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

“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

17MODERNLOVE-articleLarge

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.

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