In less than 5 minutes

Losing my son to suicide

The Grief Project

I attended my first Out of the Darkness Walk hosted by the Missouri Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) on Sept. 26, 2021, two weeks after losing my son, Ian, to suicide. Still in shock and consumed by grief, I was not ready for it. Not ready for the seeming celebratory mood of the walking groups; not ready for the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace. Not ready for the release of the doves or the quilts with the faces of the lost. I wasn’t ready to consider Ian’s face on a quilt or to believe he was really gone, that he wouldn’t be waiting for me when I got home to tell me it was all a mistake, it was someone else they found in his apartment, someone else I had identified at the morgue.

That feeling persisted for months. I left the porch light on night after night hoping he would come home. Then left it on hoping wherever he was it would guide him back to us. At eight months, when I finally tried turning it off, it felt like a betrayal. It felt like I was giving up on him, admitting he was gone and wasn’t coming back. It felt like losing him all over again.

I have struggled with depression for most of my adult life. After losing Ian, my grief and depression became one. I was sliding into a depression so dark it threatened to consume me. I knew where it would end. I knew I couldn’t put my family – my wife and daughters and Ian’s younger brother – through that again. I knew I couldn’t push through anymore, trying to busy myself with work that no longer mattered to me. I knew I wouldn’t survive – sleepless, barely eating, and drinking to get to sleep at night – if I didn’t get help. 

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HHS Announces Additional $200 Million in Funding for 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Funding for states, territories, and tribes will help build local capacity.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), today announced more than $200 million in new funding for states, territories, and tribes to build local capacity for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and related crisis services.

“Thanks to President Biden, we are finally and seriously saying to Americans struggling with their mental health: Support is Here!” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Support is here in 988, the three-digit Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, and this new funding reflects our commitment to strengthening the crisis care system across our country so Americans can get the care they need.”

The $200.15 million in new funding opportunities for the 988 Lifeline includes:

  • $177.35 million to states and U.S. territories to: improve local response; enhance recruiting, hiring, and training of 988 workforce; implement additional technology and security measures to support infrastructure and effectively coordinate across the crisis continuum; improve support and service for high-risk and underserved populations, including quality assurance and review of critical incidents; and develop and implement comprehensive communication plans,
  • $17.8 million to federally recognized Indian Tribes, Tribal organizations, and Urban Indian Organizations to: improve response, ensure access to culturally competent 988 crisis center support, improve integration and support and ensure navigation and follow-up care, and
  • $5 million for 988 Lifeline crisis follow-up programs that will allow call centers to provide systematic follow-up of suicidal persons who reach out to the 988 Lifeline, enhanced coordination of crisis stabilization, including with 911 and emergency service providers, reduction of unnecessary police engagement and improved connections for high-risk populations.

The Biden-Harris Administration has made an unprecedented investment of nearly $1 billion to support the 988 Lifeline, including an initial $432 million to support the transition to 988 in July 2022, to build up crisis center capacity and to provide special services, including a sub-network for Spanish speakers. Additional funding for the 988 Lifeline has been provided by the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, and the federal FY 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Prior to this investment, the Lifeline, which existed since 2005 as a 1-800 number, had been long underfunded and under-resourced.

“The timely investments in the 988 Lifeline at the federal, state and local levels are helping ensure that many more people in crisis are getting the help and support they need,” said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the leader of SAMHSA. “Data continues to show an increase in overall calls, texts and chats from the year prior, and at the same time, answer rates are significantly improving, which means that more people are getting help and they are getting help more quickly, which is crucial for someone in crisis.”

Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most 988 Lifeline callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful.

In 2021, according to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 4.8% of adults ages 18 or older (about 12.3 million people) had serious thoughts of suicide, and among adolescents ages 12 to 17, 12.7% (about 3.3 million people) had serious thoughts of suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2021, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people aged 10–14 and 25–34 years.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. To learn how to get support for mental health, drug, and alcohol issues, visit FindSupport.gov.

To locate a treatment facility or provider, visit FindTreatment.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Social media addiction is a growing concern 

Psychologists estimate tens of millions of Americans are addicted to social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. While adults and teens both use the platforms, social media addiction statistics indicate that the younger generation is more easily addicted and more susceptible to negative effects such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts leading to an increase in social media addiction lawsuits.

Since the early 2000s, social media has revolutionized the way we connect with one another. Social media has evolved since the days of Myspace, the very first platform. Dozens of other platforms have since emerged, from Facebook to Twitter to YouTube and TikTok, capturing the attention of larger and larger audiences.

In 2005, just five percent of Americans used social media. By 2021, a staggering 72 percent of Americans had active social media accounts.

It’s estimated that more than 4.8 billion people worldwide actively use social media every day. By 2027, nearly six billion people are expected to use social media daily.

However, social media appears to carry some risks. Among them is the risk of addiction.


