Letter from Saoirse Roisin Hill, the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy

6 min read

Here is the letter from Saoirse Roisin Hill, Robert F. Kennedy's granddaughter who wrote in February 2016 about her sexual abuse and drug addiction. The letter is part of a column in the school newspaper, where he recounted the bad life he led.

When you were little, did you ever have friends that your mom made you go out with even if you didn't want to? So those friends kept showing up, and you were confused and fed up with them. Soon enough, those friends were so close that you got used to them.

Letter from Saoirse Roisin Hill, the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy
Photograph by Saoirse Roisin Hill

Finally, those friends were always with you and never left, and you almost start to enjoy having them around.

Until last year, this was my relationship with my mental illness.

My depression took hold early in my junior years of high school, and it will be with me for the rest of my life. Although I was generally a happy child, I suffered from episodes of deep sadness that made me feel like a heavy rock on my chest. These fights came and went, but they didn't affect me outwardly until I got to my second year at Deerfield.

We all know that some people find winter in lonely, dark, and long Deerfield. I began to isolate myself in my room, to withdraw from my relationships, and to give up my homework.

During the last weeks of spring, my sadness constantly surrounded me. But that summer, after my sophomore year, my friend — depression — rarely reappeared, and I was grateful for her absence.

Two weeks before my junior year started, however, my friend came back and planned to stay. My sense of well-being was already compromised, and I totally lost it after someone I knew and loved broke serious sexual boundaries with me.

Letter from Saoirse Roisin Hill, the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy
Original title by Saoirse Roisin Hill

I did the worst a victim can do, and I pretended it hadn't happened. All of this became too much, and I tried to kill myself.

I went back to school for the fall of my junior year, but realized that I couldn't handle the stress that Deerfield represented. I went to treatment for my depression and returned for my senior year.

Returning from sick leave was definitely not what I expected. I saw a stark contrast between my treatment center — a place full of conscientious and accepting people — and my experience in Deerfield. Although my friends were very supportive, they seemed to be the only ones who knew what had been going on in my life for the last year.

Deerfield Counseling Director Dr. Josh Relin has explained to me that federal laws designed to protect patient privacy limit the information that can be shared in workplaces and schools.

"There is a strong wall between what happens at the Health Center and the other adults in the community because of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)," he said. "This law determines how health information can and cannot be shared."
Letter from Saoirse Roisin Hill, the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy
Saoirse Roisin Hill on vacation

HIPAA was designed to protect patient privacy, however, in my experience, it left me very alone.

I didn't care that the students thought I had left because of an eating disorder, or that they had bullied me, but I was concerned that my teachers and advisors didn't know what I had been through. Although it was helpful for me to talk about my struggles with all those important people in my life, it was uncomfortable, and it was difficult for me to take the initiative.

In the future, I hope the Health Center reaches out to students before they return from their medical leave to discuss how the school can make their adjustment to Deerfield less difficult. If they had contacted me, I would have let them know that I wanted my circumstances shared with my teachers and counselors before returning to school; this would have made my transition much easier.

Deerfield is one of the leading educational institutions in the country, but no one seems to know how to talk about mental illness. People speak freely about cancer; Why is it so difficult to talk about the effects of depression, bipolarity, anxiety, or schizophrenic disorders? The fact that the disease is not visible from the outside does not mean that the person suffering from it is not fighting.

I have experienced a lot of stigmas around mental health on the Deerfield campus. As students, we have the power to end this immediately. The stigma blames the person suffering from the disease and shames them to speak openly about what is happening.

Letter from Saoirse Roisin Hill, the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy
House where Saoirse Roisin Hill lived

Teachers and students on our campus can do their best to be more mindful when discussing mental health issues. If someone says they feel depressed, a good way to respond would be:

"What other things are you feeling? What do you think this is due to?" If you don't feel comfortable saying either, say, "I don't understand what you're going through, but I'm here to support you."

Too often people speak before they think, and that can damage trust in a relationship. If someone trusts you, try not to say, "It's all in your mind," or "relax", or, my favorite: "Happiness is a choice." No, it really isn't. When I'm in an awful place, I do my best to surround myself with positive people and upbeat music, but all too often I feel like I'm drowning in my own thoughts, while everyone else seems to be breathing comfortably.

Many people are suffering, but because many people are uncomfortable talking about it, no one realizes those who are suffering. This makes people feel even more alone.

Since speaking about this issue at the school meeting, I have had countless people approach me, telling me that they are struggling too and would love to be more open about it.

I am calling on all members of the Deerfield community to come forward and speak freely on mental health issues. We are all struggling or know someone who is battling a disease; let's come together to make our community more inclusive and comfortable.

Source: The Deerfield Scroll, Saoirse Roisin Hill.