Runner’s World on Gabe Proctor: Ethiopian Adoptee, Championship Runner, Suicide

Gabe Proctor with his siblings Joanna and Samuel, in 2000 and in 2013

 

Gabe Proctor lived a short, loving, and complex life. Adopted from Ethiopia around age 10 after his mother died, he grew up in Vermont, went to college in Kansas and Colorado, became a championship runner, worked hard to support his family in Ethiopia, and died by suicide at this past May at age 27.

Sarah Lorge Butler has written a thoughtful profile of Gabe in Runner’s World: After Runner’s Suicide, Anguish and A Search for Answers. She spoke extensively with Gabe’s family, as well as his coaches and running partners. The sorrow and loss are palpable, as are the questions that can never be answered.

I am among those quoted in the article, and I have written many times about suicide and adoption. There are simply no clearcut answers. According to the Runner’s World article,  ” ‘In understanding mental health and adoption, researchers now think about a combination of risk factors,’ said Maria Kroupina, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Adoption itself is one risk factor. Others include prenatal stress to the child’s mother. Genetics, or family history of mental illness. Stress in early childhood, from scarcity of resources or abuse or neglect. The loss of a parent.

It’s a process for adopted children and the adults in their lives to navigate these issues from the past. ‘Children and young adults need ongoing help,’ she said. “No health care providers would put a child with asthma or a heart condition in a family and say, ‘Please figure it out.'”

Gabe’s family remembers him as a talented, thoughtful, loving son and brother. His coaches remember him as incredibly hard-working and determined to push himself to achieve his best.

From the article: “During his best year in 2014, he had the fifth-fastest half marathon time in the U.S., but his heart is what people remember. Proctor especially looked out for those who had trouble fitting in or seemed burdened in other ways.”

Like many adoptees, especially those adopted at older ages and with siblings, Gabe never forgot his Ethiopian connections. “Gabe made four trips to Ethiopia over the years, and as his running career progressed, he realized his talent could help his relatives in Ethiopia. As a professional, his singular goal was to use his running to support his family. Gabe had a shoe deal from Asics, and he lived simply, never owning a car, for example. Samuel says before Gabe’s death, his brother had built houses that his Ethiopian family could use for rental income.”

Gabe Proctor in Ethiopia, July 2006

I give credit to his adoptive parents, Caryl and Jim Proctor, for sharing their son’s story. They and others who loved Gabe urge “family and friends of people who are struggling with depression to confront it head on.” Jim Proctor “implores parents to pay attention: ‘Accept that the warning signs are warning signs,’ he said…’Don’t ignore it.'”

There are many resources available to help with suicide prevention; I have listed many of them in this post: Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption. Whether or not adoption is involved, we should all be aware of resources for depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. Yes, these are tough topics. And they need to see the light of day, because that’s the only way we can help each other.

‘Gabe was adamant about this,’ his younger brother, Samuel, said. ‘Always treat people the absolute best you can, because you don’t know what they’re dealing with.’

 

 

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7, is 800-273-8255. You can also text 741741, the crisis text line available 24/7, and text with a trained crisis counselor.

13 Reasons Why, Teen Suicide, Social Media, and Adoption

Your teens or preteens may be watching a highly popular show about a teenager who died by suicide. They could even have seen real teens die by suicide livestreamed on Facebook. We all need to open our eyes, talk with our kids, and have suicide prevention resources close at hand. This may be especially important for adopted teens.

Your kids may be watching the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why.Based on a book with the same title, and produced by Selena Gomez, it’s about a young woman who died by suicide and left 13 tapes behind to explain why she killed herself. It’s a popular show. It includes rape, bullying, grief, and graphic depiction of the dead girl cutting her arm open and dying alone in a bathtub. It’s about how her friends try to understand, and, I guess, try to do better, be kinder, in their lives now.

It’s possible to binge-watch all 13 episodes. And I would guess that most teens, and even pre-teens, could do exactly that without ever talking about it with their parents or any other caring adults.

It’s a lot to take in.

