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?

——————————————————————————————————————–

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

“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

“Invisible” – A Poem

I’ve begun to write poetry again. I thought it was a single solitary day a couple of weeks back when I posted a poem, Hidden Pain, on my struggling with mental illness, but it isn’t. When I write poetry, it means I am not doing well. Something is off and I don’t know what and frankly, that frightens me. But like all the many times, years, decades before, I will bounce back (even if I can’t believe it right now).

This past Saturday was especially rough and led to the following poem:

IMG_20191026_154908_303

 

Invisible

Pieces and parts,

Broken and torn,

Scattered like dirt,

Upon the filthy floor so worn,

Walked on, moved and kicked,

Sucked up and tossed,

One day present,

The next day lost.

 

A microscopic piece of soil,

Flows down the drain,

Quickly gone,

No remnants remain,

The water falls,

Descending me further,

Leaving my home,

Towards the sewer.

 

Asking too much,

Not asking enough,

“What do you want from me?!”

Can’t be strong enough,

Whining, yelling,

Calling my name,

I see you, I hear you,

I feel so ashamed.

 

Always putting myself last,

Pouring from an empty cup,

Who will be there

To help pick me up?

I’ve fought for so long,

Pleasing all of you,

Neglecting my wants,

To appease you two.

 

I walk away,

Down the street,

A little further,

Watching my feet,

I keep going,

Wondering when,

I’ll hear from you,

Asking me where I am.

 

How long will it take,

Before you notice I left?

Walking, wondering,

Breath after breath,

A minute, an hour,

A mile or two,

What does it feel like,

When no one is looking for you?

 

Angry and empty,

(Maybe loved and wanted?)

Crying inside,

So tremendously disappointed,

Sometimes it’s hard to know,

When you’re treated so poor,

When you become invisible,

Alone and ignored.

© Stephanie Paige 10/28/19

 

Mental Health Monday: Poetry “Hidden Pain”

Depression_art_Getty_crop_2

I had a rough day early last week. When I am having one of those days, I write poetry:

Hidden Pain

I am good at masking my pain,

It is a lesson I learned long ago,

Smile,

For the camera,

With a friend,

Along at work,

Hiding the pain that never ends.

 

I am lonely all the time,

Even with family and friends,

Alone,

When the sun rises,

As the wind blows,

Amongst company,

The negative thoughts always flow.

 

I am an expert at falsities,

Creating an alternate reality,

Growth,

Shame that has prevailed,

Hatred that boils,

Losing myself once again,

Being stuck in internal turmoil.

 

I am beginning to think this is it,

I am meant to internally suffer,

Pain,

Mental, like no other,

A black hole of sorts,

An emotional anguish,

Forever a ring of retort.

 

I am tired of constantly feeling this way,

So drained of strength that I seem to portray,

Tired,

When the sun has risen,

As the faux smile is reborn,

Over and over,

My body slashed and torn.


Stephanie Paige © 9/28/19

Mental Health Monday: My Hospital Roommate

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The first time I was hospitalized for mental illness I had two roommates. The first, child-like but middle aged, I would see years later in the same ward. It is the second roommate I had that comes to my mind right now. Unfortunately I do not remember her name as it was over a decade ago (almost 13 years in fact) but she is now making a vivid appearance in my mind.

At the time she was roughly the age I am now, hovering around 40. She had long wavy dark brown hair and glasses. What I used to remember about her was the fact that her sleep movements were monitored. She walked with a cane for reasons unknown to me and because of it every night the nurses would wrap some band-like contraption around her waist. It was for her own safety, physical safety that is. Mental safety would come later. If she fell out of bed, honestly if she moved at all, this alarm would go off.

I remember it waking me up several evenings. The lights would expeditiously fly on with nurses racing through the door. Sure it annoyed me at first, but I was so drugged up I usually fell asleep again rather quickly among the commotion.

But I absorbed a lot more of her than I realized at the time. An abundant amount that lay dormant until now. I am now becoming her.

