UCA’s Katrena Weathers’ Crusade for Mental Health Awareness
UCA has always been a place where our people feel just as much like family as they do a team. Our very own Katrena Weathers, Medical Assistant to Dr. Eric Brewer, sat down with us to share a personal story about her son’s tragedy and how she is using his legacy as a crusade for mental health and suicide awareness.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am from Birmingham, Alabama and went to Virginia College to get my degree as a medical assistant. I am a Medical Assistant to Dr. Eric Brewer.
I lost my son, Justin, on August 3rd, 2016. It was a typical morning getting ready for school and going to work. When I returned home, I received a call from one of his friends who has been trying to get in touch with Justin. That’s when I went to his room and found him. Justin had taken his own life.
Q: Did you see any signs of mental illness?
I never saw any signs of depression. Justin was a senior in high school and a happy 18-year-old kid full of life. Justin was the type of kid where he liked everything to be lined up. We always enjoyed talking and spending time together. I always encouraged him and told him that no matter what he did in this world, I would always love him and proud of who he was.
But no matter how much I told him I loved him, he was still fighting his own demons that I was unaware of. Laying him to rest was the toughest part. There are some days I feel like this is all a dream, and that I will come home and see him in his room, waiting for me to come in.
Q: Tell us about the book that you are writing.
My sister encouraged me to write a book that could connect with people who may be going through the same thing I am. Whether they’re mourning the loss of a loved one or know someone who is struggling with mental illness, such as depression. I want those suffering from depression to know that they are loved by the people around them. I want them to know that taking your own life is devastating to your friends and family, and it’s not the right way to leave this world.
I want people suffering from depression to know that they are not alone. They always have somebody in the corner who is rooting and cheering for them.
The title of the book is going to “My Journey without Justin; A Mother’s Grief Dealing with Depression and Suicide”. My hope is to have it published by Spring of 2021.
Katrena at the Suicide Prevention balloon release eventQ: What do you personally do to cope with your experience?
Praying gives me the strength to keep going for my husband, my daughter, for my grandkids, my mom, sister, and brother. Also, my other family, which is my coworkers. They show me so much love and so much support. I have to keep going for all of them. Writing my story has given me hope and encouragement to keep Justin’s memory alive, while helping others.
Q: What brought you to want to share your story?
My biggest goal is if I could just help one person, I’ll feel like I’m not just saving that person, but that person’s family and friends from a lot of pain and anguish. It will help me keep driving forward with my journey. Every time I go to the cemetery, I tell Justin that I’m going to keep pushing and let his legacy live on through me.
Q: What type of signs or advice does one need to be aware of?
Knowing that teenagers like to be alone, my advice would be to talk to your kids more, and spend more time with them and make sure they are safe opening up to you. Justin would be up in his room playing video games or on the phone. Sometimes, I would even go in his room with him and just sit there and play games with him. And we would talk. We would always set aside a day that was for us. Every Saturday was Mom and Justin time. We got up early. We went shopping or did whatever he wanted to do. We always ended our day with a Taco Bell Freeze. It was our special time together.
Always set time aside for your child. When your baby comes to talk to you, be willing to listen, and hear what they have to say. Put down the phone, get away from the computer and just listen because they may be crying out for help.
Just have that door open so they can come talk to you. Kids need someone they can trust and talk to without worrying about being talked about behind their backs. That’s the worst thing that a child could feel.
Keep in mind that suicide rates rise around the holidays, so my advice is also to call the people in your life and check on them. Check on neighbors as well.
Q: How are you bringing mental health to the forefront of your crusade here?
Along with writing my book, I speak to a number of schools around the community. One student approached me after one of my lectures and shared her story about the rocky relationship she has with her mother. She started working on mending the relationship by opening up and talking to her, and today they get along much better.
Every year, the Justin Weathers Foundation participates in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of Darkness Community Walk. This year it is virtual due to COVID, but the fundraiser will be held online on November 8, 2020, from 2 pm – 3 pm. Please follow the Justin Weathers Foundation on Facebook .
Q: How can people get more involved with suicide awareness and prevention?
People can volunteer at a suicide hotline. Some people don’t like to talk, so they’ll text instead. People with suicidal thoughts just want to be heard and talk to someone who will listen.
To donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, click here or visit https://afsp.donordrive.com .