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Stopping the stigma: Family who lost two tells story of depression

Megan Licklider Twernbold is pictured with her husband, John Twernbold. Megan Twernbold suffered from depression and died at her home on Nov. 26. (Submitted)1 / 4
A family photo of Megan Licklider Twernbold with her son, Jack Sand, and husband, John Twernbold. Megan Twernbold suffered from depression and died at her home on Nov. 26. (Submitted)2 / 4
The three Licklider children are shown in an undated family photo: Megan, from left, Kyle and Mandy. Kyle died at the age of 15, after taking his own life. Mandy believes it was this event which triggered the depression both Megan and herself battled with. Megan would take her own life on Nov. 26. (Submitted)3 / 4
Family members say Megan Licklider Twernbold was very close with her son, Jack Sand. After her death, the family is now focusing on Jack, hoping to make Megan's dreams for her son a reality. (Submitted)4 / 4

LITCHFIELD — Megan Licklider Twernbold was a mother, daughter, wife, aunt and teacher. She was loved and loved others in return. Those who knew her said she always had a smile and kind word ready.

But, Twernbold was also constantly fighting a battle with herself, a battle that would eventually overtake all the good she had in her life. Depression led Twernbold, at the age of 36, to take her own life Nov. 26 at her home in Litchfield. She left behind her husband John, son Jack Sand, her parents Dan and Sandra Licklider, sister Mandy Licklider Bond and dozens of current and former students.

"It does seem a bit contradictory to speak about Megan's resilience as a mother, teacher and wife, and then utter out loud the reason for her death. That is the ugliness and manifestation of depression," Bond said in an email to the Tribune. Bond lives in northeast Minneapolis with her husband, Aaron, and is a stay-at-home mom, caring for daughter Addy. Prior to this, Bond was the director of student ministries at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis.

Twernbold grew up in Renville and graduated from Belview-Danube-Renville-Sacred Heart. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in history and minor in Spanish.

Before becoming a teacher, Twernbold worked for Woodland Centers. However, a stint as a substitute teacher at Renville County West had Twernbold changing her career path.

Twernbold started her full-time teaching career in 2008, becoming an elementary Spanish teacher at RCW, while working on her teaching certificate. She earned a bachelor's in elementary education from the College of St. Catherine. Following her graduation, Twernbold taught both fourth and fifth grades at RCW.

While Twernbold's family, friends and students try to make sense of this tragedy, Bond said she hopes it will also become a teachable moment, to urge people suffering from depression to get help and to change the stigma that is still prevalent when dealing with mental health.

"Depression is real. It is a disease, an illness, that has biological roots and psychosomatic expressions," Bond said. (A Willmar professional discusses the disease of depression here.)

Bond believes the roots of Twernbold's depression, along with her own, began when their brother Kyle, at 15, took his own life on April 29, 2001.

"We were all devastated and left with unanswered questions that would haunt Megan for 15 years," Bond said.

For years Megan would fall in and out of deep emotive episodes.

"First anger, then blame and always the unwilling to be OK with the absence of her brother and good friend. I think Megan felt a sense of responsibility for Kyle and never quite recovered from such a cruel action," Bond said.

Twernbold sought professional help when dealing with depression, including medication when it became difficult, Bond said. There had been talk about counselling or adding holistic or wellness approaches to Twernbold's treatment. Bond said Twernbold was careful not to neglect her treatment.

It wasn't just the depressive episodes that caused Twernbold suffering, but the aftermath as well. Following an episode, Twernbold would feel shame for yet again not being able to beat back her depression.

"Like a wool blanket, it would lay heavy and leave little room to acknowledge the illness, the disease and its trickery. So she would bury it, compartmentalize it and get back to living," Bond said.

Bond isn't a psychiatrist, doctor or scientist. All she has to go on is her sister's and her own experience with depression. However, she feels depression should be treated like any other physical ailment.

"Just like cancer, heart disease or obesity," Bond said.

The family's focus now is Twernbold's son.

"Jack is a healthy, happy and smart 8-year-old. We want that to continue. The best interest of Jack is our number one priority," Bond said.

The family asked for people to donate to an educational fund for Jack instead of giving flowers at Megan's funeral.

"We are trying to honor Megan's desires and dreams for Jack," Bond said.

When it comes to Twernbold's students, Bond wants them to know they inspired Twernbold just as she is inspiring them. She was very proud of her school.

Bond said Twernbold would deck out in RCW gear, coached junior varsity volleyball, took part in many school activities, served on committees and was always willing to cheer on her school and students. She had lots of clothes with the RCW's Jaguar mascot printed on it and even had three stuffed animal jaguars in her classroom.

"Her Jaguar pride was more than just a fashion statement, but a banner for solidarity and pledge or guarantee that she was in it, no matter what and urged all students, staff, families and greater community to join her," Bond said.

Bond wants people to remember Twernbold, the good and the bad. She wants her sister's name to be spoken often and for people to live Twernbold's legacy no matter what they are doing.

"Her bright smile, quirky humor, strong work ethic, passion for education, respect for every human life and never being satisfied with average but excelling for great," Bond said.

For those dealing with depression, Bond asks them not to be too hard on themselves and find help.

"Be gentle and kind to yourself. If you can get a counselor or support group, work through the shame and guilt so that you can find some peace and contentment to not get trapped there," Bond said.