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'My first suicide attempt was at 8:' Parents urged to talk to kids about mental health

WAAY 31's Marie Waxel examines the dangers and how symptoms are sometimes ignored or brushed aside.

Posted: Aug 12, 2019 6:09 PM
Updated: Aug 13, 2019 7:46 AM

With the new school year, therapists say it's more important than ever to talk to your children about mental health. At least three students died by suicide, one in each of the three school districts in Madison County, last school year.

"My first suicide attempt was at eight. The last time I thought about suicide, I actually planned it, was at 42," Brenda Taylor-Moody said.

A psychology professor said suicide is more common in teens than people think.

She says she spent most of her life struggling to understand why she felt different.

"I wasn't a bad kid," she said. "I had two parents at home who were very strict, but I was out of control because I couldn't control anything around me, and the more I felt, the more I felt uneased, the more I acted out."

She now challenges others to lose the stigma when it comes to mental illness, especially in kids because of this sobering statistic.

It's the second leading leading cause of death for children and teenagers in Alabama," said Dr. Aparna Vuppala, the medical director of Huntsville Hospital Foundation's SPEAK program (Suicide Prevention Empowerment Awareness Knowledge).

Huntsville Hospital Foundation is working to change that statistic. Dr. Vuppala encourages the importance of just that, urging others to speak openly about mental health.

"I would say (like) the way to decrease the rate is for everyone to talk about it," she said. "For everyone to realize what is depression, what is clinical depression, what is normal teenage reaction, what isn't normal childhood reaction."

Dr. Vuppala and others train teachers and staff at all three school districts in Madison County on mental health education.

"They're trying to do the best they can, when they pulled their parents in and say your child needs help, they need to see a counselor or they need to see a doctor and get help, but there's still the stigma that the parents are not able to let go and get help for the kid sometimes," Dr. Vuppala said.

According to Dr. Vuppala, there are many factors that can change a child's mental health at different ages. Bullying, family trauma, lack of support and social media play a role in the mental health of children and young adults. She says families cannot depend solely on school teachers and counselors to intervene.

"We always look for the sad kid or the kid who's a loner, and it's not always that," said Taylor-Moody. "Sometimes it's the most popular kid in school."

For Brenda, it took 42 years and the help of a friend to face her issues head-on.

"I'm diagnosed with anxiety and depression," she said. "My brain doesn't produce a certain chemistry, a certain chemical, so that had nothing to do with me being soft. I'm pretty tough and I realize that now and I'm willing to fight for other people who at that moment can't fight for themselves."

She says it's up to you to find the courage to share your thoughts.

"I beg you to just say something. I believed nobody would care, nobody was listening, but I was wrong. I was very wrong about people being out there who cared. There is a support system."

The SPEAK program offers a free app to help guide people of all ages on how to deal with suicide and ways to approach the topic.

"The average one suicide impacts at least minimum 200 people," said Dr. Vuppala. "We're talking about classmates or the church or you know, the community in the neighborhood, you know, that's the minimum of how one suicide impacts others."

As parents, she says you should never dismiss your child’s feelings. Be sure to have a safety net for them to be able to talk and discuss their feelings if they are having issues. And if you are the one struggling?

"It can be better," said Taylor-Moody. "You can live life normally. You can live life with purpose. It just takes a little work."

Dr. Vuppala said one in nine kids will tell an adult if they're suicidal, but most of them will tell a peer. That is why the SPEAK program is now looking for student ambassadors. To learn more about their student ambassador program, click here.

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