Mental illness is a crisis that affects our whole world;
~Both the world as we perceive it and millions of us who call Earth ‘home’.
According to the World Health Organization, as of 2016 there are an estimated 615 million people in our world, or close to 10% of the total population that suffer from clinical anxiety and depression . While 10% may not sound like a lot, 10% of the world population is actually more people than the entire population of the United States and Canada combined (which only equates to 360,895,700 – and those are 2017 stats ).
“Just take a moment to be kind”.
These are the powerful words from a grieving mother who recently lost her 18 year old son, who took his own life after a lifelong battle with major depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
My question to this day is why are we not taught more about mental health in our school systems.
We can find suicide prevention hotline posters in high schools but why are our children and youth not being taught about their own mental health – we should all be taught healthy coping mechanisms for emotions, how to train our brain and thought patterns and learn ways to decrease stress.
We have associated an undisputed shame and stigma to surround our mental health and well-being – keeping a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety quiet, while we discuss almost every other major and minor life detail.
It’s time we start looking at mental health the same way we do physical health. In these powerful words to come from a grieving mother, you will come to realise the importance of talking about mental health after hearing the story of her son, Sergei.
Sergei was born on Sept. 29, 1998, in Murmansk, Russia. Until he was 10 years old, he lived in various locations in northwest Russia, before becoming a resident of an orphanage in the Karelia Region. Sergei, like any other orphaned child, wanted a family and a better future; a new and different life.
Through his orphanage, Sergei learned about an organization known as Camp Hope, which is located in Iowa USA. Camp Hope works to find homes for older children that are living in Russian orphanages.
It was in the June 13th 2009 edition of The Des Moines Register – where Mary Neubauer and her husband, Larry Loss, read a story about six orphaned Russian children that were scheduled to visit Camp Hope in Iowa for several weeks – with hopes of finding their forever families who would adopt them. Mary and Larry both agreed on going to the gathering, which would be taking place at a bowling alley.
When the date of the gathering arrived, at first the couple wasn’t sure exactly what they should be doing, so they sat in the back and observed the children. Both Mary and Larry noticed Sergei; he had kindly helped a smaller girl handle her bowling ball and he had also cheered for all the other children with every roll.
From that moment, they knew Sergei was their son. The couple told Camp Hope that they wanted to adopt Sergei – rules of the organization required the hopeful parents-to-be to ask the child directly if he or she wished to be adopted. On the following day, Mary and Larry asked Sergei if they could adopt him and he enthusiastically agreed.
Mary, Larry and Sergei became a family on Christmas night in 2009. So much hope and joy was brought to all three, but it all ended tragically in September 2017.
Sergei’s History of Mental Illness and Trauma
Sergei showed signs of trauma early in his life with Mary and Larry. “We didn’t know the extent of the abuse he had suffered until years and years later because he just couldn’t bring himself to talk about the details until recently,” his mother had said .
While in Russian orphanages, Sergei had suffered from “every form of abuse possible” and during his time with Mary and Larry he struggled with ‘the demon’ of mental illness, spending years fighting the effects of his childhood traumas that continued to haunt him in his teens .
Mary and Larry knew Russian authorities had terminated the rights of Sergei’s biological parents due to severe alcoholism and neglect. Sergei used to wake up screaming from night terrors. At one point Mary began to notice oddities in Sergei, like the fact that he was randomly missing part of an eyebrow and some of his eyelashes, which had been pulled out.
Once she realized that her 11-year-old son had a bald spot on his head – she and her husband took Sergei to see a therapist – where he was then diagnosed with trichotillomania, a disorder where you compulsively pull out your own hair to get a brief endorphin rush, leading you to feel momentary relief from your mental anguish. Sergei was also diagnosed with major depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD — all stemming from this abusive childhood before Sergei met Larry and Mary.
Sergei also lived with reactive attachment disorder, which made it a struggle for Sergei to develop attachments to his any of his caregivers. As Sergei grew closer with his adoptive parents, he shared with them other stories of abuse and his ongoing fear that Mary and Larry would kick him out of their home and family after turning 18 years old.
