Son’s suicide attempts frustrate Chandler mom SanTan Sun News

Son’s suicide attempts frustrate Chandler mom

April 12th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Son’s suicide attempts frustrate Chandler mom
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Nailah Hendrickson can vividly recall the night last August when she awoke to police officers banging on the door to her Chandler home.

It was just after 1 a.m. and Hendrickson was stunned to wake up to the presence of law enforcement in her relatively quiet neighborhood.

Officers frantically asked Hendrickson the whereabouts of her 15-year-old son, prompting her to believe he might have gotten into trouble for something.

But the cops weren’t there to arrest Hendrickson’s son. They were there to save him.

A friend had apparently alerted the police after Hendrick’s son made some statements suggesting he might harm himself. She quickly escorted officers to the teenager’s room, where they found him barely conscious after swallowing a bunch of pills.

He managed to survive, yet the family’s problems were only beginning.

“It just escalated from there,” Hendrickson recalled. “He really withdrew from the family.”

Since the pandemic began last year, Hendrickson’s son, now 16, has attempted to take his life multiple times and has ended up in hospitals for days waiting to receive psychiatric care.   

His third attempt forced Hendrickson and her younger son to break down his bedroom door. They found him unconscious.

The abrupt downturn in her son’s health perplexed to Hendrickson, since she always thought of him as a sociable, active, upbeat kid.

“He never cut himself before. He was always a straight-A student with honors classes,” she said. “He’s always been on the football team.”

Her son, who asked not to be identified, is one of several adolescents who have suddenly had to confront an onslaught of mental health problems during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a study published last month by FAIR Health, the number of teens diagnosed for anxiety increased by 93 percent during the first couple months of the pandemic.

The number of depression diagnoses jumped by 83 percent and the rate of self-harm incidents among teens almost doubled.

FAIR Health, a nonprofit advocating for greater transparency in health care, believes the pandemic triggered emotional problems that teens might have previously resolved through social interactions or extracurricular activities.

“Young people have proven especially vulnerable to mental health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study’s authors wrote. “School closures, having to learn remotely and isolating from friends due to social distancing have been sources of stress and loneliness.”

Hendrickson believes her son may have had underlying psychological issues that could have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Once schools and parks closed, she soon noticed a drastic change in his demeanor.

“He just didn’t want to participate in any of the things he normally did,” she said.

Her son currently attends individual therapy twice a week, group therapy sessions three times per week and biweekly meetings with a psychiatrist.

The management of her son’s continuous treatment has been stressful for Hendrickson, who additionally has to look after her other children and elderly, bed-bound father.

She also works a full-time job and has to spend three days a week at the office.

As her older son’s health started to deteriorate, Hendrickson’s younger son began to withdraw from school and stopped turning in assignments. She worried he felt neglected since she had to devote so much time to his brother.

Hendrickson also fretted about keeping her father safe from COVID-19 and making sure her sons didn’t accidentally bring the virus home once schools reopened.

“This has been emotionally, financially, and mentally devastating,” Hendrickson said.

The high cost of psychiatric care has forced the family to seek financial help from generous donors on GoFundMe.com. Even with insurance and a good-paying job, Hendrickson has struggled to keep up with all of her son’s medical bills.

“This caught us by surprise and it’s not something we had planned for,” she noted.

One of the most troubling aspects of Hendrickson’s experience has been the lack of resources she encountered.

She tried to find parental support groups and therapeutic programs that could calm her son’s anxiety, but struggled to find someone able to point her in the right direction.

“It seems that Arizona is not really set up for the crisis that happened,” Hendrickson said. “It’s a retirement state and so the mental health care for adolescents is not really a robust system.”

Mental Health America ranks as 40th in the nation for access to mental health treatment and 30th for rates of mental illness among juveniles.

In 2017, Arizona’s high school students reported higher rates of suicide attempts than national estimates.

Hendrickson also feels the teachers and administrators at her son’s school didn’t know how to properly reacclimate him back into classes once he got out of the hospital.

She said her son stressed about how to explain his absence to his peers and worried about making up all the homework he missed.

“He would stay up, some nights, until 1 a.m. trying to get caught up on his assignments,” Hendrickson recalled.

Hendrickson said she’s reached out to officials of the Chandler Unified School District, hoping to start a parents group that could meet and strategize on how to safely reintegrate students back into classrooms during the pandemic.

But her ideas were met with resistance from some other parents and the group ended up dissolving.

Her experience has convinced her that she may need to leave Arizona soon because she fears her son is falling through the cracks and not getting the proper help he needs.

“I plan on, hopefully, being out of this state when the kids get out of school, she explained, “because I don’t want to go through that again here.”

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