SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – May marks Maternal Mental Health Awareness month.
In Utah, 50,000 babies are born every single year, making Utah the highest birth rate per capita in the United States.
43% of Utah moms are experiencing some form of depression or anxiety either during pregnancy or postpartum. That is almost one in every two moms. This topic impacts every single one of us in one way or another.
To shed more light on the topic, ABC4 is sharing a story of a tragedy turned to triumph.
It was five years ago when Emily Dyches, a mother of five who suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety, tragically and unexpectedly lost her life.
Now five years later, her family has opened their hearts and are sharing their journey of healing along with the hope that Emily’s will continue to inspire women and mothers dealing with mental health issues to get help.
“She was special,” says Eric Dyches.
As childhood sweethearts, Eric say Emily always wanted to think the best of people.
Eric only knew life with Emily in it.
“I don’t know a time when I didn’t know her,” says Eric.
The two were married for 21 years and had big dreams, according to Eric.
A decade and half later, they had their dream, a home, and four beautiful children.
“We were getting in our late 30’s and I thought that ship had sailed and she came to me and said I want to have one more,” says Eric.
Trey was born in March of 2015.
Eric remembers it being a great time in his life. He also remembers Emily feeling blessed to bring a fifth into their family.
But shortly after Eric and Emily got home from the hospital, something changed.
“She started to nurse the baby and I could sense she was different and the anxiety was something I’d never experienced with her,” Eric says. “She said I’m not feeling good, I’m not happy, I can’t do this (this after watching a movie). Something was wrong.”
They desperately wanted to make what was wrong right.
Emily would be diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. She went on medication, but soon after getting better, something happened.
Eric says, “In hindsight, she pushed too hard to get off the medications. I attribute that to the stigmas attached to medications for mental illness.”
Emily’s anxiety would return, stronger than ever. With hope quickly fading, Emily would check in to an in-patient facility.
After 11 long nights, Emily returned home.
“She walked in and she was her old self and the kids, you could see it in the faces of the kids that they had their mom back,” Eric says. “It was a joyous time.”
Thinking the worst was behind them, the family described the next two weeks as bliss…until it wasn’t.
Eric says, “She came to me on a Saturday night and she came back and grabbed my shoulder and whispered in my ear, it was back.”
Emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed, Emily decided to take a break and go visit her parents. However, on the drive back home with her father, Emily suffered a panic attack.
“She was driving with him just north of Nephi,” says Eric. “The panic came to a high. He pulled over.”
Eric, who was feeling helpless at this point, could only listen in horror over the phone.
“I remember what I heard,” Eric says. “I still in my mind remember what I heard. I could hear a panicked individual. I could hear a calm individual, her father, and I could hear a panicked individual. All of a sudden, the phone dropped and I knew in that moment it wasn’t good.”
Eric says in her panic, Emily lost spatial awareness and ran on I-15 just as a semi truck was approaching.
“I don’t know why it played out the way,” Eric says. “It played out, but I can tell you, if anyone was going to be there in her passing and it wasn’t me, I would want it to be her dad because he loved her just as much.”
But in the soil of sorrow, Eric and the family were determined to grow something, anything.
“Immediately after her passing, there was a resolute feeling deep in my stomach saying I needed to do something about this,” says Eric. “Whether that was Em nudging me or my own self wanting to push the message, I don’t know.”
Now five years later, so much has grown. Family and friends started a foundation called The Emily Effect, spreading Emily’s story and bringing postpartum depression and anxiety to the forefront of discussion.
Eric’s family of five kids has since turned into a family of eight after Eric married Leslie Huntsman Dyches, who has tasted similar trauma with the loss of her husband years ago.
“He lost his life to mental illness,” says Leslie Huntsman Dyches.
The two live for each other, their now blended family, and the legacy of their loved ones lost.
“Time heals,” Eric says. “The scars will always be there, but the heart heals.”
Eric and Leslie have focused on growth, becoming partners in an outpatient program for women and moms.
“Serenity, recovery, and wellness is an intensive outpatient program for moms,” Eric says. “It’s the stopgap between regular therapy to inpatient care. That’s where I saw a huge gap with Emily. What happens is a mom can come in a few days a week for a few hours a day and receive really intensive care.”
Knowing this firsthand, Eric and Leslie are championing the cause of mental wellness and working to destigmatize the conversation.
Leslie says, “If you’re struggling yourself, ask for help. Tell a family member or spouse. As a care giver, ask those questions if you see something is wrong. Start that conversation.”
Eric added, “For the mother listening, listen to your intuition. If you know something is wrong, get help.”
The two add that we all need to anticipate better and understand what the signs and symptoms are of perinatal mental health issues.
In the next part of this story, ABC4 talks to Emily’s sister and co-founder of the Emily Effect.
The Foundation is dedicated to pregnant and postpartum mothers and a list of resources for those in need.