Interviewer : Okay. And just to clarify, you’re part of the, you’re called a survivor group, or what, how do you define it?
Stacy : Yeah. I’m, I represent the survivors on the Utah Hope Suicide Prevention and Awareness Task Force.
Great. Can we start out with you just helping me, telling our viewers a little bit about your son. What was he like and how old was he?
My son was um, just a happy busy little boy when he was young, full of laughter and had a little bounce in his step and we called him tigger when he was little cause he was so full of energy and a little bounce. In fifth grade he wrote a little poem that said “I am cool. All, all people like me. Super at math, expert at reading, I am young and cool.” But then as he began um, through puberty and got older he was more serious and more sober and he was quiet and shy and a good young man. A, a nice son and a, and a, and a, and a fun son. He liked to play pranks at April Fools and tie the, tape the sprayer so that when we turned on the water it would spray us in the face. And he loved Halloween. We’d put salt in the punch and things like that. But um, as he got older he didn’t want to be involved in, as much, slowly and gradually in Boy Scouts or activities for youth. He um, pulled away more from friends, didn’t ask them to come over as often or have sleep overs or parties or go to them as well. But he had good friends that were also kind of homebodies so we didn’t think too much about that. We thought well at least we know where he’s at and he’s doing well in school and those kind of things but…
So, I guess making that transition, did you know he was struggling at all? Did you, could you tell that he was struggling or kind of set that up and, and talk about that.
Um, some things that we worried about and, and talked to our son about that we could see concerns with was he wasn’t eating well at all, he was eating a lot of sugar and pop and he was really picky at eating healthy things. And um, sometimes there can be a change in appearance and the only thing that we noticed is when I would go downstairs to wake him up in the morning he would sometimes be sleeping in his clothes instead of have changed into his pajamas, which we thought was a bit unusual. And um, the biggest thing that we noticed was he was very ornery, very moody, ornery, negative, very negative. And a year before he passed away he wrote a poem for English that had some cute, happy things in it but also mentioned that he feared rejection and the future and that he felt useless when it asked him how he felt about hisself. And we had no idea that he would have felt useless until we read that.
Okay. So, um, what do you want other parents to know? That you’ve lost your son, what do you want other parents to know, cause I know you’ve been speaking out and trying to help other people?
What I’d like other parents to know about losing a child that ends their own life is that if they ever come to you and ask, tell you that they’ve been feeling sad or that they’re worried about um, their grades at school or someone bothering them at school or someone else or they, they feel lonely or they feel sad in anyway or you notice that they aren’t sleeping as well, um that they aren’t out socially as much as they used to be or if they start dabbling in drugs or alcohol, our, our son didn’t do that but often they will self medicate, to sit down and talk to their child and ask them very bluntly if you have to, if they have ever felt that life is so hard that they’ve ever thought about or considered ending their life. We’ve had other parents do that and they’ve been very surprised at what their child’s answered and then they’ve been able to get them help because often the child has these thoughts and they think that it’s not normal to have these thoughts and they wonder if they’re going crazy. And just for someone to be able to ask them that question they can answer it honestly and tell them that yes um, that they have been having those thoughts and cause they’re very concerned about it themselves and not know what to do with those thoughts.
What would you advise a parent if they do, you know, get to the bottom of it and the child says I do have these thoughts and I’m really distressed, what would you then, how would you as a parent who’s gone through this, how would you then counsel other parents, excuse me?
If I was a parent whose child came to me and told me they were thinking of suicide or had thoughts (clears throat) that life was just to hard, then I would ask them if they’ve ever thought of a way to do it, a plan and this may sound very blunt but this is the way that you can tell how close they really are and if they have a plan or a date you know that it is very, very, very serious and you must get them help immediately by taking them to a doctor, a psychiatrist or a medical physician and they can help you from there. But um, if they don’t have a plan or they haven’t got a date they’re still in danger and so you still should get them some help and find out as much as you can through websites, through searching, through reading, through other people, through counselors at school, through your clergy what information’s available on this subject.
Well, Stacy getting, getting back to, to your son then, based on what you’ve told me, um, do you have any idea now at this point and, and kind of, kind of getting at this in around about way but you had mentioned genetics and the fact that it’s an illness and that. Um, do you have any idea why he made the decision that he did?
