By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — The night her daughter Morgan died, Christine Schmidt cried in the 12-year-old’s bedroom. Christine didn’t know why her daughter chose suicide. But that night the grief-stricken mother made a promise to Morgan and to God that she would do something to help others.
About two months after Morgan’s death in April 2014, Christine and her husband Derek and their other three other children traveled to St. Louis to participate in a CHADS Coalition walk. The acronym stands for Communit-ies Healing Adolescent Depression and Suicide. Christine said family and friends walked together as “Team Schmidt: Miles for Morgan.”
CHADS was founded by Marian and Larry McCord, whose 18-year-old son Chad died by suicide in 2004. Their mission is to save young lives by advancing awareness and prevention of depression and suicide, according to CHADS website. During the walk, Christine talked with Marian. Christine began to sense she was being called to do something.
In September, the Schmidts and friends of Morgan and of the family participated in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) walk in Davenport. They wore purple shirts —Morgan’s favorite color — printed with “Team Schmidt.” “People wanted to talk to me,” Christine said. She began receiving requests to speak to audiences in the Quad-Cities and in Missouri and Indiana where the family had previously lived. “God kept presenting me opportunities to talk about Morgan and our experience,” said the stay-at-home mom who with her family belongs to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf. She speaks about Morgan, depression and suicide awareness.
Last fall, the Schmidt family was asked to participate in a documentary on bullying. Morgan had been cyber-bullied through various social media applications. The documentary featured youths who were being bullied and parents whose children had been bullied.
“Derek and I have become ambassadors — speaking for those who have had a loved one take their lives because of bullying.”
Morgan, a seventh-grader at Pleasant Valley Junior High, was on the honor roll and ran cross country. Her mother describes Morgan as creative; she loved to write stories and poems, had many friends, offered daily prayer for her friends and family and attended religious education classes.
Christine says the family, which includes Morgan’s twin sister Mackenzie and siblings Ally and Andrew, knew about the cyber-bullying and talked about it. But Morgan never indicated to her family how much it affected her. Morgan asked why people would send such messages. The family prayed for those youths and their families.
Since deciding to talk at schools, churches and to various groups about suicide and depression, Christine believes she has made a difference. Not just from the “thank-yous” she receives, but from youths and others who have contacted her for help.
“Too many parents are afraid to get help for their kids. They feel their kids will hate them or won’t want to go to counseling or seek help that they would offer. I tell the parents ‘do you want to bury your child next week?’”
She tells parents she understands that feeling of kids not wanting to do something to address challenges, but parents need to get involved in their youths’ lives – and not on the friendship level.
Youths need to be encouraged to go to a trusted adult they can confide in. That might be an aunt, grandparent, teacher or other trusted adult. “Don’t feel threatened if they don’t come to you. It’s OK. They don’t want to worry you.”
Parents also need to think about their roles as teachers, Christine said. “Don’t gossip in front of your children. We need to set examples to follow with behavior that is worth emulating. We need to be active witnesses and teach kindness.” She also said parents need to help build their children’s strength and self-esteem.
The stigma of mental illness also must be erased. Depression is real. Pre-teens and teenagers go through tough times with hormonal changes that lead to body changes. “We need to talk about mental health and development in schools,” Christine said. “We need to give our kids a list of signs to educate them about what is normal and not normal.”
A first “angelversary” celebration in memory of Morgan Schmidt will be held from 2-5 p.m. March 28 in the Lourdes Catholic School gym in Bettendorf.
The event celebrates Morgan’s life and will launch a new nonprofit corporation “It’s All Love Only Love, Inc.” The nonprofit’s mission is to aid in the education of child and adolescent depression for suicide prevention.
Christine Schmidt speaks about kindness and suicide prevention to schools, churches and other organizations. She wants to reach out to help those who struggle and get them the help they need.
Refreshments will be provided, along with entertainment by Wicked Liz and the Belly Swirls.
The public is invited to the free event.