We met Lisa Brattain, Indiana/Ohio Area Director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at the New Albany High School Out of the Darkness Walk. A New Albany high school student addressed the crowd of assembled teens. Then, Lisa spoke from the heart about losing her son, Kurt, age 19, to death by suicide, which has inspired her passionate advocacy to honor his memory and prevent others from dying prematurely to suicide. Kurt was 19, and he was diagnosed with depression as a freshman in high school. Kurt died his first semester of college 4 years later, in 2006.
It was a bitterly cold day, more like northern Minnesota than Central Ohio, the day of the AFSP walk March 16th -with a 13 degree wind chill. High school students bravely turned out to raise attention to the cause with resource tables outside the field house. Pomegranate Health Systems exhibits at/sponsors Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation conferences, and had only recently become aware of this walk. A university Campus Walk is planned to raise money and awareness at The Ohio State University on Sunday, October the 12th at Fred Beekman Park. [Link to info below] We asked Lisa to share her and her son’s story for other parents and the broader community.
‘P’: Did you have any idea Kurt was suffering to the point of taking his life?
Lisa: “We knew he had depression, we were completely uneducated about his illness and had no idea he was suicidal because the connection between depression and suicide had never been made for us. The conversation of possibilities was never had during his 4 year treatment from diagnosis to death. We/ nor did he understand the depths or difficulties that someone struggling with a depressive illness goes through. We didn’t have the words to say, to have the right discussions to keep him safe or even understand what he might be going through. He didn’t have the background or language to understand or express that he was ill. Instead he struggled in silence, thinking he was weak and flawed – not that he was ill, and it was not anything he could have, or would have chosen. It wasn’t his fault.”
‘P’: Knowing Kurt, did you think he planned this, or was it a spontaneous act?
Lisa: “Knowing Kurt before, not in a million years did I ever think he was even thinking about suicide, but we were living uninformed and un-prepared. Certainly now, I understand the warning signs, risk factors, and so much more. He did outwardly show warning signs, we just didn’t know they were warning signs.
[See signs below] It may have happened spontaneously the day that my son took his life, but it is clear that he had experienced that impulsivity before, and knew what steps he was going to take. He had been speaking about doing future things just 30 minutes prior to an impulsive and aggressive episode that ended with his life being over. So to answer that question – both.”
‘P”: What would you tell parents of teens? What would you say to friends of a teen who may be struggling?
Lisa: “If your teen has been diagnosed with a mental illness, please take the time to understand the illness, just as you would if they were diagnosed with diabetes or cancer or any other illness that we acknowledge can be detrimental to someone’s health. Ask questions, make sure you know how to be the support system they need to overcome the illness. Don’t assume that they would tell you if they need something, or that something awful is stirring inside them… they are likely just as scared of it as they are of what your reaction might be if they tell you. They likely don’t have the words to have the right dialog to get help… they need your help for that. We functioned under the “not my child” blindness. Kurt was a football player and a rugby player, he had lots of friends, girl-friends … with several support structures- family, church/youth group, medical, school/team/social supports, and none of these structures were prepared to help or see warning signs and reach out to him. I don’t say that with fault or blame, I say that with the opportunity to raise up a community that is prepared and caring and ready to help those in need… WITH GREAT HOPE.”
‘P’: What do you think those of us in the mental health community need to do better?
Lisa: “I think we (collectively) need to do a better job of preparing individuals given these types of diagnosis, preparing their families with education of the illness and understanding of how to be a support structure, and doing a consistent persistent job of creating a better informed society/community able to discuss mental illness and suicide with the same intensity and openness that we discuss high blood pressure and heart disease…. and don’t cease the conversation until we can say the words without watching the faces we speak to cringe in fear, shame or judgment. No one would choose to be depressed… no one would ever choose that! They want to feel better, just as someone with chronic pain JUST wants to feel better. We all can do a better job of creating the environment that allows and encourages that to happen.”
‘P’: What would you want the broader community to understand?
Lisa: “I would want the broader community to understand that illness is ILLNESS. No one chooses to be ill! Depression is an illness. There is chemically and physically something happening inside someone who has a mental illness. Your brain can get sick, just like any other organ in your body. We need to a better job of caring for each other, understanding each other, and helping each other.“
Lisa: “We never know what the person passing us on the street is going through – but your smile may be the only one that person might see that day… and your smile or greeting maybe the very thing that changes someone’s mind if they are contemplating suicide. Depression is the leading cause of suicide, and HOPE is a hard thing to come by when your brain is ill and you are struggling. We are ALL capable of compassion. Many participating in our lives every day are struggling and we don’t even know it. We don’t know it because we can’t acceptably talk about it. We don’t know it because we are afraid of the answer and not being prepared to respond appropriately. Educating ourselves to help our families/friends and possibly even a stranger doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, right?”
Lisa added that in the US, a person dies by suicide every 13.7 minutes, every 14 minutes someone is left to make sense of it. For all of us in the mental health community and the broader community who suffer the loss of a loved one, it has become an urgent mission to: ‘Silence the Stigma of Depression and Suicide! Join the Movement TODAY!’ http://www.AFSP.org
If you need help:
If you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Locally (Columbus) Call 614-276-CARE (614- 276-2273) or Toll Free at 1-888-276-CARE (1-888- 276-2273)
Netcare provides mental health and substance abuse crisis services at 199 South Central Avenue and 741 East Broad Street 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Or visit your nearest hospital Emergency room.
To contact Lisa and/or register your support of the AFSP Walk:
Indiana/Ohio Area Director
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
14350 Mundy Drive, Suite 800, #199
Noblesville, Indiana 46060
Support our Walk:
Here is ‘Cia’s [‘P”] page
Here is the Pomegranate Health Systems team page: http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=68275
Also visit The Jason Foundation. The Jason Foundation, Inc. has opened a community resource center at Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry (Acadia). See: http://www.JasonFoundation.com
Persons who are considering suicide generally display symptoms of depression.
These signs may include but not be limited to the following:
* Sudden radical changes in mood, particularly depression
* Increasingly self deprecating remarks
* Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
* Increased use of alcohol or drugs
* Giving away of cherished items
* Making goodbyes
* Serious withdrawal from activities and significant persons
* Persistent discussions of death
* Self destructive or high risk behavior
* Previous attempts of suicide
* Identification with someone who has died by suicide
* Statements of a desire to explore or complete suicide
-(from Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation)