Interviewer : Tell the teenagers that will be watching and our viewing audience a little bit about Jeff and why he’s special and what his personality was like.
Erin : Okay. My brother Jeff was a very sweet boy. He and I were very close. We were both born in October and so we would celebrate our birthdays together. We went to high school together my senior year and things were a little bit difficult for him in junior high and high school. He had a disease called Seasonal Affective Disorder, actually let me start over.
You want to just pick up with he had…
Okay. He had Seasonal Affective Disorder, which means the body kind of goes into depression around um, the fall. And it made it difficult for school and we were, we lived in Oregon and so um, the seasons really affected him because it gets dark and rainy um. So he didn’t do well in school, as well as I did and so sometimes the comparison between the two of us um, made him sad. Um, when I went away to college, he started some medication that made him much happier. He started doing well in school. He became involved in Jazz band. He started working on the school play doing sound and lights.
He worked on the yearbook doing photography and um, was taking pictures at the football games. And he wrote me letters from home and every single letter said I can’t wait til you come home. And after he, well at Christmastime when I came home, we had a great Christmas and in March of my freshman year of college he committed suicide. It was the night after closing night of the school play and our family was surprised because we thought he was doing quite well in school and we didn’t think there were any signs at the time.
So Erin, talk about what it does to a family when someone completes suicide. Talk about what it did to your family and yourself.
Suicide completely devastates a family. It changes the structure of the family. It changes the interactions between family members. It changes the interactions between children and parents. No one really understands how completely a suicide Affects a family unless you’re in the family. In my experience, I felt that I lost my parents as well as a brother. I felt that my parents became completely different people from the people that I grew up with. I couldn’t talk to my parents anymore as I once did. My parents had once been a major support to me and they no longer were, mostly because I didn’t feel I could turn to them because my feelings and emotions um, caused them to have feelings and emotions and I didn’t want them to hurt anymore. And so just talking about my feelings caused them pain and so to stop the pain, I didn’t talk to them anymore.
So it sounds like you felt isolated and, not only had you lost your brother but you felt isolated.
I did. I felt, I felt isolated from my parents. I felt isolated from my family. I felt isolated from any type of support system. I tried to be a support system to my other brothers but I probably wasn’t as good as I could have been cause they probably felt the same thing that I was feeling towards my parents. Suicide causes people to put up walls. I think that my brothers and I are closer then we used to be. I think that we can talk more but immediately after it was difficult to share what exactly we were feeling.
Talk about how siblings are a greater risk and I do have one young man that I mentioned that, you know, his father committed suicide when he was fourteen, so if you would just tell us very quickly about how siblings are at a greater risk.
Okay. After a suicide, a suicide will send ripples through a family. Once a suicide happens to one family member it increases the risk of suicide to other family members. It increases depression and other mental illness for all family members.
You talked about a message that you would give to kids, to teenagers that are struggling and part of that was that you said, that they can always, even though they don’t believe so, that they can always find help. And to find someone, if they can’t find someone right off, they need to continue to search and not give up. Could you talk about that?
There is always someone. There is always someone that you can talk too. It’s very important to try and find someone you can trust, someone who doesn’t have stigmas or stereotypes in their mind, who won’t give you incorrect information, misinformation. Um, it, adults usually, hopefully, won’t um, perpetuate misinformation but lots of times um, it unfortunately, that happens. So there’s always someone that you can talk to. There’s always one more person that you can talk to. So if the first person you talk to doesn’t respond in a positive way or help you in the way that is necessary, um, there’s always one more person. And if you think hard enough, you’ll find one more person that you can talk to.
You just mentioned the stigma and stereotypes, often times kids don’t want to speak out because they’re afraid that they will be stigmatized or they’ll be afraid that they’ll be somehow marked as being not normal, something’s wrong with you. You know, maybe, like your brother because of the Seasonal Affective Disorder. They don’t want to say anything. Will you talk a little bit about that?
Most of the time there is a single root to the problem. Whether that’s an environmental problem or a a physical problem but there is a problem that can be solved. And finding a solution is often seems overwhelming but if you work with someone you usually can get to that solution. Stereotypes often perpetuate myths and those myths stay in our society. They say that mental illness or depression or sadness is caused by things that are someone’s fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s depression is something that can be improved with medication, with therapy, with better family situations. The best way to go about this is finding someone that you trust, who understands these things and who can help you find the right path.
And then what would you say to parents now that, I mean you have served your parents go through this and part of our message will be to parents and educators and that, do you have a final thought for them?
Parents need to be aware that children feel very lost after a suicide. Um, that par, that children are seeing their parents from an angle that they’ve never seen them before. It’s very difficult for parents and I understand that, having watched my parents go through it. I won’t completely understand it because I’m not a parent, but having watched my parents and having gone through it myself, and having watched my parents parent my younger brothers, I am very concerned about teenagers out there who are siblings of suicide.
So basically you’re saying that siblings are at higher risk and so they really need someone that they can talk to. Is that what you’re trying to get across?
Yeah. Um, siblings of suicide have lost not only a sibling, a brother or sister, they also lose the family structure. They lose their parents. They need a mentor. They need someone to step into the family and be there for them to talk to. If I could give one word of advice that would be it, for parents to be aware of that. That they are not in an emotional place where they can help all their children. That they need to be aware of their other children in a way that they can help them by providing other help.
Can you tell us how many years it’s been and how involved you've been in the survivor groups and if that’s made a difference for you in your feelings?
My brother completed suicide March 7 of 1993. I became involved in Hope Survivors, which was an outreach group in 2002 and I spoke at a conference in 2003 and was interviewed by the church news and it was published in 2004. Um, I have not been involved in um, anything else, actually so.
That’s a lot though. You’ve done a lot. I think it’s great that you’re speaking out. I think that that’s it though. You did a great job. Thank you Erin.