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Before Suicide: A Parent’s Journey

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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.

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