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    Posted May 9, 2014 by
    Clarkton, North Carolina
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Going public with mental illness

    Hidden Depression Killed My Daughter


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     RhondaE's daughter, Kaitlyn Elkins, killed herself on April 11, 2013, in her apartment. Read more from Rhonda at her blog, My Bright Shining Star.
    - dsashin, CNN iReport producer

    I have recently discovered that May of this year has been declared by our president as National Mental Health Awareness month. This is a great step for our country. There is so much that we as a society need to do in order to help decrease the stigma of mental illness and provide more teaching, programs, funding and education for those who teach and those who suffer from mental illness of any kind. I believe that calling awareness to mental illness in this way will move us into a direction where mental illness will no longer carry a great stigma and enable those who suffer to not fear getting help due to that stigma. But we have so far to go with this.


    But I have a story to tell. A story about my youngest daughter Kaitlyn that cries to be heard because it so sadly shows what can happen to someone when they don’t seek help for their depression for whatever reason, be it stigma, the fear that they will be seen as weak, the fear that having depression is seen as anything other than what it is….a disease, a disease that if not treated can end in death.


    Just a little over a year ago, I was able to form the words and put into print a short piece about my daughter. I would like to share it with you now.


    On April 11, 2013, I got the most dreaded call that any parent could ever get, a call from the police in the town where my 23 year old daughter Kaitlyn was starting her 3rd year of medical school at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. He said he had to talk with me about my daughter and that I had to go there to be told what he had to say. I begged this man to tell me then, as I would have a 3 and a half hour drive to Winston-Salem. My initial split second thought was, “Kaitlyn is in trouble! She’s never been in trouble in her life,” then my thoughts turned to other things and the blood left my body as he told me what happened.


    He said that she was deceased.


    I envisioned her getting into an auto accident and when I asked him what had happened, he said that she had taken her own life. My world and everything I’ve ever known came crashing to an end at that moment.

    How could this have happened? My daughter seemed to be the most together person I have ever known in my life. She graduated valedictorian from Whiteville High School, graduated summa cum laude from Campbell university in 2 and a half years and got accepted to medical school where she could pursue her lifelong dream of being a doctor and she was doing extremely well in it. She had friends; she had just taken a Step One medical board exam that she felt she did well on. She was an artist, a writer, a poet, avid runner, she had common sense and was wise well beyond her years. She was excelling and seemed to have the world in her grasp.


    I had just seen Kaitlyn the weekend before as she had come home for a few days for Easter. We had a wonderful mother/daughter day and we went shopping, out to eat and the movies. We had a wonderful time and she seemed totally happy. How could this have happened?


    She wrote my husband and I a two page suicide note, (as well as letters to some of her friends and her sister Stephanie.) In this letter she stated that she had been sad all of her life and had worked very hard all her life to hide it and protect us from it. She said that she knew she would have been a successful doctor, wife and mother, but that she was exhausted from the weight of the sadness she has had all her life, could not go on, and this is what made sense to her. She stated that I might wonder why she had not sought help and that she did not know how to explain why she did not.


    She was a high achiever, but we never put any pressure on her to succeed because she set these high goals for herself.


    The reason I am writing this letter is to tell all parents, friends, or spouses, that no matter how happy someone seems to be, there may be a devastating depression within that they are hiding. Parents, ask your children from time to time, “how are you really doing” and make them talk about their feelings. As you do this, I hope that they are forthcoming with you, my daughter was not and we had a very good and close relationship.


    I’m devastated by her loss, lost in a sea of “what could have been”, the wonderful life that she could have continued to have had. But I celebrate her life, thanking God that I had the honor of having this beautiful being in my life for 23 years. But I wish I had more.


    If this letter helps at least one person to come forward with their depression, or a loved one to ask about it and have that child open up to them, then it is worth it.

    Rest in peace my beautiful daughter, the peace that I thought you already had. And as I’ve always told you, I love you bigger than the universe.


    I wrote these words about a year ago now and since that time I have been thrust into a level of disbelief and grief that I did not know existed. In all my studies in nursing school, my experience in working as a registered nurse, and my own personal experiences, none of them taught me that severe depression could be so well hidden and that the person could be highly functioning until the day they took their life, which is what happened to my daughter. I knew all the signs of depression very well. I never saw a single sign in my daughter. My life went from thinking I had a daughter who was the happiest person on this earth to having a daughter that had taken her own life in a split second.


    In my grief I began writing about her and developed a blog to help me release my feelings about her loss. I also did research trying to find out how anyone that showed no signs at all of depression could kill themselves. It was a hard search because all I mostly found was stories of suicide where the person showed definite signs before taking their life. I thought my daughter was unique in not showing signs but I soon found out that I was wrong. Slowly but surely I came to find out that there are many intelligent, highly functioning young people that are depressed and no one ever knows it until it is too late. Many times it starts in childhood.


    My quest to find out answers resulted in my writing a book that has just been published, “My Bright Shining Star: A Mother’s True Story of Brilliance, Love & Suicide.” I wrote this book to honor my daughter and to give a warning to all parents, teachers, counselors and young people that depression can be hidden and that it is so important to seek help.


    Here I am a year later after losing my daughter to suicide. I am just as devastated as the moment I learned of her death. It is my sincere hope that the Mental Health Awareness month and all that is supposed to be implemented with it will help our young people know that it is ok to seek help, that mental illness is a disease just like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer is a disease and if not treated as such, can kill you. It’s not a character flaw, it is not a weakness, it is a disease and must be treated.


    We need to keep pushing until the stigma that surrounds mental illness is totally stamped out for if it is not there will continue to be many, many more losses from suicide. There are already more suicide deaths in the US than deaths from automobile accidents.


    My Kaitlyn would want this story told because for many possible reasons, she could never tell anyone about her own depression. My daughter’s story cries to be heard to help others that suffer the way she did…to save lives.


    Please tell someone if you are depressed. Parents talk to your children about depression whether you think they are depressed or not. You may very well save their life and not have to suffer and be lost in a sea of heartache and disbelief as I and many others are doing.


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