Healing through music, connecting with community
The Flood family is honoring their son, Jason, by raising awareness about suicide through local music and athletic events
Jason Flood loved to play soccer, Little League and deck hockey. He taught himself to play guitar and bass, liked to sing, played in bands and took part in chorus and drama productions.
Jason, the Pinkerton Academy graduate and Derry resident, also struggled with undiagnosed depression, and he took his own life on Nov. 20, 2016, at 18 years old.
“I don’t believe our story is unique,” his father, Douglas Flood said. “We obviously have a little more insight, but none of his friends, none of the adults saw this coming.”
Since his death, his family and friends have worked to keep Jason’s memory alive through the Jason R. Flood Memorial Fund – a group designed to raise awareness and combat the stigma of mental illness.
Jason’s parents, Douglas and Danielle, and a board made up of area residents, organize and fund local music and athletic events to benefit nonprofit organizations with similar goals. It partners with mental health providers to help build leadership and confidence in a young audience, working to erase the stigma of mental health issues.
When Jason began to have difficulties, his parents took him to counseling and often stayed up late into the night to talk over his problems and to support him.
“He did have suicidal idealizations,” Danielle Flood said. “And he did come to us and talk to us about it. He was seeing a counselor, but at a certain point he was done. He was done with the counselor.”
“It’s important to know that if you have those feelings, and you feel good today, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to come back. We wanted him to be able to deal with those feelings when they did come back. He’d tell me, ‘Mom, I’m OK.’ We’d stay up until 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning to talk.”
Educating and entertaining parents and teens
Suicide is the second leading cause of death (after accidental injury) among New Hampshire youth and young adults up to age 34, according to the Partnership for Public Health.
The Floods have focused on efforts to give people the tools to speak up and reach out when they recognize those warning signs.
Recently, despite challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the group launched the Pizzastock World Tour – 60 straight nights of livestreamed musical performances. 58 different musicians – many of them friends of Jason – took to Facebook Live and performed every night, for 60 straight nights, with the group’s message in mind.
“It wasn’t meant to be that big,” Douglas Flood said of the nearly two-month long series. “But when I get an idea and say, ‘let’s do this,’ I just go and make it bigger and crazier. Before we knew it, we were approaching 60.”
The string of performances came as a direct result of the group’s mission, but it also addressed a need that Danielle Flood saw developing. The pandemic-related stay-at-home order was increasing isolation of at-risk people and likely exacerbating mental health struggles. Getting kids together – even virtually – could help.
“One of the things we want to communicate is that these kids are not alone,” she said.
The purpose, then: “Get kids together and get them talking,” she said. “For us, it’s about getting kids to do what they love and finding things that make them happy. It’s about letting them know they’re not alone and making sure they know there’s always somewhere they can turn or someone they can talk to.”
Douglas Flood said inevitably an attendee at one of their events will hand them a note or talk about having experienced depression or mental illness, and how much the event meant to them.
“At a few events, we put Center for Life Management business cards out, and at one, a 12-year-old girl stealthily took the card and snuck it in her pocket without her parents noticing,” he said. “We get our message across, but we don’t pummel people with it, either. We’d rather bring fun and light to it.”
The Floods facilitate communication with organizations like the National Alliance for Mental Illness and the Center for Life Management, among others.
“We’re not qualified to counsel,” Douglas Flood said. “They are the experts.”
The need for such experts is increasing, according to the Floods. Board member Stacy Snell of Derry said that since becoming involved in the Memorial Fund, she has seen how common mental issue struggles can be.
“What struck me as I’ve gotten to know the Floods, and other families through them, is that this could really happen in any family,” Snell said.
“These are involved, caring families. These are kids who despite having love and support at home, can’t see the light from the darkness they are in. I think there is an old, outdated assumption that happy, loved, supported kids with lots of friends can’t suffer from mental illness, and that just isn’t true.”
“Don’t take it lightly,” Danielle Flood said. “We thought it was him being a mopey teen – we’ve all been there, we’ve all had those feelings in the past and we figure they’re going to pass. They’re not necessarily going to pass. I just wish we had more time.”
Know the signs
Suicide warning signs include:
•Feeling like a burden
•Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
•Increased substance use
•Looking for a way to access lethal means
•Increased anger or rage
•Extreme mood swings
•Sleeping too little or too much
•Talking or posting about wanting to die
•Making plans for suicide
Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov)
How do I get help?
If you think you might have depression, you are not alone. Depression is common, but it is also treatable. Ask for help! Here are a few steps you can take:
Step 1: Try talking to a trusted adult, such as your parent or guardian, your teacher, or a school counselor. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to an adult, try talking to a friend. If you are not sure where to turn, you can use TXT 4 HELP Interactive (www.nationalsafeplace.org/txt-4-help), which allows you to text live with a mental health professional. For more ideas and a list of health hotlines, visit www.nimh.nih.gov (search words: children and adolescents).
Step 2: If you’re under the age of 18, ask your parent or guardian to make an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation. Your doctor can make sure you don’t have a physical illness that may be affecting your mental health. Your doctor may also talk to you about the possibility of seeing a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, counselor, psychologist, or therapist. These practitioners can diagnose and treat depression and other mental disorders.
Courtesy of the National Institute of Mental Health