Statistics clearly show that social media has become a huge part of our lives. This is particularly true for children, teens, and young adults, who are now spending hours every day using social media.

• The average person spends two hours and 27 minutes on social media every day.

• It’s estimated that 210 million people worldwide are addicted to social media.

• More than half of all drivers admit to checking social media behind the wheel.

• Overuse of social media in children and teens can literally rewire their brains.

• Roughly 42 percent of teens admit that social media keeps them from connecting with friends in person.

• In a recent survey, 70 percent of teens said they feel left out or excluded because of social media.

• Suicide rates among teens have increased in the age of social media.

• Social media is more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes.

These statistics on social media addiction were compiled by the Lanier Law Firm. To learn more, visit here.

Healing from grief

The Grief Project

Kristen Ernst lost her son in 2004. As she worked through her grief, she noted how hard it was to find grief and trauma counseling and set out to change that. Now an MA, LPC and owner of the Center for Hope and Healing, LLC in St. Charles, Mo., she provides support for others struggling with grief. 

“When I went to get help with my own loss, I noticed that there were a lot of people who were just like ‘Yep, move on.’ I had turned to my clergy and then I had turned to professionals And I noticed there was not a lot of training around grief counseling for clinicians, so I went back and got my master’s in counseling with an emphasis in trauma and decided to work with this population.”

Ernst started working with Provident Behavioral Health, working with the suicide crisis line and the Hope After program, a case management program for people who may have been hospitalized with suicidal ideation. At the same time, she was also doing hospice work.

“I started really diving into grief and helping people through loss and traumatic loss,” Ernst said. “Hospice has a different kind of people who have this anticipatory grief that they’re preparing for. They’re having this experience beforehand. But when there’s suicide, there is no preparation for that. It can be incredibly isolating. I think suicide loss has that even more because there’s so much shame attached to it. I like to educate and support and empower people to have the resources to feel like they’re not alone.”

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Is the pandemic to blame for the rising suicide rate? Not entirely.

The Grief Project

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, with 47,646 deaths reported in 2021, an increase of nearly four percent over 2020, according to recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of suicides per 100,000 increased from 13.5 in 2020 to 14.0 in 2021.

According to the report:

• The number of suicides was higher in nine months during 2021 compared to 2020, with the largest increase occurring in October (+11%).

• The increase in suicides was higher among males (4%) than females (2%), as was the increase in the suicide rate (+3% for males and +2% for females).

• The largest increase in the rate of suicide occurred among males ages 15-24 – an eight percent increase. Suicide rates also increased for males ages 25-34, 35-44, and 65-74.

The increase could be fueled in part by the loss, isolation and life disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Kristen Ernst MA, LPC owner of the Center for Hope and Healing, LLC, in St. Charles, Mo., says there are also other factors at play. 

Alcohol sales increased by 85 percent during the pandemic, she notes. More people were self-medicating with substances, and suicide rates increased.

Isolation, substance abuse and mental illness all play a role, she said.

“We say that through social media, we’re more connected than ever before, but we’re actually more isolated,” Ernst said. “I think that we all kind of fell victim to the pandemic in some way. And some more than others. And that’s because we’re really not meant to be that isolated. You look at every other mammal, they have communities. If an elephant falls into the river, every other elephant goes into the river to save the little baby elephant. 

“During the pandemic, we weren’t able to help each other,” she said. “Even now we’re seeing third graders who don’t know how to read because they were not in school. We learn by being with other people. 

“I think the people that weren’t struggling with mental illness before they went into the pandemic really experienced a lot of depression and anxiety. And then for people that were experiencing before, it just increased so much.” 

The largest increase in the rate of suicide occurred among males ages 15-24. At that age, Ernst notes, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that moderates cognitive function and impulse control, is not fully developed.

In that age range, “impulsivity is super high,” she said. “And when you add that with mental illness, it’s just a recipe for disaster.” 

Taking steps to prevent suicide

From UCLA Health:

The suicide rate among young adults is up, and the COVID-19 pandemic may not be the only factor to blame. Experts are looking closely at the role of social media, drug use and mood disorders. But the most important key to preventing suicide may be recognizing the signs of suicidal thoughts.

“Many people believe this increase in suicides is related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I think it’s more than that,” said April Thames, PhD, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and a clinical neuropsychologist at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “The impact of COVID may be a part in it, but other factors such as social media, a history of mood disorders and drug use have played a significant role, as well.”


There can be many triggers that may lead a person to take their life, from the emotional turmoil of a broken relationship to the death of a loved one to the despair of a deep-seated issue they are unable to resolve.

Most often, “depression is a precursor,” said Dr. Thames. “At the point of suicide, people are in a state of despair and do not see a way out. When you don’t see a way out of your situation, death, for too many people, looks like a better option.”

While there are instances in which suicide is an impulsive act, most often it comes after long contemplation, Dr. Thames said.

