Mother, survivor spreads suicide awareness

Local News

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — A mother who lost her son to suicide and a woman who attempted to take her own are fighting to save lives.

When it comes to issues like suicide, most people don’t always know about the struggles some may be going through until it’s too late. In the Tri-County area — Peoria County, Tazewell County and Woodford County coroners tell me 31 people died by suicide so far this year.

As of Oct. 7, 2020 18 people died by suicide in Peoria County, 11 people died by suicide in Tazewell County and two people died by suicide in Woodford County.

Advocates are trying to break the silence by helping people feel comfortable when talking about mental health.

Heather McTaggart, a mother of three, buried her 16 year-old-son Conner five years ago. He died by suicide on the first day of his junior year of high school.

“If they ask how he passed away, I just say from depression,” McTaggart said. “I always say three, and I’ll say Conner will be 21.”

Heather said she found him in his bedroom.

“We went to bed, everything was fine. We woke up the next morning and everything was not fine. We had no notes, no reason, no previous attempts, no nothing. Everything was normal.” McTaggart said.

Heather describes her son as an outgoing, happy teen. She said Conner loved to play soccer and spend time with family and girlfriend. She said she did not notice anything wrong.

Kay Blankenship is a clinical consultant with the Hult Center in Peoria. She said parents should not feel guilty if they do not see any warning signs. Some the warning signs Blankenship mentioned are, “A change in sleeping. Sleeping more, sleeping less change in appetite, a loss of interest. Not wanting to do things that they use to like to do or isolating or withdrawing from friends and family. Another thing we often see, and I try to work with adults and parents are understanding when youth are depressed often times their anxiety will show irritability. And oftentimes parents associate this with a teen with an attitude when in reality, it could be depression.”

Blankenship also said, “One thing we see with teens, they are very good with putting on a happy face so they don’t let their parents know, their teachers know, and even their friends.”

Blakenship said to look out for behaviors like loss of appetite, mood swings, and isolation.

Survivor Kelsey Anderson said she attempted suicide in 2016 because she felt embarrassed, hopeless, and like she was a burden on her family and friends.

“I use to be close with a lot of my friends of the family and then it got to the point I refuse to answer calls answer texts. It was just a very rash decision in that time of desperation,” Anderson said.

Now she is sharing her story to let people know it is okay to not be okay.

“I’ve been there, I understand and that their feelings are valid. Nothing you say and nothing you feel is stupid,” Anderson said.

McTaggart said she wishes she had that conversation with her son and said if Conner knew the impact his death left on his family and friends, he would have asked for help.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. For an immediate crisis evaluation and counseling, you can call UnityPoint Health Unity Place. They have an emergency department for Tazewell, Woodford, and Peoria Counties.

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