Amy Hix says families with members who have suicidal tendencies need not suffer silently Image Credit: Supplied

ABU DHABI: Having to cope with a child who has attempted suicide is by no means easy. But American expat Amy Hix knows what it takes to bring someone back from the brink. Launching a support group for families like hers, Hix isaid she is keen to share the lessons she has learned from her experience. Her son Ernesto, who was a victim of depression, attempted suicide not once, but five times, since he was 14. Now 20, Ernie as he is better known, is a changed young man, thanks to Hix who has left no stone unturned to get him treated.

Hix has opened a dialogue on mental depression in teens to help other parents in similar situations. As part of her mission to raise awareness, she said, “Support groups are important as they provide a safe environment for affected families to deal with the issue as their suggestions are experience-based.”

Recounting her journey with Ernie, she said he was a happy boy growing up with plenty of friends back in Wisconsin in the US before she relocated to the UAE last year. “In fact, his second grade teacher had told me she wished she could capture his enthusiasm and love for life in a bottle.”

Cry for help

But two tragic incidents pushed Ernie into depression. Hix said two of Ernie’s friends ended their lives in 2011-12. “The second boy had shot himself in the head and he bled to death. Ernie could never understand why he had done it and that marked the beginning of his own battle.”

Hix said Ernie made his first attempt at suicide by cutting himself on the lower abdomen when he was just 14. “The cut was not deep enough to require stitches, but it was a cry for help. I noticed a few things written in Ernie’s notebook which strongly suggested mental depression. So I had to take him to hospital for therapy.” A few months after he had been discharged, Hix believed he had bounced back. But as it turns out, she was mistaken. “I was away at the supermarket for 40 minutes. When I returned, I found Ernie trying to choke himself to death with a jump rope in the bathroom.”

She said she sent Ernie to rehab for treatment, but he tried to end his life three more times and it was not until 2013 that she could see light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to a male counsellor named Randy whom they met.

“Being a single parent at that time with two daughters, I did not realise Ernie was yearning for maIe company. Randy filled that gap. His counselling did wonders for Ernie as they talked and played basketball together.”

Meanwhile, Hix also sought help for herself by joining a family support group run by the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). It was there that she realised the way she had handled some things had not helped matters for Ernie. “I could have been his advocate in a more positive way by being open about mental illness,” she said.

Drawing from her lessons, she urged parents to look for depression triggers in children. “It could be a time of the year or an event that brings back certain memories. Self-harm is another common practice. They will cut themselves in the most unlikely of places - ankles, upper legs, lower abdomen and even private areas. Many teenagers say they cut to experience a feeling, even if it’s pain.”

Timely diagnosis and intervention are the keys to treatment. Hix, who went on to become one of the facilitators of NAMI, is happy that Ernie has passed four years without incident and is pursuing his studies in the US now. She said, “NAMI made me realise many family members suffer silently. But with help, they needn’t. Also, schools should have a curriculum to address the social and emotional needs of children.”

To contact Hix, write to ymamy2003@gmail.com