Friday, May 4, 2012

May - It Isn't Always Merry

May is Suicide Prevention Month. Funny how I never knew that several years ago.  I was blissfully unaware of such a month.  Perhaps, I had my head in the sand and liked it that way.  Ignorance is bliss.  Or is it? 

For seventeen years, I had lived with the fear that my daughter Julie would take her life.  Her first attempt occurred when she was just a teenager.  I armed myself with information, or so I thought.  I tried to remain vigilant.  I tried to keep the lines of communication open.  I tried to ask the hard questions when I thought she wasn't doing well emotionally.  "Julie, are you thinking of hurting yourself?"  "Are you thinking of suicide?"  "Is there anything you need to talk about?"  "How can I help you with these feelings?"  "Do you need to go to the hospital?"  "Do you promise me you will call me if you are thinking of hurting yourself?"  She would always answer with a "no" to those questions that needed a no answer.  She promised me many times she would call if she couldn't handle life.  Many times she did call.  Many times, I got her up and out the door again.  Most times, she called her sister Amy.  She was more honest with her sisters I think.

Julie, Amy, Sally
Sally's birthday celebration in Denver
After the recent tragic death of Junior Seau, his mother's lament, “Junior, why you never telling me you were going?” just breaks my heart.  I know exactly how she feels because that is how I felt.  "Julie, why didn't you call?"  Or perhaps, even worse, I ask myself, "Why didn't I call?"  I had been up until nearly 2:00 in the morning that day because I was not feeling well.  She had been on mind.  Later though, I kept asking myself why I didn't know.  I questioned why I wasn't given a sense of her distress.  I questioned how my daughter could take her life without having some sort of premonition on my part.  Why do we as mothers think we have those kinds of powers?  Why do we think we have that kind of control?

Julie's beautiful curls
Photographed by her brother Jon

I was extremely naive for seventeen years.  Even today, if you ask me what I should have done to stop her suicide, I'm not sure I would have an answer.  And yet, on the other hand, I would say that we needed more information on how to get her the appropriate, affordable medical care that she needed for her illness.  Julie had a very good job.  She made good money.  She had health insurance.  Could she afford treatment for both her bi-polar disorder and/or her addictions to alcohol?  No, she could not.  She asked me to find a program for her.  I did.  It was an outpatient program.  She wondered how she could work and do the program.  She couldn't afford not to work.  I suggested once that she come home, seek treatment, then find a new job.  That just did not seem feasible.  I suggested she take medical leave.  She didn't seem to be able to make that leap.  Would that leave have been given by her employer?  Would she have been able to keep her job?  Would the program have been successful?  After her death, I read of a program that seemed to be just what she would have needed in Denver.  It was an inpatient program.  The cost would have been at least $25,000.  The irony of it all was that Julie had $25, 000 in life insurance, but her health insurance would not cover mental health care.

As a survivor of suicide, I now feel an urgency to make sure that there is more awareness of suicide prevention.  Did you know that I am a survivor?  Did you know that those who have lost a loved one to suicide are called survivors.  We are compared to those who have survived any other horrific life changing event.  I read the words "suicide survivor" and "death camp survivor" used in comparative ways in much of the literature.  I hope other families are spared the shock and grief that my family has suffered.  For that reason, I urge all of you to urge President Obama to make mental heath parity a reality. (Please click to read the full message.)

Basically, the  Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act would ensure that large group health insurance and Medicaid plans provide coverage for mental or substance-use disorders on par with coverage offered for physical ailments. Implementation of the final rule would make Mental Health Parity a reality.

My daughter Keicha wrote an editorial for her local newspaper urging others to contact the White House about the passage of this Act.  You can read her editorial here:  Keicha's editorial.

Mason, Grandma Sally,  Aunt Julie, Amy
Julie's College Graduation
BA in English
Thoughts about the month of May conjure up so many happy occasions:  Mother's Day, graduations, spring flowers, and beautiful trees leafing out.  May is also known to be the month with the highest rates of suicide.  This shocking statistic became a reality for my family on May 29th, 2010.  One of the first things I wrote in my journal after Julie's death was, "She was more that a statistic.  She was more than her final act."  I hope that you will think of her as a beautiful, bright, vivacious young woman.  I think of her as being valiant.  She fought for so many years against demons I will never know.  She also had a very serious life threatening disease which ultimately took her life.

In her memory, I hope you will also lend your voice to fight for parity in coverage for those who suffer from mental or substance-abuse, often forms of self-medicating that take on lives of their own.  Why isn't coverage for these illnesses comparable to coverage for other illnesses and/or physical ailments? 
Julie, my mother, Alberta, Keicha
Lunch with Grandma around her 92rd birthday time
If I could speak to Junior Seau's mother, I would tell her, "There are no answers."  We will never have answers for why our children chose this route to end their pain.  I am greatly comforted by the words of Barbara Johnson who lost two sons in death,  In a GriefShare devotion, she wrote in to response the unanswered questions surrounding death by suicide:   That is when you have to claim Deuteronomy 29:29, 'The secret things belong to the Lord.' And this is a secret thing. No one will ever know the reason why this thing happened, this side of heaven. As I counsel many parents who have lost children to suicide, that is the hardest one to deal with. They want to blame themselves. I try to tell them that their child went out to meet a just and a loving God. And God only knows the answers. You can't blame yourself for what your kids do or grab onto guilt.

The time to address mental illness and depression issues is when one is alive.  Arm yourself with information.  Know where help is available.  Seek it, or urge those in need to seek it.  Join others in helping to bring parity to the help that is available for all those in need.  Do it in memory of Julie.  Do it the memory of those loved ones that your friends have lost to suicide.  Bring suicide out of the shadows.  Do not silence its devastation any longer.  Work to bring about awareness, help, and hope.  Do it to save even one life.  That will make all the difference in the world to that person's family.  

Siblings being silly
Who has the biggest nose?
Amy, Jon, Julie, Keicha, Ryan
Sister - the last time together
Keicha, Julie, Amy
April 2010