Like myself, she was one point of a triangle family along with her husband and child as the others. In her case a 15-year-old son, in my case an almost 13-year-old daughter. A triangle, the strongest shape you learn in geometry (and structures if studying architecture). But, what if one of those points fails? What happens to the others?

This roommate’s husband and son visited her almost daily. She had told me that she has been in and out of psychiatric wards for years, since her son was a preschooler. I remember feeling compassion for her… and pity. I couldn’t believe that she constantly put her husband and son through that over and over again.

Oh karma! What goes around comes around. I understand this perfectly.

While I didn’t know it at the time, she was my future. We, her and I, are the same. Although I have only been hospitalized twice for mental illness, I have been battling and fighting this war for years with my husband and daughter in the middle of the combat zone strategically avoiding the rapid open fire.

Like my roommate’s husband and son, I know my husband and daughter love me. They continuously comfort me in their own weird ways. But I wonder… When will they break? When will they say they can’t handle me anymore? When will I become too much of a burden?

For now I think about this woman, taking in what she had and hoping she still has it as she is my equivalent. She is me, I am her. We are the same, yet different. Both struggling internally on an infinite loop while being extremely grateful for those we have and hope to keep.

True Crime Tuesdays – “I Did It All For You, Jodie!”

John_Hinckley_Jr

I don’t know much about John Hinckley Jr. All I knew prior to watching the recent Dateline episode (Season 27, Episode 52) was that he shot President Reagan. After all, I had just had my first birthday a month prior. My focus was on taking my first steps, not true crime. That would come much later.

When I saw the Dateline preview for the episode “Hinckley: Diary of a Dangerous Mind” I became intrigued. I never knew why he did what he did. I never knew that when he shot President Reagan, he shot several other people. And I never knew that the reason behind him shooting the president all lied with his tremendous infatuation with actress Jodie Foster.

Within the episode, they had interviewed some of Hinckley’s childhood chums. They described him as this nice kid, friendly, caring. And then something happened. He changed. He became paranoid. As his friends described him, I jumped up from the sofa scaring my husband as I shouted, “He has schizophrenia!” Leave it to my mentally ill mind to know. I, myself, am not a schizophrenic, but know several people who are and the one thing they all have in common is that their symptoms first appeared in their late teens/early 20s. I have to admit, I high-fived my husband when they did finally diagnose him.

But I digress. A little background on John Hinckley Jr.: He was born in Oklahoma in 1955 to well-to-do parents. Money was not an issue in their house. He grew up in Texas through elementary school on and even into his college years. Because of the symptoms of his mental illness, he wound up dropping out of college and moving back in with his parents who were then living in Colorado.

It was here that he came up with his plan, the plan to shoot (and hopefully kill) the president. Why? Jodie Foster. I know, I know, how are the two connected? My husband and I were greatly perplexed by this, sitting on the edge of the sofa about to fall off, staring at the TV with our faces in a puzzling look. Then the answer was given… the movie Taxi Driver.

Ah, yeah, Taxi Driver! I see the correlation. Totally! (Remember, I was a baby when Reagan was shot. I wasn’t even born when Taxi Driver was released).

So, to put all the points into perspective… Jodie Foster plays a prostitute in Taxi Driver (released in 1976). The lead, played by Robert DeNiro, is a Vietnam Vet who is now driving a taxi through the streets of NYC. He slowly becomes insane and starts to plan the assassination of the presidential candidate and Jodie Foster’s pimp.

Okay, now it is making more sense. Hinckley was obsessed with this movie. This movie was where his obsession with Jodie Foster was fostered (hah, like my play on words there?!). This movie’s lead goes insane. Hinckley was going insane. The lead plans to assassinate the presidential candidate… aha! Hinckley plans to assassinate a president.

Now I got it. All the dots are connected.

On March 30th, 1981, Hinckley fired 6 shots into a large crowd aimed at President Reagan. His first few shots hit police officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and press secretary James Brady. It wasn’t until the very last shot, that he hit Reagan. The bullet squeezed by through the small gap at the hinge of the car door and hit Reagan in chest. Reagan recovered as did the others shot, although some of them did not fare as lucky as others.

