In honor of our 35th Anniversary, Dr. Leader shares her memories of the early days of Teen Line in a series we like to call…
TEEN LINE FOUNDATIONS
By Elaine Leader, Ph.D., CGP, BCD, FAGPA
Chapter Thirteen: Community Connections Continued
In my last chapter I wrote about how the loss of a teen to suicide became the impetus for us to form an important and endearing connection to the parents of the teen and their subsequent work with us on teen suicide prevention. This chapter will focus on our relationship with Eleanor Schneir and Peter Mezza, the loving parents of Santa Monica High School student Matthew Mezza who took his life at age 14.
I first learned about Matthew’s death when I received an email from Ellie’s sister Arlene whom I have known for years from her work at Children’s Hospital. We immediately reached out to Ellie and Peter as well as to Santa Monica High School where we already had a longstanding relationship. Our first steps to help the school was to undertake what we call a postvention. This intervention is to assist students that were close to Matthew deal with their feelings. Sadly, some had even witnessed his suicide. An important goal in postvention is to identify others that are depressed and that might be thinking of suicide too as a way for them to end their pain. These students we then can refer to appropriate help and thus prevent another tragedy.
Another aspect of the Santa Monica High School postvention was to organize an outreach to the school parents who had been impacted by the dramatic manner of Matthew’s death. We organized a panel to address the parents’ concerns. It was a very moving evening as parents had many questions and expressed a great deal of emotion over the loss.
Both Ellie and Peter were profoundly saddened by Matthew’s death and themselves in need of care and support. As with other parents who have suffered such a grievous loss this is a process that is ongoing. However, after some time some parents recognize that they have a unique perspective that can be extremely valuable in teen suicide prevention. By sharing their personal experience they are able to educate others about warning signs, or lack of, and at the same time the memory of their loved one becomes an important means to help others.
A couple of years after Matthew’s death I had been invited to do a teen suicide presentation in East Los Angeles on a Saturday morning. I have found over the years that including a parent that has lost a child to suicide and a young person that in the past has been depressed and possibly suicidal is a format that works extremely well. It always elicits important sharing and questions. That particular day my parent speaker brought Ellie with her to observe the presentation and discussion with students. That was the beginning of Ellie’s involvement in our efforts to prevent teen suicide.
Ellie and Peter have both participated on our suicide prevention video. Ellie, despite her dramatic loss has handled the deeply emotional task of speaking at outreaches and has made herself available despite important career responsibilities. And Peter recently joined our Board of Directors. They also formed The Matthew Mezza Memorial Fund to support our work and sponsored the eighth edition of our Youth Yellow Pages that is dedicated to Matthew. In 2015, we honored their dedication to helping others by presenting them with the Humanitarian Award at our annual Food for Thought Luncheon.
Getting to know Ellie and Peter has been a privilege and to experience their dedication and support of Teen Line is not only heartwarming but also an outstanding component of our community connections.
Miss an earlier Foundations Blog? Catch up here: