Personal thoughts and reflections on the topics at hand from the host of E! Investigates
Military Wives: The Battle on the Home Front
In October, I attended the California Women's Conference hosted by California First Lady Maria Shriver and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The annual event draws tens of thousands of women from across the state and inspires them to be "Architects of Change in their own lives and in the lives of others." At the opening ceremony, held in the Long Beach Convention Center, throngs of energized women gathered to hear Maria Shriver, First Lady Michelle Obama and other notables speak.
Obama devoted her heartfelt speech to a segment of American society that often goes unnoticed: military spouses. "I've always been awed by our men and women in uniform," she said. "I have always been inspired by the sacrifices that they make for our country. So how is it that so many of us know so little about the sacrifices their families are making?"
Obama's words resonated with me. What she was talking about was the exact story I had been working on for my second episode of E! Investigates. From Colorado Springs, Colorado to Jacksonville, North Carolina to North Pole, Alaska (yes, there is such a place, and you can even visit Santa!) the E! Investigates team and I had been meeting with military wives across the country and learning about the many challenges they and their families face. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to meet with servicemen and women who so bravely serve our country, but this was my first time highlighting the families. I was blown away hearing about what so many military spouses endure on a daily basis.
Many of the young women with whom we met talked about the overwhelming anxiety they felt not knowing if their husbands would return home from war. Others spoke about the ways in which war had changed their husbands, so much so that they seemed like totally different men. Military wife Katie Bagosy described the change in her husband's behavior and the explosive anger he had after coming home from Iraq. "The man who I married died in Iraq and I didn't know the man who came back in his place," Bagosy said with tears in her eyes.
Imagine, your tough guy husband, the man who joined the military to provide a better life for you and your family, returning home so scarred that not only can he no longer work because of his posttraumatic stress disorder, but he also can't do much else. This is a situation that is affecting military spouses across the country. Wives are becoming primary caregivers to spouses who are suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injuries (TBI). They are left raising their children and caring for husbands who are dealing with the physical and metal wounds of war. These women deserve our attention and recognition for their bravery, service and sacrifice.
Going from airport to airport, I would see wives anxiously awaiting the arrival of their husbands. As I watched servicemen embrace their children and kiss their wives, I couldn't help but wonder how the wars overseas would alter the lives of these families forever.
Teen Suicide: A Preventable Tragedy
My first interview for this E! Investigates episode on teen suicide was with Ron and Kathy Silverman, two parents who lost their son Matthew in 2006. Sitting on a bench that was dedicated to Matt at Brentwood School in Los Angeles, Ron and Kathy spoke about the note their son left behind.
"One of the things he said to us in his note was that he knew we would be alright because we had each other," Kathy explained. Her voice was soft and full of sorrow. "And that tells me he had no idea of the consequences of his actions, because obviously this has changed every day of our lives since then, as well as the lives of everyone else who knew him and was around him."
Listening to Ron and Kathy describe their only son and the circumstances leading up to his death moved me in a way that I had never felt before. Four months earlier I gave birth to a baby girl, and only after hearing from the Silvermans could I truly understand the pain that parents endure after the loss of a child. Later that evening, I held my daughter Li extra tight as I rocked her to sleep. I've come to learn that every moment is precious and to be cherished.
Needless to say, this report on teen suicide has been incredibly emotional. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds. And the ripple effect of losing a child, sibling or friend to suicide is far-reaching. As April Kubachka explained metaphorically about her son Kyle's death by suicide, "Kyle held a grenade in his hands, and surrounding him were all his loved ones. When he pulled the pin, we were all hit with the shrapnel."
Teen suicide and bullying has been in the news as of late following the death of Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, who was taunted because of his sexual orientation. But suicidal thoughts impact young people from all walks of life. Our investigation took us from wealthy suburbs of Los Angeles to ethnic communities in Miami to tranquil towns in the Midwest.
While filming in a hallway lined with shiny red lockers at Talawanda High School in Oxford, Ohio, a pretty young girl shouted out, "I love your Tom's (shoes)!" Suddenly, I felt like I was in high school all over again-and it felt good to be accepted. I found myself reflecting back on my own experience as a teenager and the insecurities that seem to go along with that stage in life. Though I had many friends, I often felt out of place being one of few minorities at my all-American high school. I tried hard to fit in.
In a classroom at Talawanda High, I listened to a group of students who spoke about the pressures they experience, from being made fun of, to getting broken up with, to feeling stressed out, among other things. Many students used the words "overwhelming" and "intense," feelings which I think most of us can relate to when we think about our adolescence. I vividly remember the anxiety of not knowing what the future held and how I would navigate in the world beyond 12th grade. Nearly every one of the students I spoke with said they had been depressed at some point in their lives. They also said that no one talks about being depressed because it's too embarrassing, it's an admission of failure.
While I was not a teenager at the time, I have known what depression feels like. I've found myself in the darkest and loneliest of places from which I felt I might never be able to escape except by taking my own life. I now realize what a terrible mistake it was to even consider such a thing.
Young people need to understand that they are not alone and that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Depression, which can fuel thoughts of suicide, is a psychological condition that can be treated. One of the most difficult, but important steps, is reaching out to someone who can help-a parent, friend, counselor or teacher. There are also confidential hotlines such as Teen Line, which allows teens to speak with other teens about their problems. Please do not give up. Things will get better. Have hope.
Following is a list of resources that you can access if you or someone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal:
Teen Line: 1-800-TLC-TEEN or teenlineonline.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK or suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services: 1-877-7-CRISIS or didihirsch.org
The Trevor Project: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR or thetrevorproject.org
Reach Out: reachout.com