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Woodstock mom seeks to shed light on mental health stigma after daughter's disappearance

It was a parent’s nightmare.

Melissa Haske, 43, discovered her 15-year-old daughter, Hannah Stakes, was missing from their home when Haske awakened Dec. 10. Her daughter, an artistic girl who loves to skateboard, wasn’t in her bed. She wasn’t in their house. And the sliding back door to the family’s Woodstock home was slightly open on that frigid morning.

Her daughter had vanished. 

Making a terrifying time even more so was the fact that Stakes was to begin outpatient treatment that day. Stakes was diagnosed in November with clinical depression and had been in therapy for a while, but Haske said Stakes’ therapist thought it was time to check out other treatment options.

Haske began working with Woodstock police, who brought in a bloodhound to track Stakes. Her trail led them from that sliding door to the curb. Haske and her sister, Jeanette, posted flyers around town with Stakes’ photo and a plea to help Haske find her daughter.

Stakes, however, was at a 15-year-old boy’s house, and Haske said her daughter’s friend thought he was helping her.

Stakes had been hidden away in a crawl space or a cubby in the boy’s family’s basement, Haske said. Police and his mother had checked the home, but they didn’t know she was inside until Dec. 11.

“I think the boy thought he was doing the right thing, keeping her safe,” Haske said, adding that she’s grateful her daughter wasn’t freezing outside and hadn’t been kidnapped.

However, Haske said she is glad the boy was charged with interfering with public officers so other teens learn there are consequences.

Stakes hopped on her skateboard and left home about 10:30 p.m. Dec. 9. Haske said her daughter later explained that other students were telling her what amounted to horror stories about mental hospitals and stereotypes of what patients endure.

“It was going to be real bad and scary. ‘I’m gonna be put in a straight jacket and a padded cell,’ ” Haske said of the tales that spooked her daughter into fleeing. “She doesn’t understand it, and it frightens her. Plus, kids can be mean.” 

Lachell Jeffries-Hanson, community service navigator and program coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness McHenry County, said every day someone in the county experiences what Stakes did, including adults who also face the stigma attached to mental health issues. 

Most calls that come into the NAMI office tend to involve some level of misinformation, leading to a feeling of helplessness and a sense of desperation, said Tina Karaway, a family support advocate at NAMI McHenry County.

“This is exactly why our community needs to work fast to dispel myths about mental illness, and teach our community members who their mental health allies are in the county,” Karaway said. “We should have this information accountably incorporated into funded services, ready in every school, in every law enforcement and first responders’ hand, every municipality and tax-funded source site.

“Mental health needs to become a normalized conversation so that we can become empowered with knowledge of what to do in times of crisis and how to appropriately approach our loved ones when it’s time to appeal to them to get the help they need.”

However, Haske was chastised on social media for calling attention to her daughter’s mental health condition, and for disclosing that her daughter had threatened suicide several times in the past.

“My only focus from when I woke up [Dec. 10] at 6 o’clock was to find my daughter,” the Woodstock mother of two said. “I don’t care what people are saying about me in the least.”

The reason she divulged that personal information, Haske said, was to let other parents and community members know the full picture. Her daughter could have been in danger, not only from others who might seek to do harm to a lone teenage girl.

Haske did the right thing, Karaway said, by disclosing such detailed information and taking proactive steps.

“Shining a light on a crisis that needs to be addressed is the right thing to do,” Karaway said. “Stigma is a breeding ground for anxiety, bullying [and] violence that leads to untreated and unrelieved emotional [or] mental anguish. We need to replace stigma with hope and ask our community members to be one less source of stigma.”

Scott Block, executive director of the McHenry County Mental Health Board, said when talking with a loved one experiencing thoughts of suicide, “talking about suicide does not make an individual more apt to act on it.”

Haske said she wants to promote discussion about mental health issues. Having a mental health condition is like having a heart condition or diabetes but “doesn’t make you a weirdo,” she said.

If families aren’t speaking up about the realities of having a mental health condition, Haske said, “maybe it will lead to more teenagers running away and not coming home. … They need help. They don’t need to be made fun of and chastised.”

Block said that when he learned of Stakes’ disappearance, his heart immediately sank. It highlighted the prevalence of mental health issues in the county.

Although millennials and Generation Z youth are more likely to seek mental health care, Block said, they also are more likely to worry about how they will be perceived or judged among their peers.

“Youth tend to reach out to friends instead of adults,” Block said. “For adults, the best thing is to be open and talk about mental health-related concerns. That way, you’re in a better position to be approached.”

Block said statistics show that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 children nationwide experience a mental health disorder in any given year. That amounts to about 60,000 McHenry County residents a year.

McHenry County saw a reduction in suicide deaths from 34 in fiscal 2018 to 21 in fiscal 2019, Block said. National rates currently show that about 1 in every 10,000 people commit suicide, which would equate to about 30 suicides on average here a year.

Stakes received inpatient treatment for about a week and is doing well, her mother said Friday.

If teens feel sad, they should tell family members and friends, Haske said. Friends should tell their own parents if someone talks about wanting to hurt herself. That communication is key to obtaining help.

“It can happen to anybody at any time,” Haske said of a mental health issue. “We’re just a middle-class family living in a modest house in Woodstock.”

For information, visit or call NAMI’s office at 815-308-0851.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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