Posted in Awareness, on 27 June 2016, by , 0 Comments

First, thank you. Thank you for sharing with the world your family and your precious daughter and her message in the midst of unimaginable grief. I admire your tremendous bravery for pushing forward in a time when it would have been easier, and acceptable, to hide. Though I was never able to meet Ellie, I share many things in common with her: treasured friends, a zest for life, and a secret pain. Struggling with depression and anxiety from a young age, I had tried to ignore my symptoms until they became unbearable at the start of the school year last fall. In one of my most difficult semesters, I became someone I didn’t recognize. I wore masks to block out my closest friends and family members because I didn’t want to become their burden. However, upon hearing of Ellie’s death and reading your powerful words, I knew I needed to seek help. Talking to my parents, I began treatment for these issues and even became a volunteer at UMD’s Help Center, a peer counseling and crisis intervention hotline for issues ranging from roommate issues to suicide. Though some days are harder than others, I’m improving, little by little, each day. Without Ellie, I don’t know if I would’ve sought treatment; I don’t know if I’d be here. Thank you for your selflessness in sharing her story; Ellie truly saved me.

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Posted in News About Ellie, on 30 March 2016, by , 0 Comments

by: 

BuzzFeed

Ellie’s Bus is a bright orange ‘78 Volkswagen camper van. There’s a Scooby-Doo decal on one side and Shaggy’s cheeky grin plastered across the other. Sixteen-year-old Ellie Leikin, of Severna Park, Maryland, didn’t mind the homage to ScoobyDoo’s Mystery Machine when she bought the minibus secondhand, but the fake eyelashes on the headlamps came off.

The camper van was a gift to Ellie from her parents on her 16th birthday and as a reward for making the National Honor Society. She researched the bus herself and fell in love with it. Larry Leikin, Ellie’s dad, warned her it wouldn’t be easy to drive; it was hydro-powered and had a dodgy shifter linkage – not the kind of car a teenager would normally go for. Ellie powered through and got the hang of driving the van; in fact, “she mastered it”, Larry told BuzzFeed.

On 29 November 2015 Ellie killed herself, leaving behind her parents, Larry and Sherry, her two siblings, and that bright orange bus. The only sign Ellie was thinking of ending her life came afterwards, when her parents found her diary, a “10-day journey leading up to her death”, according to her father.

While Ellie’s parents were familiar with depression and bipolar disorder, it was “something we never saw in her behaviour or actions”, the Leikins told BuzzFeed. “She wrote a lot about how she wanted to hide her depression from her friends and boyfriend.” The couple were shocked by the level of despair they read in their daughter’s writing: She knew she could ask them for help but she was making a choice not to.

After Ellie’s death, her parents set up a foundation in the hope of raising awareness for suicide prevention and mental health resources in their local area. They were struggling to come up with a name when Sherry’s brother suggested they call it “Ellie’s Bus”. Larry told BuzzFeed it felt like a good fit: “The bus is open, appealing, but not too in-your-face. It gives our cause an image, a physical manifestation of what we’re trying to do.” The Mystery Machine stickers are still there. For Sherry, the Scooby-Doo stickers tie into what they want to achieve: “We’re taking the mystery out of mental health.”

The bus will be stationed at a summer concert later this year to spread further awareness and educate young people. Larry told BuzzFeed: “We want to remove mental health stigma and show kids and teens that there is help and hope – the resources are there.” By taking the bus from place to place there’s a bigger chance for the vehicle to be “identified as a safe place to get information and ask for advice”.

In Hull, a city in the north of England, Dennis Graham set up a similar suicide awareness programme after his 17-year-old son Matt killed himself in 2010. “It took me three years to be able to talk about him without becoming a wreck,” Graham told BuzzFeed. He now delivers awareness sessions in schools, talking to young people about keeping themselves suicide-safe and looking out for each other. Still, Graham admitted, “My talks take 15 minutes and I seldom get through my script without a tear.”

Worldwide, a person kills themselves every 40 seconds. It is the second-biggest cause of death among teens in the US. In the UK every year between 600 and 800 young peoplebetween the ages of 15 and 24 take their own lives – a number equivalent to the population of a small secondary school.

Last year Joe Ferns, executive director of policy, research, and development for theSamaritans, said: “We need to see a greater focus at local and regional levels on the coordination and prioritisation of suicide prevention activity.”

