By: Nicole German. Maddie's mom and founder of The Maddie Project.
Maddie was my first.
My first child.
My first little miracle.
My first experience of a mother's love that cannot be described in words. From the moment I learned I was pregnant, to seeing her greyish outline in an ultrasound to the moment her huge brown eyes locked with mine when she was born.
There isn't a thing I wouldn't have done for her.
I remember once, when she was little she was running down the sidewalk and tripped on the curb and hit the pavement face first. It was not pretty. She screamed and got up and ran to me as I ran to her with my arms wide open. I enveloped her in my arms and held her tight as blood streamed down my shoulder. After a few minutes I was able to settle her, calm her and make her feel better.
Even as she got older, when someone was mean to her at school, she would come home, we would talk it through and I could help her manage and feel better about the situation.
The power of a mother's love.
But when Maddie got more and more sick with anxiety and depression, I knew I couldn't go it alone. Ice cream cones, my hugs and unconditional love were not enough to settle her, calm her and make her feel better.
She needed more. So much more. So my role expanded to continue to love and care for her but I also needed to advocate for her medical care.
I must put the few ounces of energy I have to help try to ensure that no child or youth, parent, sibling, grandparent, friend or community has to suffer such an immense tragedy.
I spent relentless hours each day being there for her -- when she called in the middle of the day from school and needed me but also searching for therapists, programs, adding her name to wait lists, taking her to medical appointments, talking to her teachers and more often than not just lying down with her and holding her so she knew that she was not alone. Just to be with her.
Each day had roadblocks -- whether it was how she was feeling, trying to get people to understand she wasn't well even though she hadn't been "diagnosed" with anxiety because she was on a wait list to see a psychiatrist. And even to battle my own stress and exhaustion.
I tried so hard to be proactive and get her care upstream. Maddie didn't look sick on the outside -- she was social, did OK in school, was physically active and had a family that loved her so she wasn't seen as "bad enough" to prioritize.
The challenge was it was until she got so bad she tried to take her life. And it wasn't until then that we finally were able to get access to the circle of care she needed in the hospital -- psychiatrist, psychologist, cognitive behaviour therapist, child youth counselor, compassionate teachers and more.
But that was only for a short stint because as soon as she started to feel better she was released and back to a wait list scenario for monitoring and follow up care.
We must get all our youth access to care in the moment that they need it -- no wait lists...
So many people ask me how I have the courage and strength to tell Maddie's story and to advocate for change. I, like others, that have lived this pain feel it is so excruciating that I must put the few ounces of energy I have to help try to ensure that no child or youth, parent, sibling, grandparent, friend or community has to suffer such an immense tragedy.
Suicide is hard.
It is hard to even say the word let alone imagine that someone close to you might think that is the only path forward is to take their own life. It's hard to relate, surreal on many levels.
But take a minute to imagine. Imagine losing one of the people you love the most by suicide. Does your stomach drop, your heart race, tears come to your eyes or even fear race through your bones?
We can all do small things like reaching out when your when your child or friend seems to be struggling. Reducing pressures on our youth and opening up the conversation about youth mental health helps too.
But we also must do big things.
We must get ALL our youth access to care in the moment that they need it -- no wait lists, no age restrictions, no triaging.
We must look upstream for ways to proactively identify kids that might be more susceptible to struggles -- family history, traumatic moments in life (death, abuse, divorce, moving schools).
As hard and sad as some days it is to always have her on my mind, I never want to lose any piece of that.
We must include detailed assessments for youth as a part of their annual checkups, integrate self-awareness and coping strategies into our curriculums. Remove stigmas so we can openly share that our child is sick and struggling with depression or anxiety and needs help. We must eliminate wait lists. And stop stigma.
So this is my why.
It is because I would never wish on anyone to have to endure the pain and ache that I and Maddie's family and so many others that are a part of "our club" have to now live with.
I don't have Maddie bursting through the door after school, dropping her school bags, messing up the kitchen and teasing her brothers any more. But every minute of every day she is on my mind. When I reach for my toothbrush in the morning, when I set the table, when I select my outfit to wear for the day, when I see moms and daughters together walking down the street.
And as hard and sad as some days it is to always have her on my mind, I never want to lose any piece of that.
Maddie was my first.
My first child.
My first little miracle.
And now she is gone.
Her mother's love was not enough.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
If you or someone you know is at risk please contact your nearest Crisis Centre or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a counsellor.
Frame Of Mind is a blog series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email email@example.com
The Maddie Project is a community effort in support of youth struggling with depression and other mental health related concerns. Driven by community collaboration and events, the project's goals are to raise awareness by sparking conversations about youth depression and mental health concerns as well as to help provide uninhibited access to support for youth and their families.
The Maddie Project was founded in April 2015 in memory of Madeline Grace German Coulter. To date the project has engaged 100s of thousands in active conversations around youth mental health and has raised over $1 million dollars in partnership with North York General Hospital Foundation towards the development of Maddie's Healing Garden and support of other child and adolescent mental health services at North York General Hospital.
One in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime Source: Canadian Mental Health Association
Nearly half of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem. Source: CMHA
Latest studies showed more than 1.3 million young Canadians have a mood disorder or addiction. Two-thirds had symptoms before the age of 15. Source: Statistics Canada, Government of Canada
Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15- to 24-year-old Canadians, second only to accidents. In 2012, 261 Canadian kids and teens took their own lives. Source: CMHA, Statistics Canada
LGBTQ youth face about 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers Source: CMHA Ontario
First Nations youth are at a higher risk. The suicide rate among First Nations youth is roughly five to seven times higher than that of the general population. Source: Parliament of Canada study, 2014
People with mental illness and addictions are more likely to die prematurely than those without. Mental illness can cut 10 to 20 years from a person’s life expectancy. Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Contending with her bipolar disorder brought Yashi Brown to poetry, and with it, she's trying to end the stigma of mental illness.
If you need help, visit ementalhealth.ca to search for services in your area. Or call the Kids' Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, it's Canada's only free phone counselling service for youth under 20.
More From Frame Of Mind:
- Sophie Grégoire Trudeau: Why My Family Talks Openly About Mental Health
- Depression Is More Than Being Sad
- Why I Talk About My Depression (And You Should Too)
- To Teens In The Darkness: Tomorrow Needs You, We All Need You
- Suicide Prevention: I Want Other Families To Know What Ours Didn't
- Our Daughter Fell Through The Cracks Of Our Mental Health System
- The Way We Care For People With Mental Illness Needs To Change
Follow The Maddie Project on Twitter: www.twitter.com/maddie_project