When public schools shut down last year millions of homes became virtual classrooms. Students became anxious, disinterested, and isolated; unable to truly interact with friends and teachers. Many say the result led to a pandemic within a pandemic as some kids struggled to find answers or a way out.
Heathyr Sidle and Michael Myronuk have fond memories of their 14-year-old son Michael Jr.
"One of the most unique kids I've ever met," Sidle told CBN News. "He just had a really cool personality."
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"Myronuk added, "Pretty much one of my favorite people in the world, not from being my son but just because of his insight, his humor, goofiness, intelligence."
Then last October tragedy struck when Michael Jr. committed suicide.
"The night before he took his life the two of us were hanging out eating dinner, watching a movie," Sidle explained. "We had a perfectly great night. And the next morning he went to his dad's house, he had a plan."
Sidle recalled the moment she learned about her son's suicide shortly after leaving him at his dad's.
"He sent me a text after I'd already dropped him off," she said. "I literally probably almost caused a 20-car pileup cause I turned around in the middle of Baltimore City. "I wasn't even thinking cause I freaked out and drove back to his house and by that time it was too late."
An honor student who had just transitioned to high school, Michael's parents said he struggled with virtual learning when COVID shut down his school.
"The response to the virus has been worse than the virus itself for our younger people," said Myronuk. "For a lot of kids school is the one place that they get to be themselves, that they have the social interaction that they get a break from whatever may be going on or the stressors at home."
"I'm getting these reports every day that says failing, failing, failing," Sidle shared. "Michael's like, 'I turned it in.'" And there's this pressure building inside of him where I'm literally freaking out thinking my kid is going to fail. He was already 30 assignments behind."
Unfortunately, this family isn't alone as medical and education experts continue to warn about the negative impact of school closures.
According to Mental Health America, 2020's rate of children ages 11 through 17 screened for anxiety and depression, jumped nine percent over the previous year.
CDC data also shows emergency room treatment for kids with mental health conditions skyrocketed from April to October last year.
But Sidle said that her faith in God makes the difference in helping her deal with the loss of her son.
"Just having that commitment to turn to God every day," she said. "I just put this whole situation at his feet and said, 'you gotta help me cause I can't do this by myself.' So that's really kept me."
Michael's parents now want to use their loss to help raise awareness about teen depression and suicide. They recently launched the Arrow of Light Foundation in their son's honor.
"We want to remove any financial obstacles," said Sidle. "We want to help remove that stigma by talking about it and talking about it, if we can provide them with, you know give them an Uber gift card, literally get them there or they can do telehealth. Whatever it takes to help them with their mental health."
Meanwhile, Sidle said that although her son is no longer with her here, she plans to keep fighting for other kids and parents.
"My son and I were just baptized together the year before happened in 2019 and I truly believe that he's a believer, but the enemy was talking louder. So, we lost him. We lost the battle, but we haven't lost the war."
If you or someone you know needs help call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.
Whether mild or severe, depression is painful for those who are suffering. If you or someone you love would like resources related to depression, click here.