Amanda Atkinson Brooks recalled the many days when, as an adolescent, dark clouds made it impossible to get out of bed and go to school.
Atkinson Brooks, 21, of Wallingford, has been fighting suicidal thoughts since she was a child growing up in Meriden. Her condition baffled her parents, who took her to a pediatrician who in turn referred her to a psychiatrist and prescribed medication but little else, she said.
When the sucidal thoughts didn’t subside, he would say “let’s up the dose,” Atkinson Brooks said.
“I was in and out of hospitals a lot as a child,” she said. “I picked up a lot of bad habits in those environments.”
Then one day, at age 13, Atkinson Brooks took a handful of sleeping pills she found in her mother’s medicine cabinet and woke up days later at MidState Medical Center.
“I was angry that I was found and saved,” she recalled. “I said ‘why am I alive right now?’” Atkinson Brooks reached out to the Record-Journal to share her story during National Suicide Prevention Week, which runs from Sunday through Saturday.
The attempted suicide led to profound changes in her life that put her on a path to successful treatment and recovery. She has since married and maintains a regimen of therapy, medication, work and college that keep the dark clouds at bay as she strives for a career in psychiatric nursing.
After her overdose, Atkinson Brooks was transferred to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where she participated in an intense treatment program for adolescents. While an outpatient, two therapists — one for herself and one for her parents — visited their home three times a week.
Her parents encouraged her to transfer to Lyman Hall High School’s vocational agriculture program, where she acclimated herself to a new circle of friends and found success in her junior and senior years of high school.
Atkinson Brooks works as an intake financial register at MidState Medical Center and is enrolled in classes in psychiatric nursing at Capital Community College. In her spare time, she advocates and reaches out to those suffering from depression, anxiety and anyone contemplating suicide.
For the first time, Atkinson Brooks is participating in the Out of the Darkness walk in East Hartford on Sept. 29. The walk, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, aims to raise awareness of the need for treatment of depression and anxiety disorders to stem the tide of suicide.
“We need more awareness,” Atkinson Brooks said. “Answers to questions about depression and anxiety are looked down on or unknown. It is so stigmitized. People trash talk it, will say ‘go for a run’ or ‘exercise,’ but it’s not that simple.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in June that suicide rates nationally jumped by 25 percent since 1999, a finding that shocked even experts who believed the rate had been flat. Connecticut’s rate, 9.7 deaths per 100,000, rose 20 percent during that time, and 49 states saw an increase, according to the CDC.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. with one occuring on average every 13.3 minutes. And for every suicide, there are 30 people who made the attempt, said Dr. James F. O’Dea, vice president of the Behavior Health Network of Hartford Healthcare.
According to the state Department of Public Health, approximately 31 percent of victims had a history of treatment for mental illness and 42 percent had previously attempted or thought about suicide or disclosed their intent to commit suicide.
“It’s a very big issue,” O’Dea said. “It’s the second cause of death for young people. It’s a compelling public health crisis. Suicide is an act associated with much larger issues. If we treat those problems we make the likelihood of suicide much less frequent.”
He said this should include psychological screenings in primary care settings similar to the way patients are regularly checked for cancers.
“We’ve done a far better job of promoting pyschiatric problems,” O’Dea said. “We have more open discussion of mental health issues... We have more people in care than ever before.”
While insurance coverage for mental health and addiction treatments has expanded, Atkinson Brooks said more needs to be done to help those who might avoid care due to out-of-pocket expenses.
“There is a lack of resources,” she said. “There is a lack of child psychiatrists. The people that do have financial trouble, they don’t always know what the first step should be.”
Atkinson Brooks knows the day will come when she no longer needs medication to keep the dark clouds at bay but until then, she said no longer feels stigmatized over a “chemical imbalance in the brain.” Even telling her story has risks, she acknowledged.
“What if these people judge me,” she asked a family member.
“Instead of people judging you, they’ll see how far you’ve come,” the family member replied.
Those seeking services for themselves or someone else can call 2-1-1 for the state’s emergency mobile services unit, or contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Those who are worried a loved one is considering suicide can also get advice at www.preventsuicide.org.
Locally, services are available at Rushford Center, the Community Health Center, MidState Medical Center for emergencies. and the Child Guidance Center.
When should you call for help?
Warning signs that someone may be suicidal include:
• Talking about suicide or being preoccupied with death
• Getting the means to take your own life
• Changes in normal behavior or withdrawing from social contact
• Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
• Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
• Giving away belongings or preparing for death for no apparent reason
Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to complete the act. Signs that someone can be at-risk to attempt suicide can include:
• Previous suicide attempt or suicidal thoughts
• Feeling worthless, agitated, socially isolated or lonely
• Substance abuse
• Have an underlying psychiatric disorder or medical condition linked to depression
• Family history