Awareness isn’t just needed for at-risk teens but for parents and peers too. “It might not be the parents or teacher who notice something,” said Larry Leikin. “It may be a friend or a peer.” Graham said it’s important to “encourage dialogue, if not between the parent and their child but also with someone they trust or a charity like Papyrus”. In his talks, Graham often discusses the signs a suicidal teen might exhibit, such as emotional statuses on Facebook, giving away personal possessions, taking risks, excessive drinking, and a sudden lack in personal hygiene.

Back in Maryland, Ellie’s Bus is currently waiting out the winter in the Leikins’ garage. Larry and Sherry are both in therapy and taking the necessary steps to heal, as are their two other children: “We’re keeping as strong as we can for their sake, that’s our primary focus,” Larry says.

The friendly orange Volkswagen van remains a bittersweet reminder for them. “I’d give anything to not have to do this interview,” Larry said. “But since we’re here, we have to do the best we can.”

If you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide call HOPELineUK on 0800 068 41 41.

If you’re in the United States you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more information on Ellie’s Bus visit the website here.

 

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Posted in Awareness, on 25 March 2016, by , 0 Comments

March 23

The Washington Post

Editor’s note: We reached out to the author after her revealing obituary for her sister appeared in the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.

The most alone I have ever felt was standing on my front porch on a chilly February evening. My sister had taped a note to the front door that said “Eleni, if you’re the first one here don’t go in the basement. Just call 911. I don’t want you to see me like this. I love you! Love, Aletha.”

She put an identical sign on the back door.  Even in the midst of consuming depression, Aletha tried to protect me from the full horror of her suicide.

I stood on the porch shivering from cold and sheer terror. I didn’t just feel alone. I felt like I was in a vacuum in the middle of space with everything I knew being pulled away from me. The universe was suddenly a very vast place and I was very, very, very alone.

After what seemed like an eternity, the police officers told me plainly, “Aletha is dead.” What followed that stark statement was a sudden moment of lucidity in which only one thing mattered: the truth.

I had to be honest. I had to tell the truth.

By the time I sat down to write my sister’s obituary I knew that the opening line could only be one thing: Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth (formerly of Oswego and Chicago, IL) died from depression and suicide on February 20, 2016. 

I went on to share with everyone — friends, family, students, and work colleagues — the cause of my sister’s death: depression and suicide. I told them that my hilarious, kind, generous, helpful, silly and loving sister couldn’t see any of that in herself and it killed her. I told them that her depression created an impenetrable fortress that blocked the light, preventing the love of her friends, her family, and any sense of comfort and confidence from reaching her.

My loneliness and terror on the front porch was nothing compared to the absolute isolation that depression had imposed on my sister. I had to tell the truth.

Read the rest here…

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Posted in Awareness, on 22 February 2016, by , 1 Comments

by Meggie Royer

The morning after I killed myself, I woke up. I made myself breakfast in bed. I added salt and pepper to my eggs and used my toast for a cheese and bacon sandwich. I squeezed a grapefruit into a juice glass. I scraped the ashes from the frying pan and rinsed the butter off the counter. I washed the dishes and folded the towels. The morning after I killed myself, I fell in love. Not with the boy down the street or the middle school principal. Not with the everyday jogger or the grocer who always left the avocados out of the bag. I fell in love with my mother and the way she sat on the floor of my room holding each rock from my collection in her palms until they grew dark with sweat. I fell in love with my father down at the river as he placed my note into a bottle and sent it into the current. With my brother who once believed in unicorns but who now sat in his desk at school trying desperately to believe I still existed. The morning after I killed myself, I walked the dog. I watched the way her tail twitched when a bird flew by or how her pace quickened at the sight of a cat. I saw the empty space in her eyes when she reached a stick and turned around to greet me so we could play catch but saw nothing but sky in my place. I stood by as strangers stroked her muzzle and she wilted beneath their touch like she did once for mine. The morning after I killed myself, I went back to the neighbors’ yard where I left my footprints in concrete as a two year old and examined how they were already fading. I picked a few daylilies and pulled a few weeds and watched the elderly woman through her window as she read the paper with the news of my death. I saw her husband spit tobacco into the kitchen sink and bring her her daily medication. The morning after I killed myself, I watched the sun come up. Each orange tree opened like a hand and the kid down the street pointed out a single red cloud to his mother. The morning after I killed myself, I went back to that body in the morgue and tried to talk some sense into her. I told her about the avocados and the stepping stones, the river and her parents. I told her about the sunsets and the dog and the beach. The morning after I killed myself, I tried to unkill myself, but couldn’t finish what I started.

