PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - A family wants to raise awareness for mental health and suicide after a 27-year-old woman took her own life last week in Phoenix. They believe the pandemic fueled her struggles throughout the last year.
"It was obvious. She didn't have to say it, but you could see it," said Greg Stein, Gentry Beauclair's husband. "You could just see it in her body language because things were so difficult to do with everything being shut down. It was hard for her to just be alive. Her vitality was being drained. She's not as enthusiastic. She was tired, she just wanted to sleep, she wasn't as active."
Talia Kaganovsky has struggled with her mental health for years. But when COVID-19 hit, "it was almost like a giant slap in the face," the 18-year-old freshman at University of Pittsburgh said.
Stein married Beauclair last year.
"It's still surreal. You wake up in an empty bed and she's not there," Stein said. "She had so many quirks and so many just unique things about her that as soon as you met her you knew she was different. She loved with every ounce of her heart and she was so sweet and so driven--you couldn't tell her no. She could accomplish anything she wanted and if you told her no it was just more motivation to get it done."
Beauclair was 27 years old and an aspiring ultrasound technician. Her friends say she was always the one to reach out to organize a get-together, but they noticed her slipping away over the course of the last year.
"After every single hangout, whether it was something that was planned for a long time or if it was a very small just visiting in the living room with each other, she would always text afterwards and say it meant the world to her," said Judith Pharr, adding that Beauclair started isolating herself around November. "When she did reach out to me to hang out with me, a couple times she postponed and said, 'I'm so sorry I have to work on myself right now, I'm going through things.'"
Pharr said in March, Beauclair opened up to her about her struggles and told her she had been drinking more.
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"She was very honest about that with me in March when we really sat down and had a heart to heart, but I think that conversation just barely touched the surface, but I was very proud of her for opening up to me," Pharr said. "She told me that she was feeling addicted to alcohol and she was using it to numb the pain."
"You definitely find some sort of vice or negative coping skill because it's easier, right? And you get an instant difference in mood. The problem is, when it drops," said Ashlea Taylor, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. "On every level, every mental health situation was definitely compounded by this last year and it's going to take us a while for us to regulate."
Taylor said she's seen new patients and people seeking help for their mental health come in droves over the last year.
"It's sad that the reason why they're coming is because things were so emotionally taxing, but I love it because I do think mental health should be an essential part of people's self-care routines," Taylor said.
Taylor said the pandemic, quarantine, politics, and social injustice over the last year have weighed on a lot of people, and it was even harder for those who were already struggling mentally.
"She just was isolated. COVID has taken a toll on depression. When you're already in that state, it's taken a toll and everyone is trying to find a way to cope," said Jennifer Rice, Beauclair's family friend. "So much has been mentioned about people dying of the COVID sickness and not about the mental illness that goes along with it. And it really needs to be addressed."
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Taylor said there are warning signs for those struggling with depression, including feelings of hopelessness or lack of interest in their favorite activities.
"Generally, hopelessness, lack of interest in things they used to like, lack of sleep or too much sleep. Sometimes inability to carry on conversations because life is too hard, saying statements like, 'I wish I wasn't here,' always take those seriously."
"I hope that people seek help if they need help and people reach out to their loved ones. I just hope there's more support for people going through something like this," said Erica Pharr, Beauclair's best friend. "I wish she could feel how much love there was for her and she was such a special and talented person."
Erica says Beauclair dedicated her life to helping others, and that won't change.
"She always wanted to help people and she was able to donate her kidneys and save two lives, and I think that through this story and sharing this, if we're able to save any more lives, it would be so special to be able to know that Gentry is still continuing to help people through this," Erica said.
Beauclair's family says they want the stigma around mental health to evaporate.
"You have to check on your friends and loved ones and if you are struggling, you have to reach out. It has to be a two-way street for it to work," said Stein. "It's OK to not be OK. It's OK to seek professional counseling and talk to a therapist. It's healthy. It's really hard to do to take that first step so if you have your support help you and reach out to you to help encourage you to do that, it can save lives, it can save your life, and it could have potentially saved my wife's life."
"It's normal in a lifespan to feel depressed or anxious, so don't feel shame, blame or guilt because you feel these things. Just get help," Taylor said. "For it to be prolonged and for it to be impeding your functioning, stopping your relationships, something like that, don't be afraid to get help."
If you would like to help Beauclair's family with medical expenses, click here.