TW (Trigger Warning): Mentions of suicide
World Teen Mental Wellness Day is observed across the globe on March 2 every year. It is a day that aims to raise awareness about the mental health issues that teenagers deal with. This Day is about making efforts to educate everyone and destigmatize something that is becoming increasingly common.
In the United States suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for youth and young adults. At the world level suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15–19-year-olds. As I was looking up the facts about teen suicide my hands begin to tremble and my eyes welled up with tears. I have lost to many friends and family to suicide and I myself have tried to end my days here on earth way too many times. The fact that suicide for many of us seems like the only solution, says something about our world and the way mental health is addressed. I am going to tell you some of my story and some of the times suicide has affected me most.
The year was 1990/91. I had been taking stolen painkillers from my grandmothers’ meds since I was about 10. I sat there one early fall day and held a handful of powerful pain meds in my hand. I then put them in my mouth and swallowed – I had enough. I thought, “I can’t take school, the death of the people I love, or my mom any more”.
Life without My Shield
Life without my Moemoe was too much. MoeMoe was actually my cousin who lived across the road from me and my family. She was in her 60’s. She was a grandmother to me, a best friend, and my protector. She battled cancer for a few years but in the end, it took her. I was asked if I wanted to see her. I at 12 made the decision not to because I was scared. That was not a decision that I should have made. Death is so final and I never got to say goodbye. It’s like a lot of decisions I had to make as a kid. Some I just didn’t have enough life experience to make educated decisions.
With all of the death on top of extended family fighting and my life at school being terrible, I could not take it anymore. I didn’t want to be there. After downing the pills, I went off to school. I started dozing on and off as soon as we were in our classes for the day. I was sent to my mom’s building and she put me in the teachers break room where I sat in a chair, laid my head over onto the table and found sweet sleep. I don’t know how long I was asleep but I remember or maybe I have been told so often afterwards of the things that happened it’s been put in my memory. My mom’s friend who was a fifth-grade teacher was trying to help my mom shake me awake. I slightly remember hearing my name called from a far-off place. The next thing I know I am in the hospital and I’m being woken up to my nana sitting beside me, which was odd because I am the one that is supposed to be at her bedside.
I apparently had “slept” for a few days. I woke up with a headache that I had been having for weeks and it would not go away. Do to the lie I told I was able to avoid the omission of suicide attempt. Even so, I was kept for observation of my liver, heart, do scans of my brain and to get me hydrated. The story I had given at waking up was that my head hurt so I took some meds to make it go away and I didn’t know it was too much. The truth would not come out till later when I was taken to a doctor who was trying to figure out the cause of my headaches. She sent me (without an appointment) to a psychiatrist in her building and from there he put me in the mental hospital. I didn’t think he would believe me – no one else did. I was mad that I opened up to him. I hated going into the mental hospital. The entire experience was terrible.
What brought me here
I had been seeing a school therapist since I was in 3rd grade. The school therapist was a friend as well as a colleague of my mother. If I even suggested I was being hit, I was led to talk about why I was getting a “spanking” – literally being convinced how to accept the discipline that I deserved. They were convinced I was “being dramatic”. My entire life, my mom would defend me to the world but beat me in private. It wasn’t even that she wanted me to be a certain way. She literally just took her frustrations out on me. She too did not have the help she needed. She could not admit to herself or anyone around that she needed it till much later in life. My entire life was spent on how to keep my distance from my mom. How to not make her mad or give her opportunities to hurt me.
In the mental health hospital where I was hospitalized with adult men and women. My roommate was the only person my age. She had cut her wrist, and she is how I learned to cut myself. How to hide it if I wanted, and if I wanted to end it, how to cut a final way. It was not a safe place at all. The men were scary and overly aggressive. The women were everything from abusive mothers, addicts, and just plum crazy and there I was. What did my stay in the Mental Health Hospital get me besides the fact I learned to cut and or commit suicide by cutting my wrist? I learned every cuss word in the book, learned what beer tastes like, I smoked my first cigarette, I had a run in with OB that did way more touching and prodding that is standard. I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, and was put on medication that would make me hate the world. Through all the bad, I did learn that my mom loved me enough to drive 2 hours there and 2 hours back to see me every day for 3 weeks. It made me feel some sort of way because we did not have money for that.
When I got out I went back to 8th grade right at the time my once best friend was going through a terrible time. After a long ordeal, her boyfriend had killed himself in her front yard. My mom would not allow me near the funeral or my friend. Once back to school, it was that sweet friend that defended me against rumors of the mental hospital and one of the only people to act like I meant something to someone. I don’t think I ever told her how much she touched my life. She was one of the only reasons I made it alive out of that year. I figured if she could deal and get through her ordeal, I owed it to her and my family to try to make it.
My Uncle whom I never met and my mom
In the next few years my uncle, who I always heard was as the “messed-up” brother of my estranged father, would make several suicide attempts. I was sure if we could just meet, he would be the one that could explain the way I always felt to me. He would be the uncle that I had a bond with because we would both know what the pain of wanting to be dead was. He jumped off an overpass when I was around 15/16. I was crushed – how could he? He needed to be alive so when I’m old enough I can run off to meet him. He survived that but later on he would overdose from digging in a trash dumpster (for a fix probably). I never got to meet him but, in my heart, I loved him and felt so bad for him. I also felt sad for myself for a uncle I was depending on to explain these feelings to me. Then there was my mom. Before I could even get a good stand on life after the mental hospital my mom became my child, I would have to make sure she was doing the things she needed to do like paying pills, showing up for work, and taking care to not let her commit suicide herself. This went on till she tossed me out when I was 18.
Teens and mental health today
Teens think about life right now, they are in the moment. Not a lot of them think about the future as they should. A teen gets a bad picture of themselves leaked and they think the world will end. But in truth, in no time there will not even be a thought of that picture. Over and over again, I have heard stories about teens committing suicide and it was over things that could have easily been talked out. Why aren’t children and teens being offered free safe spaces to talk? Why do so many parents not see their children need help? Maybe because they themselves need help? They don’t want to be blamed for their kids’ actions, or don’t believe in therapy. Mental health starts for most of us when we are very young. Parents have the responsibility to get their children the right kind of health and not just allow the healthcare professionals to make decisions for you. Parents need to step up! However, it is not just the parents that need to step up, it is all of us. The family members, the community, the educational systems, religious establishments, as a solid unit need to work to bring mental health care to the forefront of everyone’s eyes. We combine as a world to normalize mental health care; the positive aspects are unstoppable.
There is a huge need for caring adults that are educated and well versed on children and teens’ mental health needs. Currently there just is not enough staff in schools, especially staff that has enough experience with mental health needs. We need to have more therapists in schools. Most schools only have one to two and that is not enough. Our teachers need to have more training in mental health. Honestly, I feel like instead of just physical checkups yearly mental health checks should be a part of the protocol. I feel like this isn’t just for young teens, we need to remember our older children as well need help. They are so new to the world we can’t just push them out and think they will be ok.
Another story of suicide
I will wrap this blog up with the first time I really understood suicide and what it does to those around us. I had a friend online and he was in college. Our paths would come so close to crossing but somehow we would just keep missing each other. However, we talked via the phone quite often and on webcam when we could. He became my good friend. One day he called me up to check on me, when it ended up being he was the one who needed checking in on. He told me how his parents were stressing him out. How his pretend girlfriend didn’t want to pretend any more and how his real girlfriend, who was much older than him, was putting a lot of pressure on him to come out of the closet with her. She was fat and his parents would not accept that from him. He was a mess that day. I remember saying to him, “Why don’t you go talk to a counselor”. He told me, “No one can help me; I just have to figure it out”. We ended with Love you and it will get better.
I hung up that night with a heavy heart for my friend. A week later I would get a dm from a friend saying that I needed to go read a forum on a site a bunch of my friends used. What was I reading, why was it full of posts saying RIP? I could not comprehend what was going on. There had to be a mistake. I refused to believe it! I refused to. I called his phone, no answer. I googled everything I could in his town, his college, and I read ever post everyone left online. I was devastated. NO. I had an unread message on line from him that asked if I wanted to chat. WHY, WHY, WHY …I had not seen it. Finally, I was able to email his gf. People warned me she would not be nice because she would think he and I had something. It just was not like that with us. Never. She was cold but not mean, and she told me the details of which included he committed suicide just 3 days after we spoke. When had he sent the message? What if I had just replied?
I had nightmares for months and months. It wasn’t fair he was dead and I was alive. He had so much to give to the world and I had nothing. For months I cried and stayed rolled in a ball until finally something in me broke… I have to live for him. I have to live and I have to help others not get to the point of no return. Every time I speak out about suicide, every time I talk about anything with Mental Health, it is for him. RIP Derek… You had so much to give.
Do you have a teen child? Do you work with teens? Don’t let this be their outcome. Give a bit more time to see, really see the children in your life. Help them understand mental health is as important to maintain as their physical health. Help teens have the tools by the time they reach adulthood to take care of themselves. Make Mental Health awareness a thing in your home. Let’s protect teens from themselves. In the long run it is helping ourselves as well. No more lives should have to be lost!
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