Debb Pitel is a mom first.
She has three boys including Tyler, who died by suicide in 2001. Her grief, and the grief of her family, spurred her to start Safe Talk, a workshop which gives people the words to ask difficult questions about depression and suicidal thoughts. Thousands of people have been reached with the program.
But as the country dealt with the pandemic, the Dawn-Euphemia woman says she began thinking more about how she could help others facing depression and suicide because she remembers keenly the struggle they faced and knows the struggle continues.
“As parents…we struggled with acknowledging the problem, recognizing the severity, and finally, finding the strength,” she says.
“It’s really difficult at that point as a parent to reach out and admit that it was bigger than we were, and that we needed help navigating through finding his answers.”
Pitel says the family tried to find help for Tyler for three years, but the mental health care system is deeply flawed.
“We were victim to wait lines and restrictions and inability to find the proper resources that we needed at the time. And that was a journey in itself.
“Over 19 years, the numbers haven’t gone down and the resources are not easier to find, and people are still struggling,” she says.
“We need to do better.”
And while the Safe Talk workshops have helped thousands of people have “the confidence to have the conversation that everyone is scared to have,” she felt she needed to do more.
Pitel thought she could help and, with the encouragement of her family, she felt the best thing to do was to tell her story.
“The only way I felt that I could really do more was to share my journey.”
So, she wrote “I’m Still Your Mom” and began selling it on Oct. 6, Tyler’s birthday.
Pitel, who often speaks publicly about her family’s grief with grace and passion, says it was extremely difficult to put pen to paper. And she says while it seems she ‘has it all together’, she doesn’t.
“I’m the farthest from that; this has been remembering things that I had put so far out of my current life, including the depth of my grief and remembering details and was very difficult to go back and remember and relive,” she says.
“It was incredibly emotional…it came with a lot of emotions. And yesterday, the emotions around dedicating this book on his birthday were as big as the day we dedicated the garden on his birthday, 19 years before that.
“I am not together, I’ve just been doing it for a while.
“And I have three boys that I survived for. And I still am. They encouraged me to tell my story…this was the time to share it because it still breaks my heart to hear the stories (of other families) and see the sadness and read the post.”
Those seemed particularly difficult during the pandemic, Pitel says. “I just think it was time; as hard as it was, and is, it just seemed like the time.”
I’m Still Your Mother is available on Amazon.
If you need help you can call:
• Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 686868
• Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868
• St. Clair Child and Youth 519-337-3701