Hospital admissions for teenage girls who may have attempted suicide have increased 50% nationwide. Texas does not have sufficient mental health resources to help them.
For 24/7 mental health support in English or Spanish, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s free help line at 800-662-4357. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.
Growing up, Charley Tennen was rarely alone. The youngest of seven kids in a loud, busy house in El Paso, she was always out at a party, shopping with friends or organizing a road trip.
Even after she was diagnosed with a chronic illness and had a feeding tube inserted, she kept her bubbly personality, her mother, Michelle, said.
But when COVID-19 hit Texas in March 2020, all of that suddenly went away. Charley went from attending school with a few thousand students to sitting alone in her bedroom, doing virtual classes. She and other family members were immunocompromised, so they fully isolated themselves, terrified of getting sick.
Then, in April 2020, Charley’s beloved father died unexpectedly from complications of a chronic illness.
“She was so isolated, she had nowhere to turn,” said Michelle. “She told me every single day, ‘I want to die. I want to be with daddy. I don’t know what’s on the other side, but at least I won’t be in pain.’”
Michelle leapt into action. She got Charley a psychologist. They created a safety plan. She found an inpatient treatment facility with open beds. She kept Charley in her sights constantly, even sleeping with her at night. She asked teachers, doctors, family, friends and — after Charley attempted suicide the first time — even the police for help.
“I could barely get through each minute. I was petrified,” said Michelle. “You can’t pin yourself to somebody 24 hours a day, but I really tried.”
Despite her mother’s tireless efforts, on the night of July 4, 2020, Charley Tennen died by suicide. She was 17 years old. Michelle held her second virtual funeral in three months.
“Losing [my husband], I thought would be the hardest thing I’d ever go through,” she said. “But burying my baby girl — there are no words for burying a child. And a child that should still be here. This never should have happened.”
The riptide of despair that caught Charley Tennen and carried her away from her family is only strengthening as the pandemic enters its third year.
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