Stephanie Swart: For Mom |

Stephanie Swart: For Mom

Stephanie Swart
Special to the Nevada Appeal
Marilee Swirczek with her daughter, Stephanie Swart.
Courtesy Stephanie Swart |

I ask the Universe:

Do you hear me cry? Sobbing uncontrollably, tears like a river flowing down my face, dripping, falling to the ground.

Do you hear me whisper? Mama…mama…why?

My mom, Marilee Swirczek, died by suicide on July 17, 2016, after battling depression for a short seven months. Short is relative I suppose, to her it was 213 agonizing days. 307,000 grueling minutes. Minutes that were spent reviewing and reliving her life, most often the worst parts of it. Minutes spent in denial of the vibrant and caring person she was. Minutes spent alone in her head destroying her self-confidence, her self-worth and her reason for living.

If you’ve lived in Carson City for any length of time, I’m sure you have heard her name. Her accomplishments are far too many to list and the names of people who have loved her, do love her, would exceed any number of words this newspaper could publish. She was a valuable member of this community, an inspiring teacher and mentor, and a beloved mother, daughter, wife, sister and friend. Highlighting the fact that depression and suicide can affect anyone.

Today, Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day coincidentally, it’s also my wedding anniversary. An unhappy reminder on a happy day of the hole that has been ripped into my heart. No it goes deeper; into my soul.

The crippling failure of our healthcare system, particularly in regards to mental health is heartbreaking. My mom was pinballed between doctors, tests, and drugs during this seven month period, and her severe depression was (in my opinion) overlooked by the providers while they were looking to “diagnose” her. Inexperience, limited training, personal relationships, and a lack of appropriate depression screening may all have contributed to her mismanagement.

Initially I wanted to place blame, punish somebody for the loss of my mom, make somebody else feel this eternal hurt I feel. I realized that wouldn’t help heal my soul nor would it make an everlasting imprint of the wonderful woman that my mom was…and is. Providing education about depression and suicide is what is important; after all, I missed this too. It’s critical to give people an avenue to talk about depression, allowing the people suffering to get help rather than feeling isolated and confused. Preventing the death of somebody else’s mom, daughter, wife, sister, friend — this is what will help.

Here are the staggering facts according to the World Health Organization: more than 350 million people suffer from depression and more than 800,000 commit suicide every year worldwide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States with one death happening every 12.3 minutes. In Nevada, seniors over the age of 60 have the highest suicide rate in the nation and have for the last 20 years (Suicide Prevention Resource Center).

Signs and symptoms of depression:

Depressed mood, most of the day or every day

Markedly diminished interest in all or almost all activities

Significant weight loss or gain or appetite disturbances

Insomnia or excessive sleeping

Moving or speaking slowly. Or the opposite, being fidgety and restless

Low energy level or chronic tiredness

Feelings of inadequacy, loss of self-esteem, and/or self-deprecation

Decreased attention, concentration, or ability to think clearly

Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, and expressed desire to be dead

Someone who exhibits five or more of these symptoms is considered to have severe depression, which prompts immediate intervention. My mom exhibited all of those signs. Despite this, depression was still not at the top of my radar. I didn’t understand what she was experiencing: the restlessness, the inability to concentrate, the unrelenting regret about past decisions, these detoured my uneducated thought process. She also seemed to have morning depression: extremely depressed in the mornings and then some days felt like herself in the evenings. This again was confusing to me, a novice in dealing with depression. Sadly, morning depression doesn’t always respond to the newer class of medications my mother was treated with; the medications most frequently prescribed. Because my mom was seeing professionals I never independently delved deeper into researching her symptoms; I would help her make lists of questions to present to her psychologist to help us get some clarity. It’s only after her death I realized we had all missed the blaring truth: my mom was suffering from severe depression and was quickly spiraling somewhere where she couldn’t see a way out. Now after countless hours of research, speaking with professionals trained in depression and suicide, and discussing my mom with others who have lost loved ones to suicide I have come to this: Depression IS treatable and suicide IS preventable.

First it must be acknowledged.

I reached out to my mom’s psychologist two weeks prior to her death expressing concern for my mom’s safety and asking for more aggressive treatment and help. I was told because my mom didn’t have a specific suicide plan, or one she admitted to, there was nothing more to be done. In fact, I was informed of yet another test and another specialist she recommended my mother see; adding another layer of burden, confusion, and vulnerability to my already fragile mom.

It’s extremely disturbing and sad family members, when available and interested, aren’t involved in the process of helping their loved ones battle depression. Working in healthcare myself, I understand privacy laws but safety for the protection of a human life should come first. Families often don’t know how to help or what to say. As a community we need to do better. People need others to be involved in their counseling and seek out a therapist trained in and familiar with depression and suicide. I can’t emphasize that statement enough.

After my mom’s death people would say to me suicidal people will find a way to kill themselves despite interventions, that we did all we could. I strongly disagree with this. We needed more time, a different approach, more resources throughout the community, and different medications to get her through what she described to me in her words as the “crazy dark space.” A basic information checklist about suicide seems so obvious, yet it was never discussed with us. I’m sad to admit some of these, the most apparent interventions, didn’t even cross my mind. Because of this, I have compiled a checklist:

Are the means for committing suicide readily available? Get rid of firearms (almost 50 percent of suicide deaths are by firearm), take control of medications that are dangerous if taken in higher quantities than prescribed.

Strength of intent to carry out suicidal thoughts or plans. What is their ability to control impulsivity?

Hopelessness and view of the future. What are they?

Reduce immediate risk: provide a safe environment, decrease stressors.

Identify underlying factors: recent surgeries, test results, relationship changes, retirement, previous trauma.

Monitor and follow up: Is the medication regimen working? What is their sleep pattern? Getting better/worse? How often are they meeting with therapists and does it seem to be helping?

After her death, I found a notebook of my mom’s with a handwritten incomplete poem from Rossiter W. Raymond reading “love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.” Along with another handwritten statement the author unknown to me, “death is a wall to gardens.” These writings were not dated and I can only hope they were intended for the project Always Lost my mom was working on; however, a feeling deep in the pit of my stomach screams they weren’t. My mom expressed suicidal ideations, she didn’t hide behind or cover up her depression nor did she understand it. She desperately wanted and asked for help.

I wholeheartedly believe the checklist above in addition to knowing the signs of depression would have saved my mom’s life. My hope is this column will bring awareness to depression and debunk the stereotype surrounding suicide. Please don’t allow yourself, your family, your friend, your colleague or your neighbor to become just another statistic. One of my mom’s favorite sayings was the African proverb quote, “it takes a village.” We can prevent another death from suicide, but it will take a village.

I ask the Universe:

Do you hear me cry? Sobbing uncontrollably, tears like a river flowing down my face, dripping, falling to the ground.

Do you hear me whisper? Mama…mama…why?

A special thank you to Det. Acosta and Sheriff Furlong for the professionalism and compassion they showed to me and my family. Also to the Nevada Appeal for keeping my mom’s spirit alive.

Stephanie Swart is the daughter of Marilee Swirczek.