Working and walking for open conversations about mental health

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 09-29-2023 5:23 PM

Sara Hoey knows the profound pain of losing her only child. Laura Christy endured the sorrow of saying goodbye to her beloved husband. Lauranne Wingard, in her own way, has suffered the loss of her childhood.

What unites the three women is the presence of mental health challenges in their lives and their collective effort to improve the discourse in the state while helping others avoid what they’ve been through.

When Hoey lost her 19-year-old son Joey to suicide in January, her world crumbled. She had taken him to numerous therapists and clinicians ever since she noticed his struggles, beginning as early as age seven. Yet, she carries the weight of feeling like she fell short as a mother.

“I felt like people would make comments about how good parenting makes all the difference,” Hoey said. “But I’ve been trying and I still have a lot of guilt because as a mother, that was my one job – to keep him alive.”

Hoey believes New Hampshire’s mental health system let her son down. Joey, a nature enthusiast with an obsession for World War II trivia, would have turned 20 in September, but every time he found stability with a counselor, it was short-lived. After making a bond, those therapists would either leave the practice or the profession altogether, leaving him feeling more alone than ever.

“I think the whole system failed him, and he felt abandoned by the ever-changing therapists,” Hoey said. “It turned into a nightmarish cycle of trying and getting nowhere.”

Hoey encountered many mental health workers who were overwhelmed and stressed themselves, burdened by low pay and enormous caseloads. She and others see an urgent need for increased investment and more workers in the field to meet the state’s growing need.

When Laura Christy’s husband, Meletios, died by suicide at age 65 last year it was sudden and unexpected. They had been married for 32 years and adored each other.

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“I never really saw him struggle,” said Laura Christy. “He was a meticulous planner and constantly concerned about the future. I don’t think he replenished, I think he was just always giving.”

After working as an educator for several years, Meletios Christy took on a new job as one of the court officers at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department.

The couple had a cherished routine. Every day when Laura Christy would pick her husband up from work, he would open his arms and exclaim, “My wife, my love,” a memory Laura Christy holds dear.

Losing her husband was undeniably challenging, but what was equally painful for Laura Christy was how people who knew her story treated her.

“When people I knew saw me at the grocery store, they would turn and go the other way,” she said. “People are often afraid of saying something that might upset us, but the truth is, we are already upset. Talking helps us in our grieving and healing process.”

Wingard, a peer specialist, proudly calls herself the “No Stigma Girl.” She openly discusses her mental health conditions, which include depression and hoarding. Talking about them as she would any other health condition is nothing to be ashamed of, she says, which she demonstrates daily.

It wasn’t until her marriage was falling apart at age 30 that she sought help and was diagnosed with mental health conditions.

As a peer support specialist, Wingard’s mission is to normalize discussions about mental health.

“I want people to be able to stand on the street corners and talk with somebody about their mental health and nobody looks shocked,” she said.

However, Wingard hasn’t always been so open about her experiences. Her upbringing was marked by constant relocations, never allowing her to settle in one place or form lasting friendships at school.

“Every time we moved, I went through a year-long grieving process, and everyone assumed I would eventually get over it,” Wingard shared. “It’s something no one wanted to talk about. Even during my college years, I found myself repeating the same cycle. Looking back now, I realize that I spent roughly half of my childhood in a state of grief.”

Now she does all she can to help others.

With Halloween approaching, and her son’s deep love for all things spooky, Sara Hoey finds it incredibly difficult to carry on without him.

Nevertheless, she wants to send a message to all mothers who have lost their children to mental illness.

“We can’t stop, we have to keep going for them, whether they’re still here or not,” she said. “We have to carry on for them because that’s our purpose now.”

On Sunday, these three women will join thousands of others at the National Alliance on Mental Illness NH Walk, uniting to promote mental health awareness and foster open dialogues about mental well-being.

IF YOU GO National Alliance on Mental Illness NH Walk

When: Sunday, Oct. 1 at 9 a.m.

Where: Soccer fields on S. Fruit Street, Concord, NH 03301

Info: Go to www.naminh.org for more details or to register.

If you need help

NH Rapid Response Access Point: Call or Text 833-710-6477 for free and immediate, 24/7 access to mental health and/or substance use crisis support via telephone, text and chat services.

National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org.

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