Although we never received a diagnosis, I am positive that my daughter, Lauryn Santiago, suffered from severe Anxiety, Depression and possibly PTSD due to childhood trauma and bullying.
Lauryn was an honor student, with great grades and never missed a day of school. With the anger from the bullying, Lauryn’s grades began to drastically drop. After no help from the teachers in Lauryn’s classes and a letter from the school, I reached out to the school counselor in January 2013. After being humiliated and the counselor telling me “Lauryn needs to get her act together before she fails these classes” I had to tell the counselor to look at my daughters’ school max record, to see the A’s and understand that my daughters’ drastic drop in grades worries me. I also explained Lauryn was being withdrawn and things she liked, she no longer liked. Finally the counselor agreed and said she would call Lauryn down to the office, right away. I sent Lauryn a text and told her the counselor was going to call her down. I asked Lauryn to be honest with her and Lauryn replied with “I will Mami, I can’t take this anymore” When I picked Lauryn up, with tears in her eyes, she answered and told me the counselor never called her down, when I asked how her meeting went. Although I called the counselor back and left messages for seeing Lauryn, it did not matter anymore as we lost Lauryn on February 16, 2013 to suicide. Lauryn turned 15 years old on January 26, 2013 and was only 15 for about 3 weeks.
I work as an IT professional but as a suicide loss survivor, I am also a fierce advocate for Suicide Awareness. Since May 2013 I have devoted my life to learning about Mental Illness after one of my Lauryn’s best friends attempted suicide and others were diagnosed with depression.
The year 2014 began and I had already been fighting to help bring awareness into Maryland Schools. After many closed doors, emails, calls, meetings and broken promises to help spread awareness in my County schools, I had enough. It has now been over a year and half, more of my daughters friends were still depressed and made attempts. One of my daughter’s friends attempted TWICE! No matter what I asked and how much I begged, my daughter’s school refused to acknowledge my daughter’s death. The kids could not have a memorial or even wear their shirts, in her honor. I was at my breaking point. I finally collected all my emails, texts and attempts to reach out to the County Board of Education, compressed it all into a large file. I researched the law makers assigned to my county and formulated my pain into an email. I sent that email with the compressed file, to multiple Delegates and Senators in Maryland. Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk reached out, we met for coffee at starbucks, had to leave because starbucks closed on us and we sat in her car with Council member Mary Lehman, for hours! After hearing Lauryn’s story Delegate Pena-Melnyk made a promise to take action. Action she took.
HB0947 Professional Standards and Teacher Education Board - School Counselors - Certification Renewal Requirement (Lauryn's Law) Requiring the Professional Standards and Teacher Education Board to require, beginning on or before July 1, 2016, specified certificate holders applying for renewal of a certificate as a school counselor to have obtained, by a method determined by the Board, specified knowledge and skills required to understand and respond to the social, emotional, and personal development of students; etc.
Senator Catherine Pugh cross joined with SB0251 on the Senate side. It took a lot of work, calls, emails and personal office visits to all the Delegates and Senators. I must have told Lauryn’s story over 3000 times. The wonderful news is that the bill passed each side unanimously and on May 12, 2015 Governor Larry Hogan signed the bill into Law, “Lauryn’s Law”.
As Lauryn’s friends struggled with her suicide and the fact she was being bullied, I saw the confusion as Lauryn was loved by all her friends and teachers. I also saw how depression was setting in as they thought “why Lauryn? How could you leave me?” I decided to write a book in order to provide some clarity on what Lauryn went through and what she was ashamed to share. It just so happened that a friend reached out and as a member of a book club, asked me if I would be willing to do a book collaboration. That is when "Cover: The Truth Behind The Canvas: Four Women Unveil Their Truths About, Suicide, Abuse, Infidelity, Pain and Victory". I am still working with legislators on more Mental Health Awareness as well as speak, every chance I given at Expo’s, schools, book clubs etc… Spreading the important #5signs in hopes to save lives.
In 2017, we are still advocating in Maryland as we work to create a better tomorrow for our children. We are back supporting legislation as we aim to be the voice of those who cannot speak. HB0920 sponsored by Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo and Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk. Primary and Secondary Education – School Personnel – Training Requirement, will provide the recognition of, initial screening for, and respond to emotional and behavioral distress in students. HB0920 has already passed favorably from the sub committee and on to the next vote as we hope that the Governor signs this one into law.
To the beautiful person who is recently diagnosed with a mental health condition. You are not alone! Please hold your head high and do not allow your condition to hold you back. Embrace your diagnosis and find us because we can say together #imnotashamed #UBeTheirVoice #stopsuicide #stopbullying #laurynslaw
Decline in Self Care
If you are in crisis or you know someone who needs helps but you have no voice - please text HELLO to 741741 and allow the Crisis Text Line counselors to help.