“Most people who go through with the act of suicide have been dealing with months or years of day-to-day anguish and pain,” she said. “There is usually a prolonged period of severe depression. In some cases, there have been multiple unsuccessful attempts before the final act.”


Recognizing that a person may be having suicidal thoughts can be difficult, Dr. Thames noted. Some people are able to mask their depression behind smiles and laughter, putting up a façade that hides their pain.

“We often hear, ‘I didn’t see it coming,’” she said of friends and family members. “But if you start to ask the people in your circle on a daily basis how they’re doing or talk to them regularly, you may see signs of trouble that might otherwise be missed.”

Dr. Thames also encourages more open conversation about suicide. “We need to destigmatize the conversation, particularly in communities where there are cultural barriers to talking about it,” she said.

Start young, Dr. Thames said. “Teaching adolescents that they have a purpose in their lives can significantly affect the number of young adults who take their own lives. We have to get youth to see themselves outside of their immediate situations, to foster channels for them to use their imagination to envision how they will prosper in the future. That is where prevention begins, when they are young.”

Annie’s Hope – Helping children heal from grief

An estimated 5.6 million children in the U.S. will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18. Of those, an estimated 467,000 (9.8%) will lose a parent to suicide, and 42,000 (4.4%) will lose a sibling to suicide.

Researchers believe one in 13 kids in the U.S. will suffer the loss of a parent or sibling before they turn 18. When they do, surviving parents or guardians find themselves coping with their children’s grief even as they struggle with their own. That’s where places like Annie’s Hope – The Center for Grieving Kids in Kirkwood, Mo., come in.

Founded in 1997 as the St. Louis Bereavement Center for Young People, Annie’s Hope seeks to help entire families in their mourning process. It hosts annual summer camps, teen retreats, family support groups, school-based programs and other services for those who’ve suffered a loss. It also maintains a speakers institute, grief referral service and community resource library.

Becky Byrne, founder and executive director, says whether a child has suffered a loss due to suicide, heart disease cancer, an accident or murder there are commonalities in every death, but also distinct differences and unique challenges for grieving kids and families depending on the nature of the death.

“There’s a lot of common threads that go across every death,” Byrnes told The Grief Project. “Yet, there are aspects that are raised up or more prevalent in one versus another. So normally, unless it was a death by murder, you don’t get the news involvement. You know, you don’t get somebody calling you up all the time asking for interviews or showing up in your front yard, especially, you know, once it gets on news, and it explodes all over the place. It could be that way in a suicide as well, depending on the circumstance. It could in a long term illness, but it’s less likely.”

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Kody’s Story

As told by his mother Victoria Stinnett

Kody was born in 2003. I was 40 years old. He was… he is my baby. I have four kids. I have another son, Robby, who passed away from fentanyl poisoning in 2018.  He was 38. Kody passed on April 11, 2021. He had just turned 17. 

He was very serene baby. Never a problem. He had beautiful blonde curly hair. I do childcare in my home. So he grew up with all ages of children played with kids every day. When he went to school I remember the first two weeks he cried and cried. He did not want to get on that bus. I don’t know if I traumatized him. I think back and I’m like, Oh my God, is that why? I’m like, Why did I make him do that? I should have went with him. He was very, very sensitive. Like, if you even reprimanded him when he was little, he would just get so teary eyed, even if he didn’t really do anything wrong. That’s how sensitive he was. 

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Sophie’s Story

As told by her mother Julie McNeill

Sophie was 22 when she passed. The 20s are very vulnerable for our kids. It’s a very stressful time. You know, they’re coming into adulthood, kind of coming to grips with what they want to do, and maybe they don’t know whether they can do it. There is a lot of stress, I think.

Sophie, graduated with honors from St. Louis Catholic High School in Lake Charles, La. She was a well-liked girl, you know, had lots of friends, went to every school dance. She was popular, kind, pretty, funny. Just everything. But she decided to go to LSU Baton Rouge two hours from where we lived and go into chemical engineering.

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Elodie – Sydney’s Story

As told by her mother, Nancy Newton Blair

Her real name was Sydney but she changed it. She was a makeup artist, and she changed it professionally to Elodie about a year before she died. So she was going by Elodie, but I will probably call her Sydney because that was the name I gave her. And I tried very hard to be the great mom and go by what she wanted, but I always mess up. She will always be Sydney to me.

She was a creative genius. She was so smart, very book smart. She started reading early. When she was in first grade, she was reading on an eighth grade reading level. She read everything she could get her hands on. But she was so creative, too.

In high school, she learned about makeup and wanted to do that, so she watched tutorials and taught herself how to be like a professional makeup artist. She went to college and studied psychology but then, after her sophomore year, she came to us and she’s like, Mom and Dad, I really feel like I’m wasting my time. This is what I want to be. And we were like, that’s fine. There’s no point in spending two more years getting a degree if this is what you want to do. Go for it.Continue reading “Elodie – Sydney’s Story”