Last Saturday I saw my daughter, Natalie, for the first time in five weeks. We spent all day together, and all day Sunday, and we were able to be together until noon on Monday. Then I said good-bye again and left her in the care center/school which has been her home since August. I miss her dreadfully.
Suicide is no respecter of persons. Feelings of low self-esteem, of being overwhelmed, of the certainty that one cannot live through even one more day, can happen to any vulnerable individual. In the past four years, Natalie has learned that obeying all the rules, attending church, coming from a stable family, and praying night and morning, do not negate the possibility that one might become deeply depressed, anxious, and/or suicidal.
Natalie had her first experience with bullying when she was twelve. She’s small for her age and often feels at the mercy of other people. However, she also felt that this was a situation she could manage, and told no one. The bullying continued throughout junior high. Still she said nothing, feeling that to tell anyone would mean she was not strong enough to take care of the problem on her own. As her parents, we noticed her behavior deteriorating. She became moody, her reactions to normal problems became extreme, and she developed overwhelming anxiety. I took her to a doctor who prescribed medication for the anxiety, and we began to see a counselor.
Contrary to our expectations, Natalie did not improve. I saw signs of self-harm and her depression deepened. In February of this year, I checked her into the hospital, fearful of my daughter’s suicidal thoughts. She worked hard and was released after a week. Two months later, I took her back to the hospital. Her therapist increased Natalie’s medication. This time when she was released, Natalie told me, finally, of the daily bullying she faced at school. She talked of the girls who called her a slut, told my 95-pound daughter that she was fat, and mentioned that everyone in the world would be better off if Natalie just killed herself.
Naturally, I did everything a distraught mother would do. I called the Natalie’s school counselor and principal. We had meetings, the girls were dealt with, and my daughter reported no further incidents… but the damage was done. In June, Natalie attempted to end her life. Immediately we tried to find increased help for her outside our community, as the level of care she needed was unavailable to us here. We sought funding for the incredible expense of such care, and in the three months it took to do so, Natalie attempted three more times to take her own life.
At that point, we were exhausted to the point of accepting any outcome that would end our nightmare. I was riddled with guilt as I pleadingly asked the Lord to take my daughter, if that was His will, but please, please, let this horrible agony stop. Every day I spent time holding Natalie, making certain she knew I loved her, and I can’t count the times I fasted for some sort of help—any help.
Finally, on th morning of August 17th, I kissed my daughter, held her close, cried a little bit, and watched as she was led away by the people who would take care of her. And then I cried a lot, because this is not what I hoped the future would be when I held my tiny Natalie, seventeen years ago.
I share my story with you because September is suicide prevention month. My daughter is much better today; a trend we are hopeful will continue throughout the rest of her life. We don’t know how long she’ll remain in treatment, but she’s learning skills and building self-esteem and she no longer wishes for death. Natalie shares a home with fifteen other young girls, many of whom battle addictions to drugs and alcohol, have experienced horrific abuse, and are far behind in their schooling. Natalie sometimes wonders why she, with her normal, healthy home and family, with a firm knowledge of the gospel, and with no history of abuse or addiction, ended up with them.
I remind my daughter that comparison is never a good idea, and that anyone can become sad–and sometimes they don’t have the tools necessary to recover from such sadness. I remind her that bullying is traumatic, especially when it occurs over an extended period of time, and that the point of her stay in treatment is to allow her time to learn what she needs to so she can cope with life’s ups and downs and enjoy its delight and beauty.
I know that there are members of North Star who live with debilitating depression. There are some who have experienced overwhelming anxiety, loneliness, and sadness. There are also some who have experienced, or perhaps currently experience suicidal thoughts and desires.To you I would say this:
- There is no shame in those feelings. They simply mean you are at a point when life feels too difficult to manage. Feeling suicidal says nothing about your value as a human being.
- No one will be better off without you. Your loss will not be a positive experience for anyone.
- You are loved. There are people who care about you, but more than that, your Heavenly Father loves you deeply and eternally. That love is unalterable and belongs to you under any circumstance, regardless of your thoughts, feelings, and choices.
- Get help. Tell someone how you’re feeling. Talk with a church leader and follow up with a good therapist–and don’t be afraid to shop around. Find a therapist you feel you can trust and one who helps you feel a desire to take steps toward a healthier emotional state.
- If you are one in whom a suicidal individual is confiding, you need help and support. Don’t keep this matter a secret. If someone lets you know that he or she is planning an end to their lives, that is not a confidence you should keep. Talk to that person about who should be told, and where they can get help, but never allow yourself to be the only one who knows.
Finally, if you have had a loved one who has succeeded in taking his or her life, please understand that your friend or family member was in a terrible emotional state and our Heavenly Father loves them and knows the agony they were experiencing. I have the greatest confidence that they continue to be blessed by Him, and He will see to their healing. He will also see to yours. Talk with Him about the situation and get therapeutic help for yourself if you feel it is needed. I promise you will see your loved one again, under better circumstances, when the pain surrounding their final moments on earth will be eased, and you will be allowed to enjoy each other once again.
September is suicide prevention month. I pray that every month might be so, as well. Remember Alma’s admonition to “bear one another’s burdens…mourn with those that mourn…and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9), Every life that is saved as we give heed to those words, is valuable and necessary, even if that life is our own.