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Searching for Normal - A Review

Could we have prevented this suicide? - Every survivor asks the question in the aftermath of a loved one's death. In Searching for Normal: The Story of a Girl Gone Too Soon, Karen Meadows traces through her daughter Sadie's entire life, reexamining every decision that affected Sadie's illness. No, Karen, for God's sake, you even paid professionals to find the best options out there for Sadie's care.

Sadie was a bright, lively, inventive child with obvious gifts and potential. A victim of bullying, things turned dark in middle school. The school's routine screening for depression yielded an awkward phone call to her parents - they should get her treatment.

Depression is the DSM's junk drawer. Lots of people start their sojourn in diagnosis by getting slotted into it. Lots of them get moved to another drawer when antidepressants prove less than helpful. Sadie's first suicide attempts followed closely upon beginning treatment with antidepressants.

Another doctor said bipolar. Another doctor said, no. A treatment center said she shouldn't be on meds at all... Meanwhile, Sadie's parents struggled with their own concerns about medication. What does it do to a developing brain? Or was it because she was on the wrong meds? Or because they withheld meds? Or because she wasn't monitored when she started them?

Or because she was adopted? Or because they moved? Or because she got rejected by schools? Or because they couldn't find the wrap around services that had been recommended? Or because...

Beyond the second guessing is a thorough listing of what help is available to families facing severe mental illness and what help is not. The author moves from grief to advocacy for better care, better services, better understanding of mental illness and what this epidemic of suicide costs us -- lives of promise and brilliance. Sadie was one such person of promise and brilliance whose life ended too soon.

One of the heartbreaks in the story for me is that the Meadows family went through this alone. They didn't know that there were others who have walked this path before, who could have supported them, helped them. National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI offers classes, Family to Family for family and friends of those with mental health conditions and now Basics, specifically for family and caregivers of young people. Alas, these programs are not available everywhere. But the websites can help you find the ones closest to you.

Karen Meadows didn't find NAMI until after Sadie's death. The last chapter of the book is a wide ranging list of resources. Out of tragedy came a determination to help others. That will be Sadie's legacy, one of them, if those whose stories are beginning like hers can come to a different ending.
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