You know, you know the very hardest thing’s when someone ends their life is the question why. It just echos and echos through your mind when they pass away and we did not know why and I had to search my mind from his life from birth on, from when he had the cord wrapped around his neck at birth to hospitalizations he’d had with pneumonia and asthma to parenting to school to, to his school work. I, you know, frantically looked through all that and got on the internet and started searching and talking to other people who were willing to come and tell us their stories and we found out that one of the big components, we believe, that our son had was that he did have many signs of depression. We didn’t realize someone could get up and go to school everyday even though they were very depressed, cause he did get up and go to school every day. Um, we, we think that um, he may not, he was only sixteen at the time that he ended his life, he may not have even realized that he had this illness and that there was help. But um, also you know, I, that, depression can play into some of the symptoms and some of the symptoms can play into depression like the not eating right, not getting good exercise and sunlight. Um, if you don’t feel good sometimes you don’t want to do those things but then also if you have depression you don’t want to do those things also. Also, um, when I went to the school and talked to the principal there, she let me know that one of the students had told her that in one of my sons classes, one where he was getting an F at the end of the year, that there had been someone that has, was harassing him in that class every day and when I called the teacher she told me that she didn’t see any of that but the one thing she did notice was that he had moved from the middle of the classroom to the back of the classroom and that he wasn’t interested in doing even the fun things that they were working on then.
That, that’s also one of the really hard things is the person who you love who has the answer to the why isn’t here to tell you. And even though you hear other people’s stories or read and pour over books to find out why, everybody’s story is different.
Um, maybe we can jump to when we were talking about the um, the fact that many of these kids say that they think that their family will do better without them, that it would be better if they just weren’t there. Jumping off of what you just said, talk about that, how it does impact your family and how that it (Stacy talks over)….
You know I think of something else while you’re asking me that but maybe I should tell a little bit about our genetics and that people should watch for certain things. Okay. Um, in our family we didn’t realize it at, at the time that my son passed away but I also had a great-grandfather who ended his life after his wife and I have an aunt and an uncle. But I wasn’t around or alive yet during that time and didn’t realize it. I also have a family member, a close family member that has postpartum, had postpartum depression really bad after the birth of their children. And so we do have a family history but I didn’t have enough knowledge about the symptoms of depression to realize that this could be happening to my son.
So there is (unintelligible) genetic component in, it is an illness. Okay so let’s then talk about um, you’re, you’re saying that, you know, you just before that said, it’s so frustrating and so sad because you can’t go to that person and say, you know, why did this happen? Talk about the impact that’s had on you and your family, the loss of your son.
Well for a parent or a family member to lose a precious child is just indescribable for anyone who hasn’t experienced that. And as a forty some year old adult to try to wrap around, their brain around this subject is so difficult let alone the siblings of that person who are twelve and fourteen, and sixteen and twenty and we all wonder what we did that could have caused our loved one to have died and not come to us, you know, asking for help. And it is something that we’re never going to get over in this life. We’ll get through it and we are getting through it one day at a time but it has effected our life greatly to lose someone in an instant. In that way it’s helped us to try to express our love and appreciation to others but it also makes us want to not get close to others too because we could lose them in a minute. And to think that someone could, you know, usually the healthy brain wants to preserve our own lives and protect ourselves and to try to understand the pain that my son must have been in to have wanted to end his life because even though I have cried and stomped and shouted and grieved, I’ve never felt like ending my own life (noise in background) and so it’s really hard to understand and to, but to know, um, as a parent and as my son’s friends for them to try to know or understand and the grandparents, what pain they’ve gone through they’ve been so close to my son. And that, the, the siblings and the cousins and uh, the teachers and the religious leaders, everyone was effected by that and trying to understand what happened here and you know, what should we have done? What could we have done? What could we have said and we don’t know.
So, did you also want to reinforce that it is a mistake and not a solution?
