Jamie Neal’s family — her father Bob, mother Debbie and brother Abe — at their church in Duxbury (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
When Jamie Neal was home on medical leave from Williams College in early 2010, her parents were going to great lengths to try to protect her.
“I knew she was suicidal,” says Jamie’s mother, Debbie Neal. “My husband and I decided we would do everything to keep her alive.”
Several months earlier, in August 2009, the Duxbury resident had made a suicide attempt that left her in a coma for several days.
“The last few months before she died, I had her sleep in my bed next to me,” Debbie Neal explains. “And every single day, I asked her on a [scale of] 1 to 10 how she felt and was she suicidal. And she would tell me that she was a 5 and that she wasn’t suicidal.”
In March of 2010, the 21-year-old killed herself in the family’s home. Suicide had become her desperate attempt to escape a complex web of pain and trauma: not only mental illness, but sexual assault and drug addiction — a dark journey in a life filled with so much promise.
Jamie Neal was a member of three varsity sports teams beginning her freshman year at Duxbury High School. She was recruited to play basketball at Williams College. (Courtesy the Neal family)
Like many other survivors of suicide, the Neals recall a loved one who was outwardly happy — even, in Jamie’s case, “outrageously fun.” She had a ready smile.
“Jamie was always, always smiling,” Debbie Neal says. “It kind of defined who she was. She loved other people who were struggling. And she was very kind, and she had a beautiful heart.”
There were some signs early on that Jamie might have mental health issues. A nursery school teacher noticed the normally cheerful, outgoing girl would sometimes withdraw into a sad state. And the straight-A student was a perfectionist in everything she did.
“That perfectionism drove her and motivated her,” says Jamie’s brother, Abe Neal. “On the other hand, I don’t want to say it necessarily did her in. But it was very difficult for her. You would find her at four in the morning editing some minor paper for an English class. And she was also very hard on herself as things started going downhill with herself.” Continue reading