HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Mental health issues know no bounds, gender, ethnicity, age. It's a rarely talked about epidemic that affects so many of our youth and black teens might be the most vulnerable of all. Suicide deaths among black girls has risen 182% in the past 20 years.
Seven years ago, a Bellaire High School snior took her life after battling depression. Her mother has been spreading suicide awareness ever since.
As the days and months and years go by, the memories, dreams and aspirations remain vivid. Cheryl Duncan's daughter Ashley died in just as the year 2012 was beginning.
"You think of her more when it's school-time, graduations, proms, her birthday, Christmas . . . She wanted to be a psychologist, she talked about being a lawyer and I dream of it a lot, seeing that person, that could have gone further', says Cheryl.
January 30th was the last day Cheryl spoke with her daughter, "I said you okay?, She said 'I'm fine'.
Ashley's father, a veteran Houston Police officer, was home that day. Ashley grabbed his keys before he left for work and sent her mom a text message she can never forget.
I took my dad's gun. I'm tired. I can't do this anymore, bye. I love you. I'm sorry.
Ashley had attempted suicide twice before with pills, once at 15 and then again, a year later. Cheryl always felt, "she'd stay alive and we'd work it out."
This time, Ashley was gone. She walked to the bayou and took her life.
Ashley was 17 when she died, but her depression began long before then. Cheryl says she first expressed thoughts about suicide as early as third grade. The family sought help from counselors and other professionals, but when her brother Anthony went off to college, her problems got worse.
Cheryl explains, " As he was graduating, she had her nose pierced and I noticed tattoos and I just couldn't understand why she had to do that. I was pretty upset about that and she rebelled some. She was lonely without him being at home."
Ashley started staying in her room, with the lights out or dim and was no longer interested in doing the things she used to do, like drawing, playing sports and hanging out with her friends. They got some help and Ashley did better that first year, but then she started using social media more.
Cheryl admits she and her husband were not on social media, and they never really monitored what Ashley was writing. "They had cyber bullying sometimes on Facebook, Facebook wars and she would get sad."
Ashley began to hide her feelings from her parents, but not on social media. She posted:
Why can't it be my choice to die now., I'm miserable?
One day I won't be here anymore and that will be the happiest day of my life.
"The pain I have from her death, I don't want anybody else to go through", It wasn't the first family tragedy for Cheryl Duncan. In 1995, her sister, who also suffered from depression, took her life. In the midst of her pain, Cheryl finds hope and healing, by helping others through the Ashley Jadine Foundation, raising awareness to prevent teen suicide. Each year, she hosts a health fair and walk to continue sharing Ashley's story. She awards scholarships to kids who have had to overcome problems. She says that helping them is like having Ashley again, sharing their dreams, helping somebody, but she feels there's still more work to be done.
Her goal is to encourage parents to keep up with their kids social media accounts, ask questions, learn what teen depression looks like and help break the stigma around mental health, depression and suicide.
"You've got to talk to them, you;ve got to go and get them some help, because if they had diabetes or broke their leg, you'd take them to the doctor, and they'd repair it and fix it; with mental health and depression and anxiety, you can't put a band-aid on that, because you can't see it, it's invisible.
On July 18, 2019 Ashley would have turned 25-years-old, "I learn to deal with her death and I learned to remember her birthday, remember the person that was alive, that was still very loving and smiling and joking."
Ashley's brother, Anthony is hosting a mental health awareness panel through his organization Dead the Silence at Cafe 4212, on July 18, 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM. They'll discuss problems of mental health, anxiety and how you or a loved one can get help.
There's an alarming increase in deaths among teens by suicide. It is now the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 19. While there is no one factor of suicide, it's important to understand some of the triggers.
If you or a loved one may be at risk of suicide, Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text to 741-741. Or you can chat with a counselor via Instant Message by clicking here. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.