“It’s going to keep happening, and that’s what I had to learn. It’s never going to stop, it’s always going to be there. We just didn’t talk about it. It was taboo. But I’ve learned I can do what I can do, and help who I can help. I’m doing what I can.” — Christy Stewart, whose son Ethan took his own life, on why it’s important to keep a community dialogue going about suicide
“It’s going to keep happening, and that’s what I had to learn. It’s never going to stop, it’s always going to be there. We just didn’t talk about it. It was taboo. But I’ve learned I can do what I can do, and help who I can help. I’m doing what I can.” — Christy Stewart, whose son Ethan took his own life, on why it’s important to keep a community dialogue going about suicide
Christy Stewart’s mission is to spread hope to others, especially those who are feeling hopeless and thinking about ending their own lives.

She knows what it feels like on both sides — to feel so hopeless, but also to lose someone you love to that hopelessness.

It’s been two-and-a-half years since her son Ethan died — March 23, 2015 — by hanging himself in the garage at the family’s home.

Since then, several other young people who either graduated with or knew Ethan, also have died by suicide. She said she feels some guilt for this, because of Ethan’s decision, and because she’s been so vocal, trying to bring awareness to the community.

Rationally, however, she knows that talking about what Ethan did — and Ethan’s choice — aren’t the root cause of the increased suicide rate in Jefferson County.

“I think it’s because they know the pain,” she said. “And that boggles my mind, because they know how it feels to lose a friend (to suicide). So why would you want to do that to your family and your friends? That’s one of the biggest questions for me. Why would these other kids do it?”

She suspects undiagnosed mental illness is the underlying cause, and, potentially, may be the elusive answer parents, family members and friends long for, though they may be unable or unwilling to see it.

Ethan was diagnosed with depression at age 12. She and Ethan’s father, Randy, got him into individual therapy immediately. They also participated in family therapy.

But by age 14, Ethan was self-medicating with illicit drugs, including illegally obtained Xanax and suboxone, as well as marijuana and, later, methamphetamine.

The drugs only worsened his depression, and everyone but Ethan could see it, Stewart said. “In his mind they were helping.”

After graduating from high school, he and two friends were on cocaine when they broke into Shawe Memorial High School looking for money. They were arrested. That was a turning point for Ethan, who stayed clean until his death, she said, adding that his toxicology screen came back clean.

She said he was looking at four years of probation. “He was worried about getting a job,” she said, adding that he believed he had screwed up his life.

He also was afraid he wouldn’t be able to stay away from drugs for those four years and would end up serving time.

“He knew the statistics regarding relapses,” she said. “I feel like all of this was building up on him, and in that moment, he just said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ And he did it.”

She believes telling his story — and hers – has helped others, and has saved lives. “I just don’t want people to go through this, and it’s been happening so much.”

Stewart has been advocating for

suicide prevention and awareness. She hosts a Campus. She is frequently called in to counsel and offer support to others who have lost someone to suicide.

“It’s going to keep happening, and that’s what I had to learn. It’s never going to stop, it’s always going to be there,” she said. “We just didn’t talk about it. It was taboo. But I’ve learned I can do what I can do, and help who I can help. I’m doing what I can.”

Though drugs were an issue for her son, Stewart says she has learned not to blame those who become addicted.

“I want it to be more acceptable for us to help them,” she said. “I want to help these people. A lot of people say they have to help themselves, but sometimes they can’t.”

She believes people still don’t think their loved ones can sink into drugs, suffer mental illness or choose suicide.

“I think, subconsciously, [people don’t talk about it because] they think it will seep into their lives,” she said. “I’m here to tell you right now, with everything that’s been happening, so many people have been touched these past few years. There’s not one person who’s not been affected.”

Nathan Hadley’s death in June “hit me like a ton of bricks. It really shook me. We just don’t realize” how other people are struggling, she said.

Talking is the cure, she said. “I think it’s healing for people. For me, it’s been the most healing thing. It’s the most horrible thing to happen in my life, but to make good of something so horrible, that’s my goal.

“I can finally grasp that he’s not going to walk in the door. ...  He’s not coming back. Now I’m learning to understand and to remember him happy. You can’t just remember that day, all the time. You gotta put it somewhere. I’ve made the choice that I want to live a healthy life with my other two children and my family. I want to be there and I want to see them grow up. And I want to live for Ethan, too.”

She encourages anyone who is experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts or drug addiction to find help.

“No matter how bad things seem, there is always someone to walk with you. There is always hope for the future. There is always someone to talk to about your problems.”