A sad personal email this morning from a grieving mother has caused me to reflect on friends who ended their own lives and the four, five and six year old children I have known, or known about, who tried or succeeded at suicide.
My cousin Ron Mahla (Actor and brilliant person) and my dear friend Tommy Garretson (Vietnam War Vet with a winning smile and great sense of humor) were both gentle and bright souls that were squeezed to death by sadness and a growing inability to cope with their lives.
In both deaths, neither sought help to cope with the events in their lives).
Coping skills are everything. Have them and we can make it – without them, we are at risk.
Our culture and medical model have been very late to the party when it comes to awareness building or availability of coping skills and mental health services. This and our over the top use of Psychotropic medications without adequate therapy are primary suicide drivers.
What I find most disturbing is our own ability to ignore or hide child suicide when it happens and how successful we are at avoiding the conversation around traumatized children, Prozac and suicide.
When six year old foster child Kendrea Johnson wrote a note (“nobody like me”, and “I’m sorry for what I do”) and then hung herself with her jump rope, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner in an initial Star Tribune article stated (paraphrasing) that six year olds did not have the mental capacity to commit suicide.
It was later reported that Kendrea had talked about suicide & homicide and was seeing a therapist. Her social worker did not know this. No one reported her suicidal behaviors and no one reported the use of psychotropic medications, but I am guessing Kendrea was taking them.
Suicidal ideation often driven by the use of these drugs is common (it’s written on the side of the package – and I know this to be true).
I’ve had a suicidal 11 year old CASA guardian ad-Litem boy tug on my sleeve and ask me “when will I be normal” as if it would arrive on his birthday. He hated psychotropic medications and received just an inkling of the mental health help he needed. He tried to kill himself many times. The traumas visited upon him from the ages of four to seven were unspeakable. To push him into the public school system without coping skills was a guaranteed fail. It ruined his life and the lives of many others.
My first visit to a CASA guardian ad-Litem girl was at the suicide ward of Fairview hospital. She had failed to kill herself but she really wanted to. She had no coping skills to live with the awful things that had happened to her in her birth home.
Seven year old foster child Gabriel Myers left a note about how he hated Prozac before he hung himself.
City Councilman Don Samuels told me on camera about a call he received from an elementary school teacher in distress because of a five year old student trying to kill himself.
Social workers in my past have talked openly about how common self-harming and suicidal behaviors are in foster children and how unaddressed traumas follow children into adulthood and destroy whole lives.
Suicide is about depression, trauma, coping skills, psychotropic medications and the help a community provides or doesn’t provide to suffering people.
To those of you suffering from terrible depressions and trauma and the sadness that floats in and out of your life, I can only offer that I’ve seen approaches and practices that heal and help to find the coping skills that lift you up once more.
It’s work and not easy work. But there are beautiful things and people around you that you cannot see.
Video report on the Drugging of Foster Children (powerful) San Jose Mercury news