#LIFESaver Families Profile: McKenna Elizabeth Brown
What is your loved one’s full name:
McKenna Elizabeth Brown
What was their date of birth & their age at the time of their passing?
September 6, 2005; 16 years-old
Tell us about your loved one: What five adjectives best describe the positive they brought to this world, that now shines on in how they impacted you and all those they touched?
McKenna was truly a unicorn-she lit up a room by her mere presence. She looked out for others, made people feel special and included and loved deeply. People gravitated to her and her energy. It’s hard to describe her in five words but here we go: compassionate, charismatic, socially, academically and athletically gifted.
To the extent that you feel comfortable, please tell us what you believe were the circumstances/contributing factors around your loved one’s passing.
McKenna was a Venn diagram of issues that can affect one’s mental health and well-being. She had unbeknownst to us been sexually assaulted at 14. She had suffered multiple concussions. She was a high-functioning student-athlete. She played Tier 1/AAA hockey and made it to the USA Hockey National Championships three times. There had been four or five other suicides at her high school in the last six years. McKenna’s being a victim of sexual assault, resulted in what we are learning is referred to as PTSI (Post Traumatic Stress Injury). Yet McKenna suffered in silence. We will never know to what extent these issues affected her well-being. Then in her final days and hours, she was bullied, exposed, and humiliated by four friends/teammates. They had shared multiple screen-captures detailing her sexual assault and other humiliating details, with teammates and friends. They had also attempted to cancel her on social media. Less than 24 hours later, we would lose McKenna to suicide.
What did you as a family wish you knew more about this topic in the year’s leading up to your loss?
We wish we knew more about mental health and were better informed and equipped to know what “check-in” conversations to have. We also wish we had dug deeper into some of the superficial “I’m good” responses that so many teens share with their parents. As teenagers, the brain isn’t fully developed and so many events in their lives can feel like the end of the world. When in reality, everyone goes through them and many share the same feelings. We wish we had better insight into signs and symptoms, especially when she was so good at masking her pain as she suffered in silence.
Why did your family decide to go public about your loss, and why are you choosing to be so selfless in putting their/your story out there for others?
Your immediate instinct is to protect them even in death. Then we began to discover more details about McKenna and her death. We felt it was too important not to share the details of her story with others. No one should have to suffer as McKenna did. No one needs to suffer the same loss we have. We felt it was important to share her story to foster further discussion on these important issues. The number of teenage suicides with ties to sexual assault, bullying, high-functioning student-athletes, and/or mental health issues is staggering. Yet we as a society don’t like to discuss or acknowledge that these issues exist and are a serious problem.
There isn’t enough open dialog or transparency when it comes to mental health and suicide. If her school had been more transparent about the epidemic of suicide at their school instead of sweeping it under the rug – those would have been conversations/opportunities to talk about it with McKenna. She, like many others instead suffered in silence. There are many people like her who also suffer in silence and are unable to ask for or seek help from others – whether it be for fear of judgment or lack of understanding of the seriousness of what they are dealing with. Many parents/students/friends/people we don’t know have come forward and shared their own stories of struggle, embarrassment, and pain. Quite a few people have shared the fact they heard McKenna’s story and as a result, they or a loved one felt the strength or urgency to get help. There needs to be more public discussion and awareness of these issues. It is ok to not be ok. It is not ok to suffer in silence, alone.
What are the perceptions about suicide you would like your loved one’s story to help change?
There is a misperception by many who think – that those we lose to suicide wanted to die. Instead, those we lose in this horrific way needed the seemingly unbearable pain to stop and go away. That overwhelming pain of the reality they are living ultimately overwhelms them, covering up the gravity of the reality of dying or the pain it will cause loved ones.
The misperception that youth suicide only happens to weak, socially outcast and physically bullied kids. If it can happen to McKenna who was socially, academically and athletically gifted-who was outgoing, larger than life, full of energy and light, who loved helping others and making people laugh and feel good about themselves – it truly can happen to anyone. Everyone has the potential of suicide-it crosses all socio-economic lines.
The misperception that talking about suicide or asking someone if they feel suicidal will encourage other suicide attempts. Fears shared and talked about are likely to diminish those feelings. The only way to encourage someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide to live, is to talk about those feelings. A simple inquiry about whether or not the person is having suicidal thoughts starts the conversation and can ultimately avert a terrible outcome. That includes schools – they can’t just ignore the topic and sweep these pervasive and prevalent feelings and occurrences under the rug and think that they will go away. That is exactly what causes more harm to students-thats what creates the stigma surrounding mental health in general and causes people to think that they are the only ones struggling with these feelings – it discourages them from talking about it honestly. Being open about these topics and conversations, acknowledges that the feelings are there and validates that we are not alone in our struggles.
The misperception that the only effective help or intervention for someone contemplating suicide is that from professionals in the mental health field. Anyone who interacts with an adolescent in crisis can help them with emotional support and encouragement (parent, teacher, fried, trusted adult). Most young people contemplating suicide only feel that way for a limited period of time in their lives. Their brains eventually develop and they become more equipped to deal with life’s challenges in a healthier, clearer and safer way. At the time suicide crosses their mind, they often have a distorted perception of their actual life situation and what solutions are appropriate for them to take.
Links and/or descriptions to any resources you would like to drive people to:
2. In Loving Memory of McKenna Elizabeth Brown
3. Cheryl McCormick Brown
4. Hunter Brown
1. Cheryl McCormick Brown
1. Cheryl McCormick Brown