Are you aware of that suicide is the second leading cause of teenage deaths? You can read the CDC report here.

 

 

Are you aware that adoptees have been shown to be four times more likely to attempt  suicide than non-adopted teens? You can read the report by the American Academy of Pediatrics here.

Are you aware that at least two teens have live-streamed their suicides on Facebook? You can read a newspaper article about it here.

Please don’t stop reading this post, though I know it can feel overwhelming. The risk of suicide by teens is real, and horrifying. Adopted teens may well be more prone to considering, and carrying out, dying by suicide.

There are many resources available for prevention. I’ve written about them here: Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption. As parents and as people, we need to pay attention to subtle signals, keep communication lines open, and be willing to talk about suicide as we would sex and drugs.

Here’s another good resource: 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Teen Suicide.

Here’s an article from Ravishly: 6 Reasons Why Our Kids Shouldn’t Be Watching 13 Reasons Why.

Here’s an article from Rolling Stone: Does 13 Reasons Why Glamorize Teen Suicide?

And here’s the 24/7 number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 Put it in your phone. I hope you never need it for yourself or for anyone else, and I hope you have it if you do.

Even kids from happy. loving families consider suicide. Even if your teen is doing fine, he or she may have friends who are struggling. Share information. Be aware of the impact of popular shows like 13 Reasons Why. Be aware of teens livestreaming their own deaths on Facebook.

Yes, it’s a lot to take in. Don’t look away.

 

Another Adoptee Suicide: Unspeakable Pain

This week I heard about the death by suicide of a young Ethiopian adoptee, reported by his US family to be about 12 years old, living in America since 2013.

My heart aches for everyone–for the boy, for his family in Ethiopia and here in the US, for all of us.

Adoption can be full of great joy, many gains, and lots of love. It can also have deep layers of grief, loss, and trauma. I do not know the circumstances of this most recent death. I do know that adoptees attempt suicide at higher rates than non-adoptees, and do so at alarmingly young ages. One source of information is Pediatrics: “Risks of Suicide Attempt in Adopted and Non-Adopted Offspring.”

My post “Suicide and Adoption: We Need To Stop Whispering” has had thousands of views in the last few days. Please take a look also at my post “Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption.” There is lots of information there about suicide prevention, depression and PTSD resources, strategies to talk about suicide awareness, and more.

Save this number somewhere: 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7, 365 days a year. Their website is here: Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

I am saddened by how many people I know in the adoption community who have considered suicide and who have attempted it. Almost everyone in the adoption community knows personally of adoptees who have died by suicide.

Let’s keep talking about the realities of depression and trauma, and encouraging others to talk about their loss and fears, especially around adoption, without judgement or dismissal. It’s tough stuff. We have to do it.

There is a GoFundMe account for the family of the young man who died by suicide. Since I’ve been asked about it several times, here is the link.

May everyone find compassion and healing.

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Candles at a Vancouver BC Church. © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption

It’s a balancing act to discuss adoption as trauma. The idea of adoption as trauma is relatively new, and I understand that it’s disconcerting for many people. Separation from one’s mother as baby or child is traumatizing; we are hardwired to connect with our mothers. Adoptees often undergo additional separation from caregivers in a foster home or orphanage. Those losses can be traumatic as well, and the trauma can manifest over time or later in life. Depression is also disconcerting, to the 19 million Americans who struggle with it and to those who love the people who are struggling. Many adoptees struggle as children, as teens, and as adults with anxiety and depression. Talking about these medical conditions can be hard. Still, as anyone involved in adoption or in life knows, not talking about difficult, uncomfortable things rarely ends well.

It’s also a balancing act to encourage discussion about suicide without encouraging suicide. Same with remembering those who have died by suicide without inadvertently glamorizing suicide. High schools, for example, face this dilemma when a student has died by suicide, not wanting to trigger any sort of imitation, or “suicide cluster.”

Suicide is the third top cause of death among 10 to 14 year olds, and the second top cause among 15 to 24 year olds.

