In January 2012, Margaret Sander’s grandson died by suicide, and one year later in January 2013, her great-grandson died in the same way.
The impact of one suicide on a family is dramatic, while two becomes all the more painful, which is why Margaret and her daughter, Rose Marie (Sander) Jackson have made it part of their mission in life to do what they can to ensure no family ever had to face this kind of tragedy.
Both spoke candidly about their family’s experience recently as the Redwood area community gathered together to begin the conversation about doing something to address the reality of the day – too many people are taking their own lives.
For the Sander family, suicide is the end result of a problem no one really likes to talk about – depression.
Margaret recalls as a very young child having feelings of depression, and to this day she is taking medication for her depression. Rose Marie has also faced depression, as did her son and grandson.
It was Rose Marie who discovered her son had hanged himself in the basement of her home. That is a picture she can’t get out of her head.
“I remember the absolute shock and just screaming, ‘no,no,no’ over and over,” said Rose Marie, adding she had to move out of that home and is now living in Belview where parents and other family members live.
“I have found support for my depression in family and friends,” said Rose Marie.
Margaret also can recall the day she got a call she is never going to forget.
“My daughter called and told me my grandson had hanged himself,” Margaret said. “That was so tough. It is hard to explain the feelings you have. It was hard, so very hard.”
Margaret said her grandson had been diagnosed with clinical depression and had been prescribed medication. What was discovered at the time he took his life he had stopped taking that medication. Rose Marie said it was hard to find that out, but she said he was 32 years old and you can’t force pills down the throat of someone who is 32.
No one knew Rose Marie’s grandson and Margaret’s great-grandson had been dealing with any kind of mental health issues until one day he just walked out of school. At that time he was diagnosed with the same thing his great-grandmother, grandmother and dad had faced – depression.
Depression is not a sign of weakness, said Margaret. It is a chemical imbalance due to a lack of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. It is a disease and needs to be treated that way. Rose Marie believes discovering depression early in the life of a child can be a big prevention measure.
Page 2 of 3 - “We do physicals and check for things like diabetes,” she said. “So, why can’t we do a mental health assessment, too?”
Margaret believes an annual mental health assessment would go a long way toward helping people long before they ever get to the point where life feels so bad the only way they feel they can get out of it is suicide.
In a silent statement she hopes speaks volumes to the people who she meets, Margaret wears a yellow ribbon on her shirt or coat – the symbol of suicide prevention.
Margaret said medication definitely helps, but she added the challenge for so many with a depression diagnosis is the medication prescribed does not always work right away and could take up to six weeks before the right medication is found. She added counseling is another important element to addressing depression.
“You have to find out which medication works best for you,” she said, adding that can be frustrating, especially for someone who is already facing the pain of depression.
Both Margaret and Rose Marie said when it comes to mental illness one of the biggest issues is societal, as the stigma of a diagnosis remains very negative.
“We have to end that,” Margaret stressed.
Margaret said when it came to her great-grandson, who was just 12 when he took his life, there did not seem to be many signs.
“He was a happy kid,” she said, adding the weekend before he had been fishing in South Dakota. That is why it is so important for parents to find out what signs and symptoms could lead them to determine whether or not their child(ren) have clinical depression.
“We have computers today,” she said. “So get on your computer and get educated.”
Margaret and Rose Marie also stressed the importance of people talking about their depression, adding, especially when it comes to children, no one is going to feel hurt if you tell them you are feeling depressed.
“We need to create a way for our children to know they can talk about what they are feeling,” said Margaret, adding that is especially true with males who often feel any signs of depression are also signs of weakness.
Rose Marie said depression is the real issue, because by the time someone is seriously thinking about suicide they are already feeling dead inside.
“It’s like being in the last stages of cancer,” she said. “They feel suicide is the only option they have to end the pain, so they have a peace inside.”
Rose Marie and Margaret said they have seen what suicide does to a family.
Page 3 of 3 - There is no one to blame, but there is plenty of opportunity for people to get involved to help spread the word and raise the issue of suicide and depression publicly.
“Speak up,” said Rose Marie. “Don’t wait until you can’t take it. Get help.”
There are people who want to help, but they can’t do anything if they don’t know what is going on. There is no shame in admitting you are depressed.
Margaret said she is willing to talk with and listen to anyone who needs someone.
“I’m not an expert,” she said, “but I want to help.”
Suicide is a terrible way to die, said Rose Marie, both for the person who takes their life and the family left behind.
“I keep thinking I am going to see my son and grandson again,” said Rose Marie, adding each time she hears of someone else dying by suicide it brings to the forefront the issues she has faced. “I miss them terribly.”
She knows the pain, but she also knows there are ways to get help.
If you are at the point where you feel there is no other way out, you can find help by calling the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) crisis line at 1-800-273-8255. More information is also available on the SAVE Web site at www.save.org.