By: Angela Drake
I am and always will be a mother of two amazing girls: Brittany and Brianna. Brittany’s battle through mental health was long and hard from the inside, but she was the All-American girl from the outside. She was everyone’s best friend, an honor roll student, a star athlete, and an overachiever in everything she did. She had a laugh that could start a million laughs and a smile to light up a room.
Brittany began to self-harm and struggle in middle school, and she was an expert at hiding her pain from everyone. She would always send the world positivity and struggle to accept it for herself. She battled the darkness within herself for years. We were very fortunate to have support but still fought through some stigma. It was hard for people to grasp that an All-American girl could be struggling within herself. To the world, she had everything; she was beautiful, intelligent, seemed to have everything going for her. This was always frustrating to explain to people that didn’t understand mental health. Thankfully, we had the love and support of our family and her teammates near and far through it all. The stigma is real for support after mental health care, but there is a line 100 miles long of support for when someone dies by suicide.
We fought it as a family together with everything we had. Sadly, it wasn’t enough, and after 17 years, 11 months, and 24 days Brittany lost her battle with her mental health condition and took her life. Navigating life without Brittany has changed our family. We are nearing six years without her here on earth. Often it is like yesterday, and sometimes it’s like an eternity. Today we can laugh and not feel guilty; we can enjoy things and not hold back. I can use the pain and help others with their grief and start conversations about mental health and suicide prevention.
I have learned to take care of myself, so I can best take care of others, but no matter what, I will forever stand in this world as a proud mother of two amazing girls, Brittany and Brianna.
If you or someone in your family is struggling with their mental health or suicide loss: here are discussion ideas, signs, and tips.
- Use examples of why you are concerned and ask if they are ok privately. They may not be ready to talk about it, but they will know you are a trusted adult and can come to you when they are.
- Don’t be afraid to ask directly about suicide or self-harm; this doesn’t put the thought in their mind but lets them know it’s ok to talk about it if it is. We as trusted adults need them to know it’s ok to talk about how we are feeling and not keep it to ourselves and act on it. We would rather they talk about it than act on it.
- Ensure they always have the 800-273-8755 lifeline and 741-741 texting number in their phones so even if they aren’t ready to talk to us, they have a safe outlet to reach out to for themselves or a friend.
- Talk to them about how to handle things if a friend reaches out with something heavy. It’s not their job to “fix a friend,” we wouldn’t ask them to fix a friend’s broken arm, so why would we expect them to fix their mental health?
- Make sure to not shame their feelings with dismissal by telling them they don’t have a right to them. (i.e., “you have it so easy,” “you will be just fine,” “this will just pass”). Listen to listen and not to respond. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You are not there to convince someone life is worth living or fix their life (that’s a professional’s job); you are there to be a friend, listen, and if needed, take them to a professional just as you would with any other health condition.
Signs of Mental Health Struggles:
- There is no universal checklist, everyone is different, and there is never just one reason someone takes their life.
- The most important thing to watch for is significant changes in your loved one.
- The signs may be what everyone thinks: depression, withdrawing, sleeping, giving things away, being very emotional. It may also look like anger, risky adventures, drug or alcohol use, lack of caution, internet or google searches, or even overzealous behavior.
- It can be subtle words – “go on without me, I’m just a burden anyway,” “I just feel so trapped,” “I have no reason to be here anymore” always take these seriously and start a conversation.
- When you notice your loved one doing a complete personality change for them, this is when you know it’s time to have a conversation. You should always assume you are the only person who will and always trust your gut.
Tips for Grieving through Suicide
- There is no right or wrong way to grieve. The loss of a child is never something anyone should ever know.
- The internal questions that come from losing your child to suicide will be the hardest thing you will ever face. Coming to a place where you know you will never get the answers to your questions is the most challenging yet most healing thing you will do as a survivor of suicide loss.
- Learning that self-care in grief is not selfish but selfless is a valuable lesson in any stage of your grief.
- Reaching the stage where you can remember that your child lived and not just that they died and smile at the memories seems like a far-off place when you lose them, and your world is black and white. But it does happen; the world brightens to colors, and it’s ok to enjoy the world again.
- Your child didn’t choose to leave this world any more than any other child with any other illness. Their mental health condition was just as terminal.