She is a nurse. He is a physician, board certified in family practice. Together they have five children. Yet, like many adults, they were unable to see the signs of mental illness and potential for suicide in a child—their own youngest son.
“My son’s worst memories were in the fourth grade when he came in last in the mile run. He remembers being laughed at by his classmates and teacher. Six years later he was an inpatient at St. Elizabeth Hospital Adolescent Psychiatric Unit after making plans to commit suicide,” says Wisconsin mom Peggy McCullough of her child.
That pivotal event in fourth grade had tormented him for years.
“He talked about it as a point in his life where he had become an ‘unlucky boy’ and everything started to go wrong,” adds Peggy.
She cites symptoms her son exhibited as her son entered middle school: losing interest in friends, falling grades. By high school, he was engaging in self-injurious behavior, thinking about suicide, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and not eating.
“We’re a medical family. If anybody should know what to do, it should be us,” Peggy says. She credits a mental health screening that her son had in ninth grade for saving his life—literally.
“Is my son a better person for going through this? I don’t think so. It would have been better if it had never happened at all,” adds Peggy of the long road her son has traveled including hospitalization and treatment. “But I’m convinced the school-based screening he had gave me the tools to save my son’s life.”