Over the past few weeks, Out of the Shadows has brought you in-depth reports of children and their families suffering from mental illness. Our series concludes with a mother's personal account of a most devastating outcome: suicide.
Barely two months ago, Maria's daughter, Alicia, took her own life, just days before she was to return to her sophomore year at college. Alicia's suicide was shocking, not because the family wasn't aware of her depression, but precisely because they were aware of it. They'd treated and supported her condition for years and felt very close as a family. Her death has left an unbearable pain - and many unanswered questions.
Here's Maria's story.
(Note: The names of the participants have been changed to protect their privacy.)
[Alicia] was very passionate. She would open her heart with no reservations—maybe expecting others to do the same. The saddest part is, she was able to help others and not help herself. You don’t know it—you can’t see that pain. It’s not one that is bleeding. But it’s bleeding internally. And you don’t see that blood coming through.
I will ask my daughter, are you happy? She will say “No, I haven’t gotten there.” Was she telling me the truth? I don’t know, I don’t know. I never saw it. She never made an attempt. The fact that taking an anti-depressant can give you suicidal thoughts—how can a medication give you suicidal thoughts? That’s what you wanted to avoid. It doesn’t make any sense
I remember filling her papers for college, and in the papers it said, “Are there any concerns you would like us to know about your child?” And I took the time to write out “my child has depression.”
It was not until her cat—or, our cat—died that she went to a counselor; it wasn’t the right fit. She didn’t like it, she never went back.
Another parent has told me recently that she has a daughter with depression and that was part of her contract with her—if you want us to pay for your room and board and your tuition, and your support, in return, you need to see a therapist every week and you need to call us once a week. Not an e-mail, not a text, we want to hear your voice. Wow, I wish somebody would have told me that.
She finished both semesters with great grades and she came home, she went out, she was not super busy—kind of relaxing, spending a lot of time on the computer, especially on a site called Tumblr, describing depression as “the monsters in the dark.”
The nights were the worst for her. I was never a big fan of Facebook, Tumbler, Myspace, or any of them. I tell my kids I said, “Did you really have 800 friends? A 1000 friends? I don’t see them coming through this door. What’s the fictitious world you’re creating out there? When you see these friends having fun, how do you feel as a child? It might be lonely. You might be depressed.
I found that she searched for painless suicide. How do they have a legislation for invading your home if you’re searching for making bombs and if there’s suspicion of any terrorist attack? There has to be a connection between 911 and making an attempt for suicide. There has to be a 911 call.
She was texting with someone across the nation that night. Somebody that she met through Tumblr. And it seems to me for the evidence I have found later, that this girl also had depression. She said to the girl in her last text that she was thinking about doing this. And the girl says back to her, “Please don’t do this. Don’t pay attention to the assholes out there. You’re a great person, I know it’s gonna get better. Please, don’t.” My daughter said back to her, in a text, “It’s not about the assholes out there. It’s about my own mind.”
If it would have been an adult she was talking to, or somebody with the right state of mind, they have the phone number. All they have to do is contact 911 and say, please find the address for this phone number, because this person is about to do this.
We went to her college for a celebration of her life and we were told by the President that in his experience of all the years that he’s been president of various colleges that the summer between freshman and sophomore when a kid comes home is one of the most difficult ones. My husband and I looked at each other and we said , “Wow—really?”
We have a son, he said to me—mommy, I’m your son, I’m alive, I’m here, I’m your son, I’m alive, I’m here. And I need you here. Please don’t leave me. That’s my who sister left me, please don’t leave me too.
He immediately tried to get busy with everything. It was a sign for me that he didn’t want to think about it. And my biggest concern is that I hope that he can heal and grieve in his own way and that this tragedy doesn’t explode later on in his life.
She really underestimated her condition and the capacity of her brain to go to the darkest place. The guilt that we have—we question our skills as parents. Everybody tells us you guys were great parents. However, do you need to be an expert to save the life of a child? Be aware? Have eyes in your back, in your front, in your side? Don’t underestimate. But don’t also project those fears to your kid. This very talented, beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, full of life girl is gone. And now we are survivors. How are we supposed to go on?
I’m hoping that together we can learn to ease the pain.