A parent’s love is highly durable, and when a child suffers a mental illness that love bears a special responsibility that will last a lifetime. Stefanie Hoffman has this Perspective.

It’s funny how we only hear about suicide when it’s too late – after it’s been committed. For many, suicide is always accompanied by shock as well as sorrow. “Why would they do that?” I often hear. But I have a bit more insight.

For the past eight years, my daughter – who goes to school in another state – has struggled with a volatile depression associated with bipolar disorder that has led to several suicide attempts. And I’ve had a front row seat.

As her mother, I’ve become used to a different kind of normal. I regularly call her at odd hours to make sure she’s okay or talk her off a ledge. I’ve booked plane tickets to see her the day after her psychotic episodes. I’ve talked to countless therapists, social workers and psychiatrists, all with a different answer for a problem that they don’t fully understand. I sleep with my phone.

Even still, nothing could have prepared me for the call from the hospital telling me my daughter had attempted suicide and was being put on close watch for 72 hours. I found out later that she had taken an entire bottle of pills and passed out for more than a day. Luckily, her friends found her unconscious and got her help. And she lived through it. I had witnessed the slow crescendo up to this point. And while it was heartbreaking, it was far from surprising.

Now news of student suicides in Palo Alto and celebrity deaths like Robin Williams all have a profound effect on me because I see my own child in these people. I have learned to deal with my daughter’s illness in the way other parents deal with a child suffering from a heart condition or diabetes — it’s managed, but it will never “go away.” I’ve learned to rise to the occasion because I fear the one time I don’t take a call could be the one time that she needs me to convince her not to swallow a bottle of pills. The possibility of another suicide attempt is always in the back of my mind. This is the reality I’ve come to accept. There is no finish line. All I can do is hope that with persistence, unconditional love, and just being there, I can help her beat the odds.

With a Perspective, I’m Stefanie Hoffman.

Stefanie Hoffman is a writer and mental health advocate.

Before Suicide: A Parent’s Journey 3 January,2018Amanda Font

  • Mike Wyant

    We have a son who has struggled with depression most of his life. He’s now almost 26 and still trying to find his way in this world. He has threatened suicide numerous times, but thankfully no serious attempts. I look forward to my 2 other adult sons calls, but hold my breath when Greg calls. He has been on every medication and been to many therapists, and honestly don’t think any has helped much. He’s currently working a low wage job in the bay area and living in his van. He has tried college numerous times without success. Both of his brothers are working on their masters degrees and he wants so much to be like them! We try to help but other than some financial help and being there for him emotionally we do feel helpless. This story resonated with me. Thank you and good luck.

  • Liz

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I struggled with intense depression and suicidality in my twenties and now I am living through this on the other side with my teenage daughter, who also struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide. I so related to what you said here about staying near the phone and managing this like any other life threatening health condition. I hope your daughter is able to find the thing(s) that helps her want to stay alive, whatever that may be. And I wish you peace and comfort as you help her to navigate and manage her mental health.

  • Philip Diehl RN

    Thank you Stefanie. As a father, I can feel how horribly challenging your situation with your daughter must be. I’m sure that you’ve left few stones unturned in trying to help her. If you haven’t already, please consider looking up the work of Hyla Cass MD and Kelly Brogan MD. Both doctors are using functional medicine (root cause resolution) approaches to reverse the effects of bi-polarity as well as numerous other neurological disturbances and they have done so with profound and remarkable results.
    Something to consider is that our biochemistry is so very extremely complex and it is constantly being bombarded by the relentless insults from our physical, emotional and spiritual environments. There is also our nutrient intake and even more importantly our body’s ability to absorb nutrients. On top of those things is our body’s ability to rid itself of toxicity. And then not least of all is the epigenetics involved. These issues are not addressed in the allopathic model of psychiatry whereas they are addressed by the functional MD’s I mentioned and there is substantial evidence to their efficacy. Whether you do or not, I send you and your family prayers for healing.

  • Karen

    I listened to your story this morning while driving and had to pull over to shed a few tears. I have a very similar story. My son, who turns 29 next week, was diagnosed with Bipolar I 9 years ago while attending college. His world and our family’s world turned upside down and we’ve slowly adjusted to a ‘new normal’ (as you stated in your story). He tends to get manic (vs depressed) so my middle of the night phone calls concern imaginary fears or totally incomprehensible thoughts he is having. Psychotic episodes have required hospitalization on many occasions. His symptoms recur every few months and it’s debilitating for him. But as his mother, it’s a journey that’s hard to describe to those that haven’t walked in my shoes. I thank you for sharing your story. Please take comfort knowing that there are thousands of mothers like you navigating the emotional rollercoaster of loving a child with a severe mental illness.

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