RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Anne Moss Rogers has endured a broken neck, two surgeries to remove a brain tumor and an attack at knifepoint, but no horror eclipses the day her second-born son, Charles Aubrey Rogers, took his own life.
Rogers and her husband, Randy, were in the parking lot of Brio Tuscan Grill on Stony Point Parkway in June 2015 when the Richmond Police Department called Randy’s cellphone and asked them to stay where they were.
“I remember sitting there, doing all the gymnastics of, what could it be? Maybe it’s this. Maybe it’s that,” Rogers said. “Then it was like a lightning bolt in my chest, and I grabbed my husband’s elbow and I said, ‘You don’t think … ‘ and he goes, ‘I do.’?”
Twenty agonizing minutes later, police officers arrived and asked them to climb into the squad car.
Then the officers broke the news: Their 20-year-old son - hilarious, creative, depressed, addicted Charles - had hanged himself in an apartment on Monument Avenue.
“I have never wailed so loud in my life,” Rogers said. “I was in the backseat watching my husband just banging his knees and his arms and his head on the glove compartment, and he is just wailing. To see your husband break down like that is so hard.”
The stigma attached to suicide keeps many families from openly discussing the trauma they’ve lived through, but Rogers has taken an outspoken path. She believes the unwillingness to talk about it - to even say the word “suicide,” in some cases -is part of the problem.
As president of Beacon Tree Foundation, a nonprofit hosting a fundraiser tonight, for mental health treatment for youth, Rogers channels her grief through advocacy and education, spreading the word to parents and teachers that early intervention is key to saving the lives of suicidal youth.
“Teenagers are absolute experts at covering depression,” Rogers said. “If we can get in and treat kids early, they just have such a better chance.”
Youth who are battling depression in Virginia are among the least likely in the nation to receive treatment for their mental illness, according to a study released last year by Mental Health America, a national nonprofit advocacy group.
Three out of four Virginia youth suffering from major depression are untreated - a rate that’s one of the worst in the nation, according to Mental Health America’s annual ranking of states. Virginia ranked 49th for its treatment of youth with major depressive episodes.
The state ranked 47th in its share of youth suffering from severe depressive episodes, with 1 in 10 children ages 12 to 17 falling into that category.
“I have worked with a lot of people who have fallen through the cracks and who have come into the system, and you wonder, why did it take so long for this person to get connected?” said Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs for Mental Health America and a former therapist in Northern Virginia. “The most unfortunate situations are when you know that a person has been struggling for a long time and they get picked up by the criminal justice system.”
Virginia offers little in the way of services for people who need more than a 50-minute appointment once a week with a therapist but who aren’t yet in crisis, Nguyen said.
Stacy Gill, behavioral health community services director for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, said Virginia ranks low in the nation in terms of the amount of money it spends on community-based mental health services.
Intense services are available for children with serious emotional disturbances, Gill said, but “sometimes kids with depression, they may not rise to the surface, they may not show up in the system because their functioning hasn’t been impacted enough to warrant somebody paying attention and someone referring them to treatment.”
The state is trying to address gaps in its mental health system, Gill said. The General Assembly took a major step this year by funding so-called same-day access at some of the 40 Community Services Boards across the state.
The program is designed to ensure people needing public mental health services are assessed the day they walk into the clinic, rather than weeks later.
States that performed best on Mental Health America’s rankings for their treatment of youth with depression offer more intensive services within the gap between once-a-week visits with a therapist and crisis-level services, Nguyen said. For example, some states connect youth with caseworkers who monitor their access to meals, their housing situations, their attendance in schools and their physical health - all factors that can lead to depression.
“At a very young age, it’s so important to know what the early symptoms look like,” Nguyen said. “The warning signs are there, but they’re often subtle. Teenagers are very good at hiding their feelings, so it’s very important for parents to stay attentive.”
If parents begin to notice any changes in their teenager’s behavior, it’s important to ask questions, Nguyen said.
“In many cases, the young people who have mental health problems who go untreated, they often will start to experiment (with drugs and alcohol) as a means of self-medication, and then you absolutely see among our older teenagers a dual-diagnosis problem,” Nguyen said.
Dual-diagnosis - when a person is suffering from drug addiction and mental health disorders simultaneously, like Charles Rogers did - is more of a challenge to treat than mental illness alone, Nguyen said.
When Anne Moss Rogers was diagnosed with a brain tumor, a cadre of physicians from numerous disciplines sat around a table discussing her options and formulating a treatment plan. The path they crafted with her included regular check-ups following her surgery. It was a cohesive process that gave her comfort.
Rogers thinks mental health treatment should function the same way.
“With Charles, it was constantly putting out fires,” Rogers said. “It was crisis after crisis. If they had kept him a little longer at the hospital, instead of just throwing medicine at him … three or four days is not enough time.”
When the Beacon Tree Foundation holds a fundraiser tonight, the money raised will help offset costs of care for families who can’t afford treatment.
On Tuesday, April 25, he would have turned 22.
“This week has been a serious grief relapse - muscles have lead in them and motivation is nil,” Rogers wrote that day. “Kleenex in every pocket and I just want to curl up in a ball in a cave.”
“Birthdays are the hardest, and I’m really struggling.”
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