Hinckley is quickly tackled and arrested after the shooting. It is at this point where they have a psychiatrist see him. He was then given the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Throughout this whole time (prior to the shooting and after) he is in constant contact with (who else?) Jodie Foster. He created this romantic relationship in his head. Called her dorm room. Wrote her letters. He was in love, the obsessive, stalker kind, but in love nonetheless. Meanwhile, Jodie thought the complete opposite. Frankly, he was nothing to her but an annoying man.

Hinckley is brought to trial in 1982. Everyone is 100% positive that he will be found guilty. I mean, there are over dozens of witnesses. The courtroom is waiting with baited breath as the jury files in and reads the verdict…

“Not guilty by reason of insanity!”

The courtroom was in shock! No jail time for someone who shot the president?!

It isn’t that Hinckley got off Scott-free. He was sent to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D.C. During his hospital stay, he decided that conversing with other criminals would be a really good hobby. He and Ted Bundy became good pen pals. He wrote with one of Charles Manson’s women, Lynette Fromme. He tried to get Manson’s contact info but never received it (I guess Manson swiped left on Tinder).

Hinckley did fall in love while in the hospital. He fell for a woman 10 years his senior who was taking up residence there because she shot and killed her 10-year-old daughter. During this tragedy, she cut her arm off as well. The two were crazy about each other and would meet outside, walk together and even enjoyed some sexual escapades. They were so in love that when this woman was released she took a job at St. Elizabeth’s to remain near him. I am not sure how this was allowed by the staff…

In 1987, Hinckley made his first attempt at freedom. He applied to the court for periodic home visits. Because of his correspondence with mass-murderer Ted Bundy, and his continued obsession with Jodie Foster, he was denied.

He was given supervised home visits in 1999. A year later, 2000, the hospital decided he was ready to see the world and suggested unsupervised visits. Not sure what they were thinking, but they quickly realized this was a bad idea and changed their minds.

Throughout 2004 and 2005, Hinckley regained supervised visits with his parents. September of 2005, he requested expanded privileges. He received multi-night visits with his parents, who were now living in Williamsburg, VA. In 2007, Hinckley wanted more. He was denied.

In 2009, he was allowed longer visits with his mother (his father had passed away) and he was allowed a driver’s license. With this he had to have a GPS enabled cellphone to which he had to carry all the time.

In 2011, the hospital deemed him safe and not a danger to himself or society. The Department of Justice disagreed.

In 2013, he received longer visits with his mother, now allowing him 17-day stretches.

After over 30 years at St. Elizabeth’s, John Hinckley Jr. was released on September 10, 2016 into the hands of his aging mother who was 90 at the time. He had a whole bunch of conditions he had to keep in order to stay free and seemed to maintain them all. As of November 2018, the court allowed him to move out of his mother’s house and is live on his own.

I know for a fact that he still resides in Williamsburg, VA as I have a friend there who has seen him. He lives a normal life, goes shopping, has a girlfriend.

But what would a good true crime story be without a good humorous twist?! Am I right?!

As of September 10, 2019, Hinckley is seeking permission to move to California. Why? To enter the music business. The judge is reviewing and requesting additional information.


An interesting side note: Hinckley didn’t care which president he tried to assassinate, there was no democrat/republican angle. He is seen in a photograph standing in a crowd behind President Carter. He just never had the right angle. So Reagan was next.

Okay, okay, so what do I think about Hinckley living a “normal” life?
As a person with mental illness, I think he deserves a second chance at a “normal” life. He spent many years, decades, at an institution. He sees a therapist and a psychiatrist. He is what I like to call “in remission”. Why shouldn’t he deserve another chance at life?!
But to play devil’s advocate… he shot a president! He shot other people as well. No, none of them died (although Brady’s death was ruled a homicide 33 years after the shooting). I often wonder what would’ve happened if he succeeded. But, what ifs are pointless.

 

If you enjoyed this installment, please check out last week’s: “I’m Gonna Be A YouTube Sensation!”