that same day, a Sunday, saying she would like to discuss this further with me. After much back and forth, we agreed to meet one weekday morning. My daughter came with me.

Prior to the meeting, I was pretty angry with school system. This was solely based off of what happened with Sophia’s guidance counselor and the lack of mental health education in health class. But I went into the meeting with an open mind. I highly doubted the schools did nothing, but I wanted to know what resources, if anything, were available. I was shocked to learn that aside from the 3 guidance counselors (1 for each grade in the middle school) there was a school psychologist and a social worker just for the middle school. All the teachers were learned in mental health first aid. They were using a Tier system model:

  • Tier 1: Mental Health Awareness
  • Tier 2: School guidance counselors, teachers, staff, school psychologist and social worker are brought in to discuss a child’s welfare
  • Tier 3: Police and/or Mobile Crisis Intervention is called

I was glad that was all in play. Very important. Then I asked:

“But what about the kids? What are the kids learning? Do they know where they could go if they are suffering? What resources are available to them?”

Both the superintendent and middle school principal agreed that this was an area they were lacking in. They did teach about stress and feeling “off” in health class but did not come right out and name the conditions (Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar, etc.) which of course feeds the stigma. The principal did express that they were focusing this year on mental health awareness (last year was bullying). They wanted to know if I had any ideas.

Oh boy, did I!

I first told them the story of Sophia and her guidance counselor. Both seemed annoyed that the counselor did not check in with her and were going to make sure that didn’t happen again. They did express to Sophia that she should not feel like she is a burden and to come and see him (the principal) or her guidance counselor whenever she needed.

I said there should be some way to let the kids know that there is a suicide hotline and a crisis text line. They agreed.

I suggested having mental health first aid training for interested parents by supplying a place for it to be held.

I proposed having people who have been diagnosed come to speak to the schools via assembly. I had no shame, I will happily tell my story.

I asked that they let the parents know what resources were available as I, a parent advocating for youth mental health, had no idea. They agreed they would.

And then they hit me with something, a truth, but a big shock: Parents. How do we get more parents involved? After this young girl’s death to the time I met with them (about 2 weeks) I was the only parent to contact the superintendent. I was one of maybe 4 to contact the middle school principal. The dilemma is as simple as what the superintendent stated, “If it is not my kid, it’s not relevant to me.”

The superintendent suggested I sign up for the District Safe School Climate and Wellness Committee. This committee is comprised of parents, teachers, administrators, Board of Education members and even students. They meet about once a month during the school year. I quickly signed up. I am very excited about this and can’t wait for the first meeting.

At this point I was given homework. I am still trying to find answers to my homework. How do I get more parents involved?! How do I put the word out that their kids might be struggling and they might have no idea?! How do I get them to take suicide and mental health seriously when it is not “their kid”?!

And then, when all of the above is answered… how do I get these parents to interact with the schools in finding a cohesive mental health education program that can be used in school and at home for our kids?!

This child that ended her life… it shouldn’t have come to this point to create a year geared to mental health at the middle school. It shouldn’t have come to this point in asking parents to be more involved. This child should not have had to die for the rest of us to wake up. All this said, because of her, I will keep advocating for our children.

Rest in peace, sweet girl. May you not be in pain anymore.

1200px-Lifelinelogo.svg    Crisis Text Line

My New Family… The Barnes & Noble Book Event

I can’t lie, I have fantastic parents. They have grown so much in their views on mental illness. From telling me to keep my mouth shut to being proud about how open and honest I am with my suffering. I have a great husband, whom I chose. He is truly my best friend. He has seen the worst in me and the best and has always stood by me. My daughter is amazing, an old compassionate soul. A kind loving artistic creature and a huge support for me, her mom.

With their support, there has also been some great disappointment with other family members. Since I do not want to upset anyone, I am going to leave them alone and respect them for who they are even if they aren’t very supportive.

They say blood is thicker than water, but I do not believe that. There are plenty of people I know who are adopted or have been adopted and have terrific relationships with their adoptive families. There are many I know that chose friendships over their blood because their blood is just toxic.

I am lucky because I get to have a mix of both. Something a lot of people do not have.

I first ‘adopted’ my oldest and dearest friend ‘J’ as my younger sister. We met when she was 4 and I was 6. For the next few years we had many playdates that included dolls, dollhouses and Lego. Even though there were some years where we were apart, we rekindled our strong friendship and have since been in each other’s weddings and have supported each other with our children. I consider her 3 kids like my own, even though I haven’t met her youngest yet. We try to see each other every year although sometimes it goes longer. And you know what, we pick up conversation as if time hasn’t passed.

Recently, I am choosing to ‘adopt’ more siblings into my tight-knit family.

We all first met online. I know, creepy, right?! You never know who is really behind the online person. We were joined together by who we call our Supreme Leader… CEO and founder of both Stigma Fighters and our publishing company, Eliezer Tristan Publishing. I first met the Supreme Leader through Stigma Fighters as I am a frequent contributor… usually at least twice a year. We met in person at a reading in NYC at the NYU bookstore (wow, that is a lot of letters!) a few years back. What an amazing woman!. I totally love and admire her.