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Posted in News About Ellie, on 27 January 2016, by , 0 Comments

by: Cindy Huang , Capital Gazette

Contact Reporter

Ellie Leikin’s parents didn’t know she was sick.

They didn’t know that her bubbly personality and achievements masked her struggle with depression.

“She played a role of being well,” her father, Larry Leikin said. “She wasn’t well.”

Last November, the 16-year-old Severna Park High School student committed suicide. Her parents, Larry and Sherry Leikin, discovered her mental illness through journal entries they read after she died. The couple has two other children and live in Severna Park.

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death — 15 percent — for young people in the county from 2008 to 2012, according to a 2014 report from the county health department.

Every year, about 200 county young people received medical care for hurting themselves, the report stated.

Read Full Story…

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Posted in News About Ellie, on 13 January 2016, by , 0 Comments

by Dylan Roche, Severna Park Voice

A daughter, a sister, a friend, a student, an artist, and a hippie at heart. There were many ways that loved ones related to 16-year-old Ellie Leikin, but her parents, Larry and Sherry, hope that in the aftermath of her suicide, she will play one other very important role — a catalyst for change.

“Our sole wish now is that no family has to go through what we’re going through – and that Ellie’s death has as much meaning as her life,” Larry said in his eulogy delivered at Ellie’s funeral on December 2, when about 2,000 people turned out to say goodbye to a young woman who had made all their lives a little bit brighter.

Ellie — formally Eleanor Ruth Leikin — was a junior at Severna Park High School, where she was a member of the National Honor Society and known for delivering upbeat messages during morning announcements over the P.A. system, encouraging her peers to make their school a better place, even if it was in a simple act like smiling at a stranger.

“She was very outgoing and very in-tune with how people felt,” Sherry said. “She was all about a positive message.”

So bright was Ellie’s personality that nobody noticed the darkness she fought inside her, and for that reason, her parents hope to spread a message of awareness to both children and parents. “We want to take the stigma out of mental illness,” Larry said. “If you had cancer, you would seek treatment. There’s no difference between mental health and physical health.”

So Larry and Sherry have emphasized to parents to talk to their children, and for children to talk to their parents, and for friends to be aware of one another, and for those who are hurting to seek help. Their long-term hope is to set up a nonprofit organization for suicide education and prevention. “There’s a want to do something in a proactive way,” Larry said. “People are hopeful that this will help do something good and prevent another tragedy.”

Already, the community has stepped up to help the Leikins share their message. Ron Foster, pastor of Severna Park United Methodist Church and a friend of Sherry, helped establish the Ellie Leikin Memorial Fund (www.severnaparkumc.org/ellie-leikin-memorial-fund), which Foster described as an “in-between” way for funds to be stored until a formal organization can be established. “It’s important to know that the funds go back into the community to aid prevention,” Foster said. “We want to let [Ellie’s] witness be turned to something good.”

The Leikins also plan to pay tribute to Ellie’s love of music by holding a concert where friends and family can not only honor Ellie but also hear her message. The event — which would be financed separately from the money raised by the memorial fund — is still in the early stages, but details can be followed at www.elliesbus.org, a website named for the bright orange Volkswagen bus that Ellie proudly drove. Her parents explained that Ellie had long wanted a VW bus, and she was thrilled to receive the classic hippie car as a gift for making National Honor Society. Now the Leikins hope the car, nicknamed The Mystery Machine in reference to “Scooby Doo,” will serve as a symbol of their mission to “take the mystery out of suicide” and encourage teens to be more aware and open.

Although nothing definitive has been established, the Leikins have many ideas on how they will use the funds they have generated, all of which focus on education and prevention — with an even greater emphasis on the latter, according to Larry.

The public response, the Facebook posts and messages, and the 2,000 people who attended Ellie’s funeral all reflected that she was a young woman who touched many, many lives. But equally important is the effect her memory will continue to have, as Larry and Sherry emphasized in their eulogy. “Parents: Love your kids. Hug your kids. Talk to your kids. Talk to your kids about Ellie and what happened,” Larry said, delivering the words that he and Sherry wrote together. “Kids: love yourselves, love your parents and tell them everything — reach out if you’re in pain.

“Let’s come together as a community to ensure that this tragedy does not happen ever again.”

 

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