After graduating from high school Sergei had started to self-harm and developed a dependency for alcohol. He spent more than a week in inpatient mental health care, but continued to severely hurt himself after he was released. The Iowa-based couple had trouble finding long-term care for their son, and eventually settled on treatment center out of state because at the time Iowa “did not have adequate mental-health resources” for their son .
Sergei had worked for years to overcome mental illness. He would say:
“I want to feel better”.
“How can I feel better?”.
He fought and asked for help from his parents so many times. Mary says “I just wish one last time he could have been able to ask for help again.”
On Monday September 15th Mary had left the office early to bring home some work she needed to concentrate on. She got home about 3:30 p.m and found that Sergei had committed suicide.
What We Can Learn From Sergei’s Story
Mary and Larry are proud that Sergei was their son. They know that they are now more caring and better enlightened people for having him in their lives. They have been pleading with law and policy makers everywhere to recognize the toll that mental health struggles and addictions have on our world.
During Sergei’s time of crisis, Iowa did not have the adequate mental-health resources, and he had spent several months out of state in residential treatment.
A lack of access to mental health treatment is a huge issue in the United States. In a report issued by Mental Health America, 56% percent of adults with mental illness received no past year treatment, and for those seeking treatment, 20% percent continue to report that their treatment needs are unmet.
Although Sergei’s family was able to find him a long-term treatment out of state, there wasn’t enough support locally to potentially prevent his suicide.
Mary Neubauer wrote a heartfelt obit for her son (which you can read here). Sergei had taken a very brave step of asking for help, and Mary urges others to do the same if anyone is struggling with mental health issues.
In light of Sergei’s death, Mary wrote four pieces of advice that need to be remembered and repeated :
- If you need help, ask for it. Can it be scary to take that step? No doubt. But you are not alone.
- Seek to build others up, not tear them down. In little ways every day, we each can try to make a constructive difference. A smile, a kind word, a moment of your time can make a huge impact on others.
- Avoid drama. It does no good. Use your energy more wisely – there is only so much to go around.
- Recognize small moments of joy, for they happen all the time. We just have to notice.
Who Is Most At Risk?
While all demographics are at risk for developing mental health issues. Our youth of today is at a high risk. With the rate of divorce and family separation, stress from school, exposure to technology and social isolation – depression and anxiety can be experienced by our children, beginning at a young age.
We need to #BreakTheStigma and ensure that everyone knows that; it is ok to talk about your feelings and experiences; and it is ok to ask for help and seek the answers that aren’t given in school. Certain social media platforms that children are exposed to also greatly impact our health and well-being, certain apps have been linked to developing anxiety, depression, issues with self-identity and body image. YouTube was found to have the most positive impact – while Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter all demonstrate negative effects overall on young people’s mindset and mental health .
There is no master guide to parenting, I honestly believe that being a parent has got to be the hardest job on the planet. In the case of anxiety, depression and mental health issues, there are signs to look for in your child or other children :
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Irritability, anger, or hostility
- Tearfulness or frequent crying
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Poor or decreased school performance
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Restlessness and agitation
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If you need help, ask for it, at any age or stage of life.
Can it be scary to take that step? Definitely.
But you are NEVER alone.
Although mental health has this negative stigma around it, it takes true bravery and courage to speak out, and while it can and beyond emotional to bring your mental health to someone else’s attention. Your health, well-being and existence on this planet matters and your bravery and courage to speak up and ask for help will be respected.
Free help can be found by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255. Callers can get immediate help from a crisis specialist, and they can get referrals to local counseling. The group’s website is suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
We all encounter depression and anxiety in different chapters of our novel lives. Some may go through bouts, and some may define their life by it.
But at some point, all of us are likely to experience these psychological states of the mind.
But just because we are capable of depression and anxiety, does not mean that we should have to live this day-in and day-out.
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 A grieving mom writes her teen son’s touching obituary and pleads for Iowa to do more for the mentally ill
 Mother writes heartfelt obit for son who killed himself
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 Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression