Tuesday, Oct 10th was the 25th anniversary of World Mental Health Day.
I am a person in recovery from addiction and I am still learning better ways every day to embrace the latest version of who I am, post-trauma. I have suffered and survived through postpartum depression three times. Every day I still dance with general anxiety and always look forward to seasonal depression, but still try to be a strong advocate for the marginalized and still-suffering.
But as World Mental Health Day approached this year, I kept quiet here.
I did take time to reflect and to let myself feel the gratitude I have for Grace and for the people who have reached into my life personally throughout my journey.
I felt overwhelmed as I thought about the blessings, the helping hands, the invaluable advice, listening ears, knowledge and the generosity that I have been given over the years as I navigated what ‘wellness’ meant to me, as every part of who I am has been effected by mental-disorders directly, and indirectly.
But this year as World Mental Health Day approached it was our community of just over 96,000 pressing on my mind and heart.
As a whole it sort of feels like we are all left feeling this massive and gaping sensation of helplessness, not really knowing what to do with the weight or the damage from the impact that experiencing crisis often leaves people with.
On September 29, 2017 and again on October 9, 2017 our community lost two high school students to suicide.
Parents here are feeling uneasy, weary, and afraid.
People are sad.
Students are fearful and confused.
People want to help but no one really knows what the next right thing is.
Of course our counselors in the school district have been rallying and working overtime with staff and students. The online presence feels positive and empathetic and for the most part people are doing their best to keep the forum open. Our local community organizations have reached out and are working to reach out and offer support and resources.
The first life tragically lost on September 29th was a 17 year-old senior.
Students at the high school heard a gunshot around 7:50 a.m and the school immediately went on lock-down. She died shortly after arriving at the hospital that morning as a result of her self-inflicted wound.
On the evening of Monday, October 9th, another student from the same school took his life off-campus. (His information and the details surrounding circumstances are protected and his family has not released any statements)
I know that there are community discussions taking place and the city will soon hold an open session for parents and caregivers.
People are wondering what to look for and how to know.
They are worried that they are missing signs and symptoms, or that maybe they are overlooking them or confusing them with what they think are just ‘typical’ teenage mood swings and angst.
Everyone is terrified that their family could be next.
Imagining what the two families are experiencing is unimaginable, but that is why we are all so scared. It is because we feel a teeny-tiny minuscule slither of what it could feel like.
As a mom of a fifteen year old boy, that is exactly where my mind went as well.
Despite my experience, despite my training, despite anything factual I know in my brain.
What if I miss something. What if I am not asking the right questions. Am I asking enough questions? Do I pay close enough attention? Do I need to do more, be more, provide more, know more?
At the end of the day as the initial panic of news like these two tragedies fades for those of us on the outside of the tragedy. We are back at the grind going through life with our teens.
Sometimes it is really hard to clearly see what we should or shouldn’t be doing or looking for or saying.
And you can tell a parent until you are blue in the face that we cannot control everything,
we cannot fix what we don’t know, or we are doing our best.
But even so most of us will still feel hyper-vigilant about our personal parental responsibility. We will feel like we need to do a better job paying attention to the intricacies & subtleties & even the confusion that the teenage mind presents us.
Because as we all know, history shows us that even the parent’s who seem to ‘have it all right’ have still experienced tragedy.
Bad things still happen.
So what can we do?
Instead of recounting to you what we did…(mostly hugs, tears, asking and answering questions and offering deliberate gestures of reassurance of his value and worth and that he has no reason to ever ever ever feel weird or broken or wrong if he needs extra help with anything and have vowed to keep this conversation going)
I will just share a few websites and remind you that our teens still need us. They are close to adulthood and often they like to act like they don’t need us, but they do. They so need us. Hug them. Ask them things. Watch them. Listen to what they’re not saying.
Offers stats and common myths and signs and symptoms for parents
Offers 24-7 support for anyone with concerns, questions, or ideation
Parent’s guide to teen depression
Teen Mental Health Video:
Education for teens and parents