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Mother's Moving Obituary Points Out a Flaw in Our Mental Health System

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When someone dies by suicide, it can be hard to speak the word, let alone reflect on the tragedy thoughtfully in the immediate aftermath. In an obituary for her adopted son, Sergei Neubauer, Mary Neubauer not only opened up about her son’s cause of death, but wrote a beautiful message for others who may be struggling as well.

She starts by describing who Sergei was, and then goes on to name what he struggled with:

An enormously talented and gifted young man, he had experiences and adventures few could even imagine. He brought joy to those around him with his warm smile, quick wit and sometimes wicked sense of humor. He was a fun-loving teenager who often went out of his way to help others, particularly those he believed were vulnerable or hurting.

But Sergei also struggled throughout his life with depression, anxiety, PTSD and survivor’s guilt related to his tumultuous childhood in Russia. He had worked for years to overcome mental illness. It is right to acknowledge and honor the progress he had made while recognizing the toll that struggle took on his life.

According to The Des Moines Register, Neubauer and her husband, Larry Loss, adopted Sergei in 2009. Neubauer told The Des Moines Register after a few one-on-ones with Sergei, “We knew that was our son.”

But Sergei’s childhood trauma still affected him, and after graduating from high school he started to self-harm. The Des Moines Register reported that Sergei spent more than a week in inpatient mental health care, but continued to severely hurt himself after he was released. The Iowa-based couple had trouble finding long-term care for their son, and eventually settled on treatment center out of state.

“I shudder and weep for anyone who does not have the resources we did to put behind their child’s care,” Neubauer told The Des Moines Register. “There is nothing out there to guide people. We spent hours researching and calling (departments of human services) across the country.”

This struggle to find Sergei help is echoed in his obituary:

Mary and Larry are so proud that Sergei was their son. They know they are more caring and better enlightened people for having him in their lives. They plead with lawmakers and policymakers everywhere to recognize the toll that mental health struggles and addictions are taking on our society, particularly our young people. They believe it is a crisis facing America, one that must be acknowledged, better understood and ultimately addressed for people to have the tools to heal. Iowa did not have adequate mental-health resources during Sergei’s times of crisis, and he spent several months out of state this year in residential treatment.

Lack of access to mental health treatment is a huge issue in the U.S. In a report issued by Mental Health America, it was found that 56.5 percent of adults with mental illness received no past year treatment, and for those seeking treatment, 20.3 percent continue to report unmet treatment needs. Although Sergei’s family was able to find him long-term treatment out of state, there wasn’t enough support locally to potentially prevent his suicide.

In the obituary, Neubauer said, “Sergei took the brave step of asking for help,” and urged others to do the same if they’re struggling. She also had four requests in light of his death. She wrote:

1. If you need help, ask for it. Can it be scary to take that step? No doubt. But you are not alone.

2. Seek to build others up, not tear them down. In little ways every day, we each can try to make a constructive difference. A smile, a kind word, a moment of your time can make a huge impact on others.

3. Avoid drama. It does no good. Use your energy more wisely – there is only so much to go around.

4. Recognize small moments of joy, for they happen all the time. We just have to notice.

We’re so sorry for the loss of Sergei Neubauer, and thank his parents for opening up an important conversation.

You can read the full obituary here

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Originally published: September 28, 2017
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