Vermont High School Student Shares Her Brush with Suicide
Editor’s Note: Alexandria “Lexi” Lacoste, 17, is a 12th-grader at Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester, Vt. She survived a suicide attempt when she was in the eighth grade. She now helps other teens who are struggling with mental health challenges to understand they are not alone, and how to find help. She shared her story during a January 31 listening session called “A Seat at the Table,” organized by Vermont’s Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, and agreed to write about it for COVID Support VT.
Suicide, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, mental health. What do all those words have in common? It’s simple. There’s a stigma blocking us from talking about these topics. A stigma that takes a million lives every single year.
Health classes can save lives
Growing up, mental health wasn’t something that was discussed in any aspect of my life. This is ironic because from a young age I struggled with severe anxiety, and in my teen years it would be accompanied by depression.
I was in eighth grade the first time I was educated on mental health. A father who had lost his son to suicide was giving presentations to the surrounding middle schools to raise awareness. At my middle school, by the time you reach eighth grade you should have gone through three health classes, each one with an equal focus on physical and mental health. Unfortunately my middle school didn’t value those health classes. Every single year like clockwork our health classes would be traded out for P.E. classes. For the longest time I didn’t see a problem with not having health classes. It wouldn’t be until my sophomore year of high school that I would come to the realization that health classes can save lives.
I was almost one of the millions
But there I was, an eighth grader, and this man whom I had never seen before was talking about how his son took his own life. I remember sitting in my seat, listening, and it became hard to breathe. I was using all my energy to try to stop the tears from rolling down my face. There was a pit in my stomach, a pit formed by guilt – the guilt of knowing that two weeks ago my parents sat in the hospital waiting room as I was admitted to the E.R. for a suicide attempt.
But the guilt I felt was accompanied by anger. Standing in front of me was a crying man, telling us how he tried everything he could to stop the hate his son was facing at school. My own parents didn’t admit me to the hospital; they set up an appointment with my pediatrician. They did this because they thought I was lying about the suicidal thoughts. My pediatrician was the one who sent me to the hospital. She was the first person to believe me.
The reality of being admitted to the hospital
I don’t remember most of that doctor’s appointment. I broke down as soon as I heard the words “emergency room.” In my mind, the hospital wasn’t going to help me; they were going to realize I was crazy and then I was going to be locked up and I would never be able to see my family or friends again. Of course that isn’t what happened. The doctors looked after me, making sure I had everything I needed. There was an officer patrolling right outside my door to make sure I didn’t attempt again. For me, the hospital was a good experience; it wasn’t how it’s portrayed in the media.
I have also come to recognize that just because my experience in the hospital was a good one, that doesn’t mean that’s how it is for everyone. In most places the doctors in hospitals are not welcoming to mental health patients; they can be dismissive and aggressive. And in today’s world, thanks to Covid, hospitals are overrun. Oftentimes there isn’t enough help or room for people needing mental health care, even as the number of children and adults with depression and anxiety has risen since the beginning of the pandemic.
What happened after the hospital
I was lucky enough to be immediately set up with a therapist, and even luckier to have a therapist who actually helped me. I never told anyone why I was suicidal. The truth is I had intrusive thoughts, which are unwanted thoughts that bring distress. Almost everyone has had an intrusive thought at some point. But I would obsess over these thoughts and be physically sick from the anxiety that they caused.
I tried talking to my parents, but every time I would go to them for help they would tell me to ignore the anxiety, or just get over it. They would tell me I was seeking attention and that I loved feeling helpless. So I shut down. I stopped trying to get help. I allowed others to silence me. The same people who keep the stigma around mental health alive.
It would take me a year to finally open up to my therapist about why I had attempted suicide. Only then did we finally find the root of my anxiety. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. Once we figured that out, my therapist taught me how to handle the OCD. However it became apparent more help was needed, and I was eventually put on antidepressants. My parents fought hard against that, as they were convinced I would become a drug addict if I went on antidepressants. That is not what happened – antidepressants are not linked to drug addiction — and I have been taking medication for almost three years. The medication makes my anxiety easier to handle, but I still struggle every day.
Where am I now?
The summer before my sophomore year I still struggled with suicidal thoughts. My anxiety was still really high because I was still learning how to manage it. I thought to myself, it isn’t fair that millions of people struggle like this every day. That every day the stigma still goes on and we are silenced. So I wrote on a bright pink sticky note that I still have: be loud and proud. That is exactly what I have done.
I have spent three years talking to wellness classes about my struggles with mental health and how to find resources. For the last four years I have been the student leader of the Yellow Tulip Project, a club at my school that is part of a bigger organization. This club is all about destigmatizing mental health and giving teens the power to share their stories and use their voices.
I refuse to sit down and stay silent about normal topics. We can end the stigma and save millions of lives if we stop being scared of talking about important issues. I know of five teens who are still alive because my presentations gave them the courage to find help. If we all made that effort, we would save so many lives.
Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray
Lt. Gov. Molly Gray recently visited my high school and we discussed the Yellow Tulip Project. Afterward, she asked me to speak at one of her “Seat at the Table” listening sessions, which I did on January 31. I discussed the importance of health classes, how they give students resources and if taught correctly, can save lives. I strongly encourage everyone to listen to the remarks by myself and the three other panelists. [Watch the video here.]
We can end this stigma and we can save lives. This is my story of how I am helping that cause. I hope you can be inspired by my story, and I hope you can start speaking up against the stigma.
Learn More and Find Resources
Watch the recording of Alexandria Lacoste’s remarks, along with those of Vermont’s Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and three other panelists, at “Seat at the Table” Jan. 31.
Read the press release from the Vermont Lieutenant Governor’s office about the “Seat at the Table” listening session on mental health.
Learn about the Yellow Tulip Project, a youth-driven movement that works to smash the stigma around mental health and empower teens to share their stories and find support.
To learn more about suicide and how to prevent it in people you love, read these other COVID Support VT blogs on the topic:
- Can We Talk About Suicide?
- The Role of Wellness in Suicide Prevention
- Guest Blog: Preventing Suicide Takes a Community
- What To Say to Someone Struggling with Mental Health
Blog written by Brenda Patoine on behalf of VCN/Vermont Care Partners for COVID Support Vermont, a grant funded by FEMA and the Vermont Department of Mental Health
Need to Talk?
Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.
If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support.
Find resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org.
One-click translation to 100 languages of most everything on the COVIDSupportVT.org website, plus Multilingual Resources.
Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.
COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports.