On Thursday, June 12, Abby Anderson handed in an English assignment. It was a bucket list of life goals, giving a glimpse into her goofy, creative personality.
She wanted to ride a giraffe, come up with a “stupid” invention that would make millions, explore a cave and go on a police ride-a-long, to name a few.
On Friday, June 13, Abby took her own life.
Before her death, the 15 year-old sophomore at Trumbull High had been diagnosed with clinical depression. Abby and her family were taking the right steps — she was on medication and in talk therapy and those close to her knew about her struggles. She had a strong network of family and friends.
“When she was there, she was there, and she meant it,” her mother Gillian Anderson said of her life.
As outgoing and glowing as she was, it was hard for many to understand her suicide.
“Abby wasn’t the poster child of depression,” Anderson said. “It can happen to anyone.”
Depression is not always a frowning figure on a pharmaceutical commercial that struggles to get out of bed, according to Gillian Anderson and family friend, Kathy Masi. It can also be the talented, accomplished cheerleader, who was never afraid to make a goofy face to get a laugh.
Now, as a new school year starts and the Trumbull community continues to mourn her loss, her family, including father Charlie Anderson, a Trumbull High teacher and coach, her brother Ben and friends are going to accomplish another one of Abby’s bucket list goals in her memory, “helping others in a big way.”
On Saturday, Oct. 11, Team Abby will participate in the Out of Darkness Community Walk at Sherwood Island in Westport. The walk is part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s nationwide efforts to increase education, prevention, research and advocacy. Team Abby is looking for donations for their cause and those who want to participate are welcome.
For Abby’s friends and family, life will never be the same, according to Kathy Masi. Masi’s daughter, Libby, was Abby’s best friend and they are helping to organize the walk. Masi and Anderson say the walk is an opportunity for healing and part of that comes with raising awareness about depression and suicide, erasing the stigma that both carry.
“For a lot of Abby’s friends, she was the anchor and the person they came to for advice,” Masi said.
Anderson gave credit to the Trumbull Public Schools for acting quickly following Abby’s death, offering counseling and therapy dogs for students devastated by the news.
Masi said that the family’s honesty has also been a big help in the healing process.
“What amazes me is that in the wake of their sadness and grief the Andersons have been very concerned with making sure the kids in our community are okay,” Masi said. “The kids too have suffered a huge loss and the Anderson’s compassion for them and honesty have been incredible.
“The kids have shown such character in the way they have come together for the Andersons with their countless acts of kindness and support,” she said.
Anderson said Abby’s death was a traumatic experience for the entire community and this walk in October in the next step forward.
“It’s a complicated grief,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t just happen for a summer and stop.”
Following her death, there was a community outpouring of heartbreak and support for her family. On social media many began circulating a message of #TrumbullStrong.
Some of the friends most devastated were Abby’s fellow cheerleaders. On the Trumbull High cheerleading squad Abby was a flyer.
“She was fearless,” Masi said.
Her team will be part of the walk Oct. 11 along with members of the football and wrestling teams, who are coached by Charlie Anderson.
Despite her short life, Abby left behind plenty of good memories for those who loved her. She was good at everything she tried, including painting and writing, her mother said. She was sometimes hard on herself but not afraid to look silly. Anderson sees many similarities between Abby and comedian Robin Williams, who also took his own life and suffered from depression. Both Abby and Williams were extremely generous and wanted to help other people, she said.
Anderson has started to write Abby’s story down, to spread awareness in preparation for the walk.
“Abby’s zest for life kept us all on our toes, and now she’s gone,” Anderson wrote. “There is such a void of her energy, love and light for all who knew her.”
Too many families are suffering in silence, whether it be with depression or the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide, Anderson said. Telling Abby’s story is a way to get the discussion going.
“I never imagined I would be in this place,” Anderson said. “But it could happen to anyone.”
As Abby became older, her family believes she learned to hide her depression further from them and medical professionals.
“We had no warning and she didn’t have any outward signs of spiraling like those you read about,” she said. “But the clinical depression won. It’s incredibly hard to fathom, but so important to discuss.”
The Anderson family is particularly interested in raising awareness among students and helping others recognize increasing despair that some teens may be experiencing. For example, there is a misconception that if a teen talks about suicide, they won’t actually follow through with it.
The money raised from the walk goes to benefit many different programs, according to Anderson.
“One of the newer programs that the Southern Connecticut Chapter of AFSP has been able to fund is a Mental Health First Aid Training for teen leaders from Stamford High School, Westhill High School, and Brien McMahon High School in High School,” she said. “The teen leaders will use what they learn to be a resource for their fellow students and to advocate for programs and services that will promote mental health.”
How to help
Those who want to get involved and want more information on the Oct. 11 walk can contact organizers Kathy Masi or Gail Hunt. Hunt’s email address is email@example.com and Masi’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate to the cause, visit afsp.org and follow these steps: Click on Out of Darkness Walk at the top of the page, click on “Out of Darkness Community Walks,” click on “Get Involved,” go to “find an event,” click on “sort by state,” find the Oct. 11 Westport Walk, Sherwood Island, click “donate to this event,” and on the donate page type in “Team Abby.” From there click on “Kathy Masi” and donate. Those who wish to register to walk can also do so online.
As friends and family literally take a step forward in Abby’s memory, Anderson said the Trumbull community continues to offer incredible support.
“We are extremely grateful for what everyone has done for us,” Anderson said. “The community has been so open and caring.”
For more information on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, visit afsp.org. If you are in crisis, call the prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).