Christmas tree in Wells highlights mental health issues

Angela Stevens of Wells lost her son, Trent Gibson, to suicide in June 2022. She put up a Christmas tree in her front yard to honor him and others who left too soon.

WELLS, Maine — For Wells mother Angela Stevens, this Christmas will be very different from Christmases of the past. it’s his first since she lost her 18-year-old son, Trent Gibson, to suicide back in June. That was a moment that she said was “momentous.”

“Your pain is only as big as your love, so your pain will never end because love never ends for that person you lost,” Stevens said.

Stevens said Trent’s death came as a complete surprise. She said that she knew he was feeling stressed, but that she had no idea that those feelings had escalated to the point where they did. She said that she has been through a variety of emotions, from grief and sadness to anger at the world.

“Someone can be surrounded by love. Someone can be so incredibly loved and still feel alone, unfortunately, and that’s the mental health part,” Stevens said.

Stevens decided she wanted to put up a tree in Trent’s room for Christmas this year and have family and friends send decorations to hang it. That idea evolved and he decided to place the tree in his front yard, inviting members of the community to hang decorations in memory of Trent or in memory of loved ones lost to suicide.

Stevens said all she put on the tree were purple and teal lights to raise awareness for suicide and mental health and a picture of Trent. Community members have done the rest of the decorating.

“For me, the tree has become a visual representation of support and love and reminds people that no matter what you’re going through, there’s someone out there who loves you,” Stevens said, later adding: “In At one point in time, we had cars lined up on the street with people in decorations.”

Stevens said he spread the word in part through a new nonprofit organization he started with his family and friends a few months after Trent’s death. Is named Stay; For life and is designed to specifically raise awareness of men’s mental health.

“We’re trying to help break the stigma that comes with expecting men and all the pressure that’s put on them because society says that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Donald Whitten, Stevens’ fiancé and Stay’s treasurer ; For life, he said he.

Whitten said she has realized that she has even been guilty of perpetuating stereotypes about men in the past. He now wants to talk more openly about it.

“I’ve been crying a lot lately, so it’s okay to do that,” Whitten said. “That’s the kind of message we need to get to people, so they don’t carry that burden with them.”

Erin Haye of Sanford is a community member who has hung an ornament on the “Trent’s Tree.” She did it in memory of her father, who committed suicide seven years ago.

“The holidays are hard for anyone who has lost someone, especially to suicide, whether it’s been six months, 10 years, 20 years,” Haye said.

She said she expects to see much bigger systemic changes in the future.

“Just because you have some mental health issues, you’re not a bad person. We need to make sure that the mental health system is fixed in this country,” Haye said.

Stevens said right now, stay; For Life is running an initiative to purchase and send light therapy lights to people in need during the cold, dark winter months. For more information or to make a donation, you can click on here.

If you need help, you can call or text the crisis intervention hotline on 988.

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