Uh huh. Yeah, to anyone who would have these thoughts I would just ask them to please reach out for help and if the first person that you tell doesn’t listen go to someone else. And you keep telling and you keep asking. It would be great if you would go to a parent first and then if you could go to your religious leader or your doctor or your scout leader or any trusted adult until you find someone to listen. Keep asking for help until you get it because this is not an option. It is not something that could be, should be considered because there are treatments and there help, there is help out there. And the thing that happens with suicide is the pain that the person felt when they ended their life spreads to all those others who love them for the rest of their lives, they have to deal with that pain.
That’s a very good statement. Did you need to talk to your daughter?
No, she’s just going to go do her little job. We talked earlier today so.
(Talks to male – unintelligible) Okay, that was really well…
Well you know what, I’m not good on top of my feet and I stutter every other one but….
…no, go ahead and take a drink. You actually kind of did this but I’m going to ask you this anyway, um, maybe more directly and then I’m going to give a slant to it. The question is what do you want teenagers to know, and you’ve already done that, but we talked about, especially with boys because you lost a son, and you talked about how, you know, in our society boys need to be tough and not able to get their feelings, um, tell me that, what do teenagers need to know and talk a little bit about the difference between boys and girls.
You know what I’d like teenagers to know is that often girls will attempt um, many more times often then a young man will attempt but I think we as females in our society, it’s okay to open up and to share our feelings and in our society it’s not always okay for a young man or boys to share their feelings or their weaknesses or to cry or to show their sadness or their vulnerability. My son was tall and very, very thin and um, you know, he liked athletes but, he like athletics but he, he wasn’t really, really good at them like some are and, and um, you know, I would like parents to be able to ask their young men, just even around the dinner table, what their feelings are about everyday occurrences because I think that we need to practice that with our young men. What do you feel about this? Or how do you feel about that? Or, and then go to more personal things so that they are used to talking about their feelings with you as parents and as leaders. And even as friends um, close friends should be able to express feelings even if they are male and tell some of their sorrows and weaknesses and fears. And when I was in high school I actually did have a friend come to me and say that they felt suicidal and I remember not knowing what to do with it. I didn’t want to be in trouble with her and I didn’t know if she was serious but I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know who to tell. And so what I would advise young people to do is to, you know, even if you have to tell the school principal or counselor and say that you want to be anonymous, you have got to let someone know or you’ve got to get with your friend and talk to them and say are you really feeling like life’s too hard? And if they say yes, you’ve got to talk them into going with you to another trusted adult to get some help. And even if the least thing you could do was write their parents a note anonymously or someone at the school who could get them help, at least someone would know.
That was really good. That’s was great. Um, I think we’ve covered a lot of it except we didn’t go into some of the specifics that we have talked about and I don’t know if you want to do that or not but we talked about, well we kind of did, like communication but the stigma of wanting to get help and lack of communication, fear, a belief that nobody else has the problem. Did you, is there anything else you want to say?
Yeah, there is. Now tell me that, list those things again, but there is, cause there’s….
The stigma because we just, one of the things that you and other parents have said to me is that “my kid was just normal. He was just a normal or she was just a normal child” you know, and I think a lot of times others may have the impression that they’re not. That they’re somehow different when they hear about it. So stigma. The kids really brought that up. They were afraid to talk, to tell people because they felt the stigma or if things did get out they felt stigmatized. The lack of communication, they didn’t talk because they were afraid of telling anybody because of the stigma. Um, the belief that nobody else had the problem, you know, nobody, everybody else was happy, they’re the only ones that are struggling. And then um, well, that’s pretty much the things…
(unintelligible)….if you just leave that front door open so you can go out quietly okay babe? Thanks. There is a stigma that families feel and also people who feel like ending their life feel and that keeps them from asking for help. They think that they maybe weak or abnormal. They think that their alone and I’ve gone to many schools and many groups of youth and uh, you are not alone when these, this way. We went to a Sunday school of youth and this teacher had them write on a paper yes or no. She passed out the papers with pencil. Have you ever felt like ending your life or um, actually attempting it and over 50% wrote yes. Their names weren’t signed on it and uh, it let me know how high percentage really is. Now these were happy, smiling children when I saw them, I would have never known they were feeling that way. But there is help and you need to ask for it. Other organs in our bodies can get very, very ill, our kidney’s can start to shut down or have illness. Our heart can become diseased or ill. Um, our lungs can become sick and many people don’t realize that the brain is also another organ that can become ill. And we would not refuse treatment for our heart or therapies. We would not refuse treatment for our lungs or therapies. And there is therapy and there is medication or help for our brain when it becomes overly stressed or it becomes depressed or mentally ill and I’ve seen these therapies and medications work. And sometimes, you know, someone might just be in a one time crises, other people may have a brain illness that lasts for a long time, but there’s help for either one of these if we’ll just reach out and ask for help. Cause it’s okay to ask for help.