Well, she created this publishing company and was seeking authors who wanted to publish their books. Um, hi, hello, me! I jumped at the opportunity. And hence Rising From the Ashes, the book, was born on October 23, 2018. It is a collection of many of my blog posts here from its birth over 4 years ago until the summer of 2018.

Because of this book, I have met some great people. These people are my family now, including our Supreme Leader.

It all started one day a few months back with a text from the Supreme Leader, “Can you do a book signing in CT on May 17th?” Well, hell yeah I can! She proceeded to tell me that a few other local ETP (Eliezer Tristan Publishing) authors would be there as well. Awesome! I’ve read quite a few of their books and was ecstatic to meet them in person. Well, it got closer to the event, like May 13th closer, when the Supreme Leader didn’t know if she could make it. Usually flying standby, there were no available standby seats.

Panic commenced between the rest of us. We can’t do this without her! It was as if the sky was falling and we were Henny Penny. A group chat was started between us authors to try to raise money for our Supreme Leader and her 2 children, the Little Supremes, to get her here in CT for this event. This chat started out as the “I’m confused” chat because, frankly, we were all very very confused with the situation.

With some begging, a decent donation from myself, and pure luck, we were able to fly the Supreme Leader here. Sadly, one of our fellow authors remained back in Oregon to watch the Little Supremes. This author was my cover designer as well.

Well, in the mass confusion of whether or not our Supreme Leader would make it, Sarcastic Asshole (author of 100) was in a bit of a panic on where he was going to stay the evening of the 16th. Him and the Leader were supposed to be sharing an Airbnb. He was going to back out of coming. Well, I couldn’t have that… no Supreme Leader and no Sarcastic Asshole! No way. I invited Sarcastic Asshole to stay with me.

We had never physically met before. (Insert my mother panicking right now)

So after some mass confusion of which Union Station in CT he was coming into (Yes, we have more than one) and an Uber ride, Sarcastic Asshole landed on my doorstep. Honestly, it was like we were old friends. Conversation was easy with him. We were both very sarcastic people, and some of the oldies of the group of authors. He did think I was going to kill him though as he found my list of what not to do when committing a crime (expect that follow up blog post soon, see the first one here) and quickly took a swig from his bottle of Fireball. But all was well the next morning as we continued our sarcastic banter.

It was time to pick up Young Possum at the train station. After confirming which Union Station we were going to, Sarcastic Asshole and I popped in my car for what would be a fast trip up to Hartford… hahaha. Fast trip on a Friday?! No, CT believes that rush hour starts at 3pm on that day. It took some time but we made it there just in time as Young Possum exited the train station. Now Sarcastic Asshole, of course, started to be a sarcastic asshole with Young Possum but it was all in good fun.

We arrived in West Hartford and was quickly met by Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, her husband, best friend and the cutest toddler you have ever seen. Rabbit was the editor on my book. I admire her so much. What she has gone through and she always seems to have such a cheery positive disposition. Honestly, everyone from this event has gone through so much… so much that some of them shouldn’t physically be here. But that is their stories to tell.

Soon after, Corpse Bride and her mother arrived. I could tell she would fit in perfectly on the sarcasm meter.

But where was our Supreme Leader?!

As the event commencement time was approaching, again, all of us began to panic. What the heck were we going to do without her?! Our anxieties were quelled when she literally popped up in the room.

It’s funny though. If you had attended the event, you would never know that we all had met in person that night. Conversation flowed between us. We read from our books, clapped for each other and had a great panel discussion with the representative from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

I was saddened to see the night end. The drive back from West Hartford to my home was a depressed one for this depressive. I missed my new family greatly. None of us knew when another ETP event might happen. The thought of meeting these great people, brought together by mental illness, and not seeing or hearing from them for who knows how long overwhelmed me with sadness.

This sadness quickly dissipated as our private messaging has continued. I have totally ‘adopted’ all of them. They are not only friends. Each one of them… Supreme Leader, Sarcastic Asshole, Young Possum, Corpse Bride & Lucky Rabbit’s Foot, are now close family.

Totally looking forward to our next family event!

I believe it involves breaking things…


Note: I have used nicknames that we have given each other through our messaging and time together. If you would like to know, my given nickname is How To Get Away With Murder because of the above mentioned list and my true crime obsession. They can call themselves out, but I would like to keep their privacy if they do not want to.

And because I love them, I would like to promote their books (which kind of gives away their names):

100

In The Gray Area of Being Suicidal

Nobody

Stigma Fighters Anthology IV 

Untranslatable

Redeeming The Anti-Fairytale

And although my cover designer couldn’t be there, his book:

Cultural Savage: The Intersection of Christianity and Mental Illness

You will not be disappointed!