What one mom learned when her son tried to kill himself

Petula Dvorak
Columnist February 7

No parent can read about a teen suicide without wondering if there’s anything they are missing.

After I wrote about the two 17-year-old boys from Langley High School who killed themselves one day apart this week, I got a letter from a mom who had nearly lost her son, too.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

It was a serendipity of timing that she found him after he tried to overdose, but before he was dead. Here is her story:

“Thank you for your column about the two boys at Langley. Like every other parent who read it, my heart goes out to the parents of those two kids, and to their grieving friends and teachers.

“I was almost one of those parents. One day I came home and found my child half dead from a drug overdose. We are among the lucky ones, as our child survived and is on the road to recovery.

“I am someone who asked why and was lucky enough to get some answers. I want to share them with you in hopes you will share what I now know.

“My child felt hopeless. Didn’t think things could get better. Didn’t have the right doctors, but wasn’t experienced enough to know that sometimes you have to keep looking for the right ones. Didn’t have the perspective, the wisdom, the experience to know this and to keep searching. What was always available, but did not seem to my child to be useful, was access to adults. I think that is so key.

“These kids need to know they aren’t able to solve their own problems yet, and that is why life has set things up so they have parents and other adults in their lives. It is a terrible consequence of timing — the onset of mental illness in the late teen years, just as they are so determined to be independent.

“Please tell the kids who are grieving that they need to accept that they are young and inexperienced — and that mental illness is a very strong force, one they cannot fight without the help of adults with the resources and the knowledge to know where to find better help. Whether it’s they who are suffering, or a friend, they need to go to a trusted adult who can help them improve the situation.

“Please tell the parents that according to my child, it wasn’t about us as parents, or about our love. It was about the exhaustion of struggling in private, a string of very bad days, a loss of perspective and hope, all combined with a sudden impulse and access to something deadly.”

Twitter: @petulad

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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