CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For Kimberly Roberts, middle school was brutal.
“I was being made fun of, there were pictures and words written on my locker,” she recalled, saying she was often ridiculed over her body image.
“In high school is when I just spiraled out of control,” she said.
Roberts said she had low self-esteem and, because she didn’t play any sports, said she struggled to fit in.
“I didn’t have a group of people, I didn’t have a bunch of art friends, I didn’t have that connection," Roberts said.
Instead, she said she isolated herself, using her time alone to draw. But the isolation would wear on her.
She said at times the pain was so bad, she thought the only way to make it go away was to take her own life.
If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.
“I have attempted three times,” Roberts said. “One was an overdose that put me in the hospital.”
Roberts said that was her turning point. Through therapy, medication, and support she became a survivor. But then, another tragedy. Roberts said her high school boyfriend took his own life.
“I survived and it's heartbreaking to know why he didn’t,” she said.
It was then when Roberts said she knew she needed to do more and became a suicide prevention advocate.
“I want to show that you know there’s more to life,” she said. "In that moment, it may feel like that’s the solution, but there’s just so much out there that we need to get in these kids' hands.”
After having kids herself, she said she felt compelled to make them and every child feel they are perfect just the way they are. Using her love of art – one of the things that once made her different – has become something beautiful.
Roberts has now written two children’s books. In "Just Perfect," the story depicts a ballerina and her mother who have a life lesson to share, knowing that all too frequently girls look at themselves in the mirror and see hippo bellies or flamingo legs.
Roberts said the book’s message, is that no matter what you like, you’re "just perfect."
“Everybody’s like, 'Why do you use perfect? Perfection doesn’t exist,’ and I say it does exist, it is you," Roberts said. "You are perfect as yourself, there is nobody to replace you."
Roberts said a portion of all book sales also goes back to charity and to help others become survivors too.
But Roberts is one of the lucky ones. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 34, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
“It’s an epidemic,” Fonda Bryant with the Charlotte chapter of NAMI said.
It's an epidemic some say has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts between February and March 2021, were up 51% for girls ages 12 to 17, compared to the same period in 2019.
“Fifty percent of youth, if they do not receive treatment for a mental health condition they turn to substance abuse, so now you’re going to have two issues,” Bryant, a 26-year suicide survivor herself, said.
Bryant said parents need to talk to their children and also need to learn the signs of a mental health issue, which can include a change in personality, loss of interest in activities, changes in eating -- either eating too much or too little -- changes in sleep and isolation.
“When your child goes in their room and shuts the door and does not come out, you need to go in there behind them and go, hey what’s going on?” Bryant said.
In September, a Hough High School student died by suicide just a few weeks into the school year. And just this month an 11-year-old girl took her life outside her family’s home after reports she had been bullied for months.
“It doesn’t shock me, it hurts me and it’s a call to action,” said Bryant.
Bryant said she understands that for many parents the topic of suicide makes them uncomfortable, but she said losing a child to suicide is far worse. And she said the time parents have to reach their children is limited.
“Stats say by the time a child is 14, 50% of them are dealing with a mental health condition and by the time they are 24, it's 75% so if we don’t reach those children before they turn, by law 18, you cannot make them go and get help, the help they need,” she said.
Bryant hosts free QPR suicide prevention training, where she teaches people the signs of suicide. Her next training is coming up on Oct. 23. She said knowing the signs can help you save a life. To attend the training, email Bryant at email@example.com.
Both Bryant and Roberts also speak publicly, at schools, businesses, and at other engagements, both sharing their story of surviving suicide.
Roberts, also an artist, is hosting a charity event on Nov. 6, with multiple vendors, which will support over 20 charities including the American Foundation for suicide prevention. For more details, email Kimberlymohnsroberts@gmail.com