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Suicidal Teen And His Family Find Help Hard To Come By


Illustration by Michael Waraksa

Henderson parents struggled through a maze of false hopes and unreturned calls to find help for their suicidal teenage son.

The boy first threatened to kill himself in late summer of 2015 after being disappointed with his school schedule, telling his mother over the phone, “I swear, I will.”

The mother was able to calm him down and the incident was filed away as teenage drama — until it happened again a month later, sending the family into a desperate search for assistance.

 “I couldn’t deny it anymore. He was in trouble in a way that far exceeded the normal teenage drama,” his mother, who we'll call Shawna, told KNPR's State of Nevada. 

Unreturned calls and months-long waits for therapists introduced the family to Southern Nevada’s overburdened mental health system.

“Nobody was answering my calls,” she said, “He kept saying 'help!' and I kept saying 'I’m trying!' and nobody could hear me.”

When her son told her he wouldn't be around for Christmas, Shawna desperately started calling therapists until someone picked up the phone. The therapist said she would see Shawna's son, who we're calling Peter. After talking with Peter and the family, the therapist said he needed medication immediately, but only a psychiatrist could prescribe medication and there was a three month wait to see one. 

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The alternative was to take Peter to a treatment center; however, when Shawna called no center had any beds. The therapist advised her to take him to an emergency room until a bed opened up. 

Shawna and her husband were eventually able to get Peter into a treatment center where he was given medication but no other therapy.

“There is no help and if you find help it’s sort of broken,” Shawna said.

Peter described the treatment center as more of a "containment center," where he was cut off from his family and friends and given little besides medication and a deck of cards. 

“There was nothing that happened there," he said, "They just kind of gave you medication.” 

The family eventually found a residential treatment facility in California, but that cost them $49,000 for 30 days of intense treatment. A price tag that both admit most people cannot afford. 

“There is no help here or elsewhere it seems like or not a lot or not enough,” Shawna said. 

Eventually, their health care insurance paid for almost half of the treatment.

Today, Peter is back in school, hopeful about his future, and looking to help other young people facing similar challenges.

“I feel that being open about it is the only way that the issue is going to fixed," he said.

He is raising money for his effort through crowd sourcing. However, neither Peter nor his mother really know how to start to fix the problem and so far they don't have someone in the mental health care system helping them with the project.

Shawna said she had some ideas on how to fix the system but hasn't yet found the right outlet from those ideas. 

His mother wrote a story about the family’s experiences and it appears in the current issues of Desert Companion magazine, which is published by Nevada Public Radio.

The story was written anonymously and the mother and son used aliases when they appeared on KNPR’s State of Nevada.


Shawna and Peter, a Henderson mother and her teenage son

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