My post Suicide and Adoption: We Need to Stop Whispering has been shared on Facebook about 800 times since I published it last Monday. There have been several thousand views and visitors, and I have heard personally from many people. Clearly, it struck a chord, and we need to keep this conversation going, even if it is complicated and difficult to balance.

For anyone in crisis, call this number: 1-800-273-8255. You can call the number if you are considering suicide or if someone you know is. Available anytime, day or night. 24/7/365.

Two significant resources are the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Both have huge amounts of information, research, and more. I’ve reached out to both organizations above, asking if they would consider providing adoptee-specific information on their websites.  I’ve offered to draft material and network with them about this, and I hope I hear back soon. Please reach out to them as well.

Here are suggestions for talking with someone who may be suicidal. I share this because there are many resources available for this tough stuff.

Most suicide attempts are rooted in some sort of trauma and/or depression. Many people who have considered or died by suicide have also been diagnosed with depression and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. President Obama in February signed a suicide prevention law to make it easier for U.S. military veterans to access mental health resources. The law also provides funding to recruit and retain professionals to help veterans struggling with PTSD and other challenges.

Here’s an eye-opener: Former foster care children are almost twice as likely as US war veterans to suffer from PTSD. You can read more in this Casey Foundation report.

I’ve cited, several times, the American Academy of Pediatric’s report that adoptees are 4 times as likely to attempt suicide as non-adopted people but it bears sharing again. Read the report here.

We can recognize that trauma is a part of adoption, without claiming that all adopted people are affected the same way. Many do just fine, handling challenges with resilience and strength. Many struggle, and those are the ones I want to recognize, acknowledge, and assist, if possible.

Here are some strategies and resources:

  • Learn about trauma in adoption. “Assume that all children who have been adopted or fostered have experienced trauma.” That is a central quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics guide for pediatricians, “Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Cope With Trauma.” Share this resource with your pediatrician.
  • Make suicide awareness a component of pre-adoptive parent training classes. Suicide awareness should be part of information provided to prospective parents about trauma, depression, and anxiety disorders, and their frequent appearance in adoptees.
  • Insist on speakers in pre- and post-adoption workshops who have struggled with depression and trauma. Agencies: Improve networking with adult adoptees and adoptees who are therapists, so that adoption agencies have several speakers to provide for families.
  • Understand why access to medical histories for adoptees is essential. Denial of that information (which could be lifesaving), in regard to mental illness and other medical conditions, is unconscionable. The American Adoption Congress has focused its legislative advocacy efforts on opening access to original birth certificates. Information is available here.
  • Advocate for adoption competency among therapists. Suggest that families also look for therapists trained in childhood trauma, as well as in adoption-related issues.
  • Advocate for strong post-adoption mental health services for everyone: the adoptee, the adoptive parents, and the first/birth parents.
  • Suggest, promote, and provide workshops with titles like “Depression Among Teenage Adoptees: What It Looks Like, What Can Help,” or “The Presence of Suicide in Adoption,” or “PTSD and Adoptees: The Realities and the Treatments,” and “Adult Adoptees Speak Out About Depression, Anxiety, and Suicide Prevention.”
  • Learn about the impact of bullying and cyberbullying on children and teens. According to the site stopbullying.gov, “Although kids who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not the cause. Many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history. Additionally, specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian American, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. This risk can be increased further when these kids are not supported by parents, peers, and schools. Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.”
  • Adoption agencies and adoption-related organizations: Provide current, substantial lists of resources to families about therapists, therapies, articles, podcasts, videos, and more related to adoption, depression, and suicide prevention.
  • Learn about psychotherapies that can benefit people struggling with depression and trauma. The National Institute of Mental Health has clear information: Psychotherapies. One therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is for chronically suicidal people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and is also used for substance dependence, PTSD, and depression.
  • Learn about the role of addiction in adoption, and how addiction and substance abuse intersect with trauma and depression. One resource is a YouTube video by Paul Sunderland, titled Adoption and Addiction.

