What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
My very first memory is somewhere around 3-4 years old at a funeral of a family member. I remember sitting on the lap of a woman who was weeping, and I had no idea why. Years later I found out that that funeral was her brother who had died by suicide. In my teen years, another family member died by suicide. She had mailed me a birthday card every single year until she was gone. In 2018 my cousin whom I was very close with and was very close to my kids, died by suicide. I had dropped my children at school and was driving to my grandmother’s house when I came to a roadblock due to an accident. A short hour later I found out that it was my cousin, Landry. I remember hearing the sound of my grandmother’s heart breaking while I held her in my arms and her son told her her grandson was gone. I had to sit my three children down and tell them. I had talked to two school counselors and a child therapist along with our pastor to make sure I was doing it right. What’s the right way to tell a 7, 9, and 11-year-old something like that? The very first time my 7-year-old had an anxiety attack was the day of the funeral. Our entire family went to therapy, and it took months for the sweet little girl to realize she could still be safe away from home and mama. All of this was affecting my own mental health, but my priority was my children, and I ignored the signs.
In March of 2022 I started having severe anxiety and moderate depression. I had experienced a brief time of this after Landry’s passing and had some minor postpartum depression after my third child, but this was completely different than anything I had felt before. I would be driving home from work and have an overwhelming urge to drive off the road. I would think about just escaping the pain, and then I would think of my husband and our kids and would feel so incredibly selfish. I was in so much emotional pain, but I didn’t tell anyone. I was too embarrassed. I was surrounded by so many loving friends and family, but I was too ashamed to tell anyone. This happened to other people but not me. I had even done safety counseling with a family member the year before, not even knowing what I was doing had a name. But me? I didn’t have these kinds of problems, I told myself. But I did.
I eventually made an appointment with my primary care practitioner. I filled out the PHQ-9 and GAD 7, forms that screen for depression and anxiety, and I was sky-high on both. I sat in the office and cried, and the nurse just slid the Kleenex box over to me and said the doctor would be in shortly. I waited 54 minutes for the doctor. I had told my sister I was going in, and I texted her from the doctor’s office asking her if she thought they were lining someone up to come haul me away. My primary care provider referred me to a specialist and started me on medication. I wasn’t overly impressed. I started seeing the therapist I had seen after Landry had passed and realized most of this was coming on due to the extreme amount of stress I had in my life at that time. With my therapist’s help, I made some major life changes. One of them was that left a fifteen-year career in banking to pursue a career in behavioral health. I had so much compassion for those struggling, and I couldn’t stop reading and learning about the brain, mental health, coping skills, mindfulness, anything I could get my hands or eyes on pertaining to the subject. Knowledge is power. I needed some power. I found my strength. I prayed a lot and met with a career counselor. I have been working in behavioral health now for 15 months. In my healing journey I have relied heavily on my relationship with God, practiced self-care and mindfulness, and got back to journaling. I eliminated as much stress as I could, but life is life. My brother Tulley who truly was my mind-reading, attentive, kind, best buddy for 35 years, had been struggling with alcohol addiction. We finally got him to go to treatment this fall, and after discharge, he relapsed. Three weeks ago he died due to complications from alcoholic hepatitis after spending 52 days in the hospital. I am afraid of what this could do. I have been doing so well the last year. I am not currently on medication, but I am practicing all of the skills I have learned and I teach. Helping others in their healing journey has helped me. I know grief will need to be processed and felt, and I have had and will have moments of deep deep sadness, but I do believe I can get through this. I know there is help if I struggle.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
- Reverence Counseling-Jodi Merritt (for myself)
- Stronghold Counseling (in the past for my children)
- Sanford Psych (medication management)
- Avera Addiction Family Program (Support for me and my parents with brother’s addiction)
- QPR (learned how to help other’s (and myself) in crisis and am now an instructor)
- Mental Health First Aid Adult and Youth (Use this knowledge both professionally and personally)
- Avera Behavioral Outpatient-Brookings (most amazing co-workers ever and provide exceptional service in the Brookings area)
- 988 (Have referred many to this for after hours help or in crisis and don’t want to or can’t go in)
- Avera Behavioral Urgent Care (Refer those who are in crisis and have strong suicidal urges)
- Avera Adolescent Addiction (teens struggling with addiction)
Think about the system that affects our mental health in our society, including aspects of it that are damaging to mental health and aspects of the system that improve mental health. Based on your experience, how might we improve that system to build resilience and better address the mental health needs of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities?
I think breaking the stigma of struggling with mental health and/or addiction would do wonders for allowing people to reach out to their loved ones without feeling shame (whether actual shame or self-imposed shame).
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
You can feel better! You don’t have to stay stuck. You are going to have to take action and use your tools, and there are many, but YOU CAN DO IT!!