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.

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They Should’ve Warned Me… The PMAD Addition

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I recently read a blog post (written in 2015/revised in 2017) by Jenny Studenroth Gerson on the Huffpost which left me slightly angry and annoyed. Actually, ‘slightly’ is an understatement. I was pissed. In the post, They Should’ve Warned Me, Jenny explains that throughout her pregnancy, she was told to “sleep while you can”, “enjoy your husband now”, and “You’ll never have time to shower.”

Then she proceeds to explain how ‘they should’ve warned her’ about the immense love she would have the second her child was born. About how crying is happy thing. About how you would love your husband so much more. About how eating healthy would create enough milk to nourish your child. About how even being extremely exhausted, waking up in the middle of the night to take care of your child is so rewarding. About how the little cries and screams wouldn’t piss you off but make you feel like a rock star… and so on and so on.

As someone who suffered from two PMADs (Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder), I was angry after reading this. First off, you do not need a ‘warning’ about loving your child. Everything she lists in this post are happy things (and frankly I can’t buy that all of them are true). Who needs a warning that you are going to cry at your child’s birth because you are happy?! Really?! With all this anger, I decided I needed to counteract this post with one of my own that deserves the word ‘warned’ in the title:

They Should’ve Warned Me: The PMAD Addition

12 years ago, I suffered. I suffered first from severe postpartum anxiety that slowly morphed into severe postpartum depression. This is what ‘they’, whoever ‘they’ are, should’ve warned me and, in turn, you about:

  • They should’ve warned me that my anxiety would start right after birth. That I would constantly worry if my daughter was getting enough colostrum. That I would have anxiety attacks in those first few hours in the hospital about why after 2-3 hours she wasn’t brought to me for a feeding.
  • They should’ve warned me that the anxiety would only grow as I had to identify the color of her poop. Is it green? Is it mustard in color? Is it brown?
  • They should’ve warned me that breastfeeding is hard work and sometimes it is not the right answer to feeding your child and that that is okay. Why is she falling asleep on my boob after 5 minutes? Is she eating enough? Oh God, what’s wrong with her?!
  • They should’ve warned me that although crying is normal, keep an eye on it, it could develop into something more than Baby Blues. I cried from day one. Sure it started out being 3-4 times a day but it slowly grew in excess of six times a day.
  • They should’ve warned me that sleep is important and to push for it. Yeah, I get it, you’re not going to sleep much when you have a newborn, but if you have a prior mental health condition (such as myself with depression) then those around you should know the importance sleep plays in your life and allow you to rest for a few hours.
  • They should’ve warned me that my anxiety would worsen that no matter what I tried to eat, it wouldn’t stay down. That vomiting would become my new way of life. That Ensure won’t cure it all and that the smell of chicken cooking would have me running to the bathroom.
  • They should’ve warned me about how my love for my infant would grow into hatred. That with each shriek, I would want to pull out my hair or bang my head against the wall.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would become hysterical enough to make plans to run away, that my husband and daughter would be better off without me. That the whole world would be better off without me.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would scare my family and friends with my hysterics.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would see myself as useless, unworthy and undeserving of love.
  • They should’ve warned me that all this would occur in the first month postpartum and would culminate into admitting myself into short-term psych.
  • They should’ve warned me I would have to be inpatient for 12 days.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would go through many therapy & psychiatry appointments after my stay.
  • They should’ve warned me that I would go through multiple medication changes that first year to find just the right combination.
  • They should’ve warned me that it would be a few months before I loved my child again.

And…

  • They should’ve warned me that it would be a year before I would smile for real.

PMADs deserve warnings. The things Jenny Studenroth Gerson mentions in her article do not. It took me to one year postpartum to feel like myself again. To fully embrace my daughter with infinite love. To know my life is the way it was meant to be. For some women it is longer. Although most women will not be affected by a PMAD, there is a high percentage that are. About 1 in 5 women will experience postpartum depression. That’s just one PMAD. Let’s not forget about postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD, and postpartum psychosis. These are things to be warned about.

If I could tell Jenny Studenroth Gerson one thing it would be:

Research your definition of ‘warn’. Most women understand and have the immense love for their partner and child at birth. Most women will successfully breastfeed. Most women will cry tears of joy when their baby coos or cries. But you need to realize that over 20% of the postpartum population will not feel that. They will not see these items as warnings (and they didn’t, I took to my Warrior Mom community with this one). Some will find your article cruel, like if they didn’t feel what you did, they weren’t as loving as a mother as you are. And, if they read this while going through a PMAD, it would just make them feel worse. I understand you enjoyed your postpartum stage (and around 80% of mothers will) but please show compassion for the rest of us.

If you are someone you know is suffering from a PMAD (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder) resources can be found at the sites below:
The Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness
Postpartum Support International
2020 Mom
If you know a mother or are a mother considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at
1-800-273-8255
or text 741741