Fill yourself and your loved ones with accurate information, with hope, and with attention to deep listening. Let go of shame and fear about mental illness, and encourage others to do so as well. All of us in the adoption community can work together in a powerful way to increase awareness of suicide, and to promote suicide prevention.

 

September Sadness: Searching for Balance and Light

It’s my birthday month! Along with my fellow September birthday celebrators Beyonce, Meat Loaf, Colin Firth, Sophia Loren, Bruce Springsteen, Will Smith, Lil Wayne, Adam Sandler. I hope you sent them all a clever card. Those sharing my exact day include Hilary Duff, Young Jeezy, Brigitte Bardot, and Naomi Watts. We have in common that we all fall under the sign of Libra, seeking balance.

September, it turns out, can be a very hard month, a time when any of us can feel sad, depressed, anxious, or triggered, as individuals and as a species.

What might be some of the reasons for sadness in September?

* Change of seasons: In at least part of the world, it’s the end of summer, and the days get shorter, darker, and cooler. We stay indoors more. We put on more clothes. We may sleep more, but not feel refreshed.

* September 11 is globally observed as a day of mourning and loss.

* The Autumnal Equinox happens on September 22, and the rapid changes of light can disturb our sense of peace.

* September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

* We send our children off to school, an event that is wonderful and hopeful, but also leaves our homes emptier. The kids are growing up. September means some kids leave home completely.

By mid-late September, the glow of summer has faded, and the challenges of school are firmly in place: bullying, homework, learning disabilities, cliques, meetings, deadlines, projects, testing.

* Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is in full swing. It’s real. It affects those with bipolar disorder, as well as lots of other people. It also affects the friends and families of anyone struggling with SAD.

All of the above is depressing, right? Yes. So let’s be with it, talk about it, acknowledge it, and look at ways to understand and deal with it.

It’s that Libra balance that Keanu Reeves (birthday September 2) and I share (well, maybe): the interest in acknowledging the challenge of September, and in finding the counterpoint in a strategy.

Let’s start with the aptly named SAD. Here is one reason many folks feel depressed and lethargic:  Our skin has an amazing ability to take in sunshine and change it into Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps us to regulate our positive moods. Not enough sunshine, not enough Vitamin D, not enough positive mood.

So, extra Vitamin D can help.

Another reason for feeling down and disconnected is that, in darker days, our bodies produce more melatonin, a hormone that helps us regulate our sleeping patterns. More melatonin can mean disrupted sleep that doesn’t make us feel better.

I drew from this source for the above information about SAD.

Another good approach can be light therapy, something quite popular here in the Pacific Northwest and applicable to many other geographies, including your living room. Basically it’s a supplement of artificial light to make you feel better. Read about it here.

A final note about SAD is that it affects not only humans but also some animals, according to this article from Live Science. A quote, casually placed in the article: “For instance, during long winter days, the Siberian hamsters’ testes increase to almost 17 times their size during short days.” Whoa.

Click here for more information about SAD.

Some of us experience disruption and an undercurrent of sadness during September; some of us deal with significant depression. Even if you’re doing fine, it’s hard to see your friends and family members struggling, a little or a lot. I mentioned above that September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Most suicides, though, don’t happen in September. They happen more often in spring or early summer. Find info about myths and facts about suicide here. We humans are complex creatures.

If you have a loved one struggling, or if you are, here’s a site with loads of information and links.

If you encounter someone on the Internet, on Facebook for example, who seems to be dealing with depression or considering suicide, there are ways to reach out and offer help. Here’s a good source for online helping.

Of course, consult your doctor, your mental health provider, your (trusted, trained, experienced) source of medical information, whoever that may be.

You’re not alone with this, whether you are dealing with depression (or related realities), or trying to help someone else. It’s a hard road. The National Association of Mental Illness has a site to share stories and get support, called Not Alone.

I urge anyone struggling with sadness in September to reach out for help. There’s no shame in it. May we be open to asking for and accepting help. May we offer and give help. May we be open to laughter and love. May we find light on dark days, in September or whenever they occur.