By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Angie Eugenio can’t help but wonder what she could have done differently.
Because really, she did all she could do, all she knew how to do, to save her son.
And still, it wasn’t enough.
Angie and Randy Eugenio’s 19-year-old son, Tate, died by suicide Nov. 27, 2021, at his family’s home in Zionsville, Indiana.
He was a sophomore at Purdue University, a graduate of Zionsville Community High School, a member of Christ Lutheran Church, a musician, a beloved son and grandson, a brother to Claire and a friend to many.
“He was a kid with direction and focus and a caring, compassionate heart,” his mom said. “He had a heart for service, he loved music, he had a huge number of friends, he was talented, he was intelligent, he was a deep thinker. And he brought a light to everybody he met.”
But too often, he struggled to find that light himself.
Both Angie and Randy are physical therapists for IU Health. In their grief, they wanted to do something purposeful to not only honor their son but to help other families navigating mental health issues. They are advocating for better care and communication to spare others the pain they experienced.
The couple became involved with the Riley Children’s Health documentary, “Racing to Respond,” when it was just an idea last year. The film is airing in select cities over the next several weeks. All screenings are free, but attendees must register for their preferred screening location ahead of time.
The purpose of the documentary, featuring Riley leaders, clinicians and other interested partners in the city and state, is to raise awareness of the pediatric mental health crisis in Indiana and issue a call to action.
“We have to realize that we’re at a point where we need to do something different,” Riley Children’s Health President Gil Peri says in the film. “I’ve very optimistic that together as a community we can make a big impact on pediatric mental and behavioral health.”
In 2020, the Indiana Youth Institute reported that the percentage of Hoosier middle and high school students who considered suicide was 11.8% for sixth-graders and 19.3% among 10th-graders.
An entire generation of Hoosier youth is in crisis, yet more than half of kids with a mental health or substance use disorder are not receiving treatment. A serious shortage of providers both nationally and in Indiana means families are waiting months to get appointments.
According to the Indiana Center for Prevention of Youth Abuse and Suicide, Indiana’s suicide rate has been higher than the national average since 1999, and it is the second-leading cause of death for Hoosier teens.
Every one of those numbers reflects a person, a family, a community shattered by grief and unanswered questions.
For the Eugenios, who attended the first screening of the film last week in Evansville, it’s not easy seeing their personal story playing out on a big screen in front of strangers, but they chose to participate in the film to encourage others to talk openly and honestly about suicide and how it can be prevented.
In Tate’s case, it wasn’t enough that he was smart, funny, kind and talented, or that he had a supportive family and friends who loved him.
He suffered from increasing bouts of depression. He was hospitalized twice but did not get the level of support he so desperately needed, his mom said.
“Tate was not shying away from seeking help,” Angie said. “He was not afraid to ask for guidance. He was not afraid to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. He was not afraid to take medication. He was doing everything in his power to help himself.”
And his family was doing everything in their power to help him.
“We knew Tate was struggling, and we sought help, and yet we still couldn’t find the right formula for him.”
She doesn’t want anyone else to have to ask “why” as they grieve the loss of a child to suicide.
“It’s hard as a parent not to blame yourself, but it’s not helpful to do that,” she acknowledges.
Still, she said, people want to know what they can do to keep it from happening to their child.
“They may not come out and say that, but I know that’s what they want to know.”
Tate was not a marginalized kid, she said. He was not an unsupported child, nor did he come from a traumatic household. That reality can be unsettling for people, who often want to assume the same tragedy can’t befall their family.
Answers are elusive, but Angie knows that saving kids from suicide begins with improved education about mental health as a disease and better access to treatment for patients and families.
“I want healthcare to improve, and I want people’s understanding of mental illness to improve, and I want this epidemic of suicide to stop,” Angie said. “I don’t know that I can do any of that myself, but I can shine a light on mental health, and I can make people understand it’s OK to seek mental health services.”
As her family approaches the two-year mark of the loss of Tate, she is grateful for the chance to share her son’s story with others in the hope that even in death, his light will continue to shine.
“I have joy along with my grief, and I’m trying to carry both of them. I feel better when I’m doing something positive rather than just sitting in my own sorrow,” she said.
“I want to live in a way that would make Tate proud and let him know I’m not giving up and I don’t fault him, because I know he tried as hard as he could. I feel we as a community failed him.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
Join us for a documentary screening of "Racing to Respond" followed by an evening of conversation designed to create greater awareness of the pediatric mental health crisis we face in Indiana, as well as a call to action to address this challenge. Find out more and register here.