A Mother’s Quest to Create Awareness About Mental Health
Dr Sangeeta Mahajan lost her son to suicide nearly four years ago. Despite her training as a doctor, she was unprepared for the severity with which her son's bipolar disorder progressed. She is now a mental health activist based in the United Kingdom and runs a blog dedicated to the stories of suicide loss survivors, with an aim to reach out to more and more people who need help. In her blog post for TLLLF, she writes about her journey.
16th October 2014 started off as an ordinary Thursday. At 7 am I got ready for work, kissed my sleeping son and walked to the station. Yellow, brown, ochre and orange leaves carpeted the streets. The autumnal sun was shy. The skies, streaked with pink and gold.
I wished I didn’t have to go to work. I loved my job, but that day, I wished I could have stayed home with my son. He was not well. In the previous few weeks, he had been diagnosed with a mood disorder and was suffering from depression. We were told that he was on the right medications and was coping well. I planned to come home early to be with him. All our extended family lived in India. His friends had gone back to University, and he had not been able to start his 3rd year due to this illness. Our friends were busy. It was just him and I.
When I got home in mid-afternoon, I found a note in his writing, “Sorry. I can’t take this anymore.” The police confirmed his demise. I desperately wanted to turn back the wheel of time and rearrange things so that I could hug him again and tell him how much I loved him. I couldn’t. I sat and watched my world blacken. Mercilessly, the wheel kept turning away from me.
That night I was numb and nothing made sense, but I knew this was too huge to go undocumented. I would not allow it to be “The End”. I started writing. Saagar would be kept alive through writing. He would continue to be a part of my everyday life. He would continue to inspire me. As a medical practitioner if I didn’t know I could lose a loved one so suddenly, I wonder how many people can’t? His legacy would be to break the silence and the stigma around mental illness and suicide. Thus, my blog ‘kidsaregifts’ was born. I wrote every day for a thousand days and then once a week.
Through the blog, I met other bereaved parents who shared their sadness, issues and stories. Young people with and without a mental illness started to connect with me. Many of Saagar’s friends found comfort and inspiration in it. Parents of children who were struggling found a new perspective and understanding of their kids. People who had never met Saagar, came to know and love him. Over time it became a grief journal of discovery, a ‘Suicide Prevention’ resource and a meaningful conversation.
It became a huge source of learning for me. I found great writers and poets like Rumi and Kay Redfield Jamison through it. It introduced me to other creative and beautiful people like Saagar, who had lost their battles with mental anguish such as Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, Alexander McQueen and Ernest Hemingway.
This ugly stranger called ‘suicide’ had appeared uninvited at my door, and I had no option but to face it. I developed hunger to find out everything about it. To my horror, I found that it is the biggest killer of young men in the UK. No one talks about it. It lurks in the darkness underneath the taboos of mental illness and death. In my quest to understand the workings and the challenges of young minds, I trained to be an instructor for the Youth Mental Health First Aid course. It gave me a deeper understanding of the importance of early intervention, risk factors, protective factors and warning signs of severe problems in young people. I continued to share these and the importance of listening non-judgementally, through writing and interacting with groups of parents, teachers, doctors, lawyers and high-risk minority communities.
Over time I joined hands with a national charity for the prevention of young suicide, called PAPYRUS and I participated in a free online training resource designed by the Zero Suicide Alliance. More than 20,000 people have now completed this unique training. I now work with the office of the Mayor of London and co-chair the committee within the Thrive London project, aiming to make the city of London a Zero-suicide city.
Together with Saagar’s school and University, we ran massive awareness campaigns amongst students. Many of Saagar’s friends and teachers are now strong advocates for student well-being. The negative impact of bullying (cyber and direct), social media, alcohol, drugs and the pressure on students to over-achieve is better understood and addressed.
“The eye does not see what the mind does not know.”
Over the last four years, by sharing our story, Saagar and I have opened many minds. We have brought light into many lives. We dream of a world where everyone can offer compassion and understanding to everyone else. Our love is stronger than death.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, we urge you to kindly talk to a mental health professional. Call our helpline partners or click here to find a therapist near you.