What my son’s suicide taught me about my own mental health

For Mia St. John, fighting is a way of life. She won the World Championship in boxing five times throughout her career. That said, nothing could have prepared her for the fight that resulted in the loss of her son – and later, her former husband.

St. John’s son, Julian, died by suicide in 2014 when he was just 24 years old following a battle with depression and schizophrenia that began when he was a teenager. Shortly after his death, Julian’s father and St. John’s ex-husband, Kristoff St. John, started drinking again after years of sobriety.

In February 2019, St. John received a call from Kristoff, an actor best known for playing Neil Winters on “The Young and the Restless.”

“I talked to him that morning and I knew what he was planning – he wanted to die … He just didn’t know any other way out,” St. John recounted to Know Your Value. “I tried to talk him out of it, and I was too far away from him. So, I had to call a friend to go and basically break down the door and get to him. But by then, it was too late.”

Kristoff was found dead at his Los Angeles-area home. An autopsy attributed his death to hypertrophic heart disease, and said alcohol may have been a factor.

Mia St. John, with her former husband Kristoff St. John, and their children Julian and Paris Nicole.Courtesy of Mia St John.

It was after this second, devastating loss that St. John also turned back to alcohol after 30 years of sobriety. “Once I got the call that he was gone, I ended up … in a psychiatric ward twice,” St. John recounted. “I had lost my sobriety and tried to basically do what he [Kristoff] did, which was drink myself to death. And luckily my boyfriend and family put me in a hospital and saved my life.”

While St. John, now 54, says she was dragged into recovery “literally kicking and screaming,” she’s thankful for the help she received now. Eventually, she became determined to get sober so that she could act as a support system for her daughter.

To get her life together, St John realized she had to focus on her own mental health and use the same motivation and tenacity that helped her become a champion boxer.

“When I was fighting, I would say you needed a two-by-four to stop me, because I would keep coming and coming, and I would never go down,” said St. John. “And I had to keep that same mentality. I’m a fighter, I can’t let my son down, I can’t let Kristoff down, they wouldn’t want that for me. I couldn’t let my daughter down who is still with me. How could I do that to her – leave her without a brother, without a father and then without a mother? No way, I couldn’t do that.”

St. John decided to start Alcoholics Anonymous meetings once again. She credited the organization with her sobriety, and said regular meetings are still a cornerstone in her life today. In fact, she attends as many as five meetings a day starting with one on Zoom when she wakes up in the morning.

“Through meditation, doing my 12-step meetings and with the support of my daughter and my boyfriend, I was able to get back on track,” said St. John. And that is her advice to moms dealing with loss today: get help.

“I have so many other mothers that I talk to who have lost children,” said St. John. “And I want them to know that you’re going to grieve – no alcohol or drug is going to change that, it’s only going to make it worse. And you’re going to grieve for the rest of your life – this is life now and you have to adjust to the new normal. But know that you can recover. There is hope after these tragedies. My life is never going to be the same again. It will be a different one, a new one.”

To help her cope, St. John starting writing “Fighting for My Life: A Memoir about a Mother’s Loss and Grief,” which came out in December. She said writing her journey down was cathartic.

“It felt good to get everything out, and to let people know that there is hope,” said St. John. “It’s slow and there’s no easy, fast road, which is why I booze. I thought, ‘OK, this is the easier, softer way,’ but it’s not. It’s actually the harder way. The easier way is to just face it. I love the saying ‘the only way out of the storm is through it’ and you just have to go through it.”

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

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