Okay. Very good. Now um, the last question. How can the school or community best support kids? Because you’ve been involved in the, in all this outreach…..(unintelligible)…would you talk about that a little bit?
I think that um, a community can be involved in this as parents meet with P.T.A. uh, have meetings on this so that they’re educated on what symptoms to look for in their child. (clears throat). And also, just the city government to have meetings for parents and citizens to be aware. And uh, as students, they can have people come and educate them. I’ve gone to health classes or we’ve done assemblies in the schools and there’s pamphlets there at the school that they’re able to receive or cards that tell the students what to do if, if someone comes to them that needs help or what to do if they are the one in trouble that needs help.
If someone were to come to you and say that they needed help or they said, they joked around and said people would be better off without them or that they’re not going to be around very long or maybe they’re starting to give some of the precious possessions away, these are all signs and symptoms of depression or suicide. Um, what you need to do is you need to stay with the person. You need to listen to them and take them seriously and then you need to go with them to get help, to a trusted adult, to a counselor at school, to a religious leader, to a doctor or physician, someone else. Don’t hold it all on yourself to try to help this person. Go and get someone else to help you but stay with them because 99% of all suicides are completed when that person is alone.
Okay. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Uh, probably. You know I wrote down a list of things. Well you know, I, there is one thing that I really like on the why question and I don’t know if I can, it’s, it’s actually written by somebody else and it’s called the (unintelligible) and I don’t know if you’re interested in hearing it. But um, pretend that there’s a cup on the table and it is so full of water that it is arching over the top. And then one or two more drops of water added to the cup and it spills over. What made the water spill? We want to blame the last one or two drops. It wasn’t the water that was already in the cup because it left alone wouldn’t have spilled. It wasn’t the last one or two drops that we want to blame because if that was in the cup alone it wouldn’t have spilled. It’s all of the drops of water in the cup in the first place and then the one or two last drops that are added that makes the cup spill over. The water in the cup represents, in our loved ones life who’s taken his, their own life, it represents all the pain, the sorrow, the shame, the loss, the hurt that that person has gone through and not dealt with properly. And then the one or two drops that are added to it are the last straw or the trigger event. We want to blame those but it doesn’t make sense to us because many people uh, break up with a girlfriend or move to a new town and have a hard time finding friends, or they flunk an important test. Um, it’s all those things added up together and then the last straw. And so what we need to do as, as survivors and others is to somehow pour off a little water at a time as we deal with our losses. You know, I didn’t want, that’s how the story goes but I didn’t want to add that end part about the survivors, I just wanted to say um, that, that is, you know, that is, that is the reason it’s not just one thing, it’s many things that add up and build up over time.
That illustrates it very well. Very well. Is there anything else on your list?
Oh, I don’t think so but let me just check. I don’t even, I think it’s in my other pants actually but…
I just hope I, you know, should I do it just in general signs to look for?
Yeah. Did you want to say something?
Um, some of the signs that someone is feeling like ending their life or that they’re feeling very bad are that they will, a lot of the students that I’ve talked to um, complain of troubling sleeping. They don’t get a good nights rest or sometimes they want to sleep too much. Um, they’ve had a recent lose, maybe they’ve have to move to a new city or town. Um, a change in appetite, a lack of appetite or gaining of weight. Um, death theme, death, sorry, death themes in music or in poetry or songwriting or drawings that you may notice. Uh, notice of lack self, lack of self-esteem, not wanting to participate. Not wanting to participate in church anymore. Um, not wanting to go to school. Being angry. Being ornery. Inflicting cuts or wounds upon their own body. Those are some of the signs to look for. A drop in, in grade, in grades at school.