Please take a few minutes to read this incredibly moving article.
This is a prime reason MHANYS, our members and other community advocates push so hard for Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Education in Schools. Every one of us is either directly or indirectly impacted by mental health issues and we have to do everything in our power to provide hope, support and education for those in greatest need.
Professor gives CNY school district $10K for mental health education after
Updated 11:53 AM; Posted 10:40 AM
BALDWINSVILLE, NY – Michelle Bartholomew Green said her son, Eric, always told her she was a “helicopter mom,” overprotective and checking in on him too frequently.
When Eric didn’t answer his mom’s phone calls or texts one Saturday in November 2013 during his freshman year at Alfred State College, she called the dorm and asked the RA on duty to check on her son.
Her son texted her after that, conveying his annoyance with her, and so she backed off for several days.
Nearly a week later, Eric, was found dead in a park near the college. The 18-year-old had killed himself.
Green, who at the time was a professor of health information management at Alfred University, said she – along with many others – missed the signs that her son might be suicidal.
“Eric was at risk,” she said. “He fell through the cracks in college, and his friends and professors didn’t recognize all the signs that he was in trouble.”
Several years later, she said she read an article about Paige Bird – a Baker High School student in Baldwinsville who had killed herself in 2016.
“It was a wake-up call me for me,” Green said. “I started thinking ‘What is my purpose?’ I’m doing the best I can. But I realized I need to help these kids. I need to make sure they don’t just focus on academics, but work on the whole person.
Green, who has moved to Baldwinsville after retiring, recently gave the Baldwinsville school district $10,000 to help pay for mental health training for staff. In addition to teachers, her hope is the training extends to all staff, including bus drivers, librarians, cafeteria workers and more.
“These are the ones on the front line who may recognize signs of trouble,” she said.
Baldwinsville School Superintendent Matthew McDonald said the district has emphasized mental health education for several years, and this money will help bring in more speakers and more professional development. Green has been asked to work with the district’s Mental Health Committee to work on mental health education programs, he said.
“Mental health is the key piece,” McDonald said, especially when it comes to helping to prevent school shootings. “You can harden the buildings and hire more school resource officers, but without the mental health piece, it’s not enough.”
McDonald said it’s unusual for someone whose children never attended Baldwinsville schools to donate money.
Eric Green attended a small high school in Alfred in Allegheny County, graduating with a class of about 30 students. It was a positive experience for him, his mom said.
A “serious, solemn” child who didn’t like injustice and loved to play board games, Eric went to live with his grandparents in 2009 after his mom and dad separated. He visited his mom on weekends, often bringing over his friends.
During his senior year of high school, his grandfather – who he had become extremely close with – became seriously ill and died in the summer of 2013, his mom said.
Eric was devastated, his mom said, and she learned around that time her son smoked marijuana and drank on occasion. He went to college that fall, and Green said she never knew he was using harder drugs like cocaine and LSD.
He majored in information technology, but told his mom he didn’t like his classes – he liked English instead. He starting skipping classes – another thing Green said she didn’t know.
“Nobody told me,” she said. “I was a professor there, and no one told me anything.”
In retrospect, Green said she wishes she’d had her son sign a student privacy waiver, which would have permitted the school to contact her about him.
“He hid everything from me, and I never learned until after his death that he was using drugs,” she said.
Green learned from Eric’s friends after this death that he had tried heroin for the first time on a weekend in November 2013. It made him ill, they later told her, and he told his friends “he was never going to make anything of himself, and he shouldn’t even be here.”
Green wishes his friends would have reported that to someone in authority – and she hopes mental health education will help stress that.
“When someone talks about feeling worthless, you need to take it seriously,” she said.
A few days after he made those comments to his friends, he was reported missing on a Wednesday in November. Green said she put money in his bank account hoping he’d withdraw it, but he never did. His family passed out flyers with no success.
A couple days later, police officers knocked on Green’s front door. She didn’t want to let them in – she said she knew what their visit must mean.
“They kept saying how sorry they were,” she recalled, her voice breaking. “Then they told me they’d found him in the park, and he had died.
“I didn’t know that much pain could come out of me,” she said. “It all became a blur, and I went into a state of shock.”
In the months following Eric’s death, his mother moved in with her brother in Clay, and then built a home in Baldwinsville. She retired from her position at Alfred State College – she said it was too painful there to stay – and began teaching online for Mohawk Valley Community College.
Green said she realizes life will never be the same – she will never see her son get married or have grandchildren.
“People don’t realize how hard it is to get out of bed on a lot of days,” she said.
Green said she hopes mental health education can be embedded into education today to help others like Eric.
“You need to be able to recognize when someone is in trouble,” she said.