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SALEM, Utah County — The way Emily Cook Dyches died made the headlines, but her husband wants to make sure people understand the way she lived. He is now using her legacy to help other mothers dealing with perinatal mood disorders.
“I was caught up in the beginning of making certain everybody knew that Emily did not choose to take her own life, but at this point it doesn’t matter,” explained Eric Dyches, Emily's husband, while surrounded by their children and her parents and siblings in their home in Salem.
“We want to end the stigma associated with suicide, mental illness and debilitating mood disorders,” he said.
On Feb. 24, Emily Dyches ran in front of a semitruck on I-15 near Nephi after her father tried to stop her.
Emily had never experienced depression or anxiety before the birth of her fifth child. She loved being a mother and it wasn’t unusual for her husband to call during the day and hear laughter in her voice as she described not getting much done because she was too busy snuggling and playing with the kids.
The Dycheses looked forward to the birth of their last child. “It was kind of a dream. We were making the most because he was our last child,” Eric recalled.
But soon after she returned home from the hospital in March of last year, Emily's mental health began to suffer. "A few days later I could sense that she was very, very different," Eric said.
Emily was agitated and depressed. She consulted her OB-GYN, who prescribed some antidepressants. Her condition began to improve, so by August she thought she no longer needed the medication. But as time went on, the anxiety returned and she began having panic attacks.
"She described it as if you are in a burning building and you try to get to safety," Eric explained.
Psychiatrist Tom Draschil said the general public doesn't understand panic very well, in general.
"You can't always reason with people in a panic situation," Draschil said. "You have this objective feeling of just being out of control, which is very, very scary for people."
Emily saw Draschil at the outpatient mental health clinic at Mountain View Hospital. He told the Dycheses that Emily's symptoms suggested more than postpartum depression — possibly PTSD.
"You can get PTSD from delivery of a baby if something went wrong in the delivery," Draschil explained.
And for Emily, it did. She had serious complications during labor and after delivering her baby, her doctor feared she might be at risk for a fatal embolism.
"I honestly thought I was losing my wife," Eric said, "and I think she thought she was going, too."
By the end of January, the anxiety overwhelmed Eric and Emily. Their insurance wouldn't cover outpatient treatment, so Emily willingly checked herself into a psychiatric hospital that their insurance would cover. But Emily was one of just two women in the facility and told her husband she was fearful of the men who talked about their felony convictions.
"She spent 11 grueling nights away from our kids, and the baby was nursing," Eric said. "It was a traumatic event for us."
For the next two weeks they began to believe her struggles were finally over, but on Feb. 24 Emily's anxiety exploded again. She couldn't sleep. Eric comforted her throughout the night and in the morning she decided to visit her parents. But that afternoon, as her dad was driving her home, she began suffering a panic attack in the car along I-15 near Nephi.
"She went from that anxiety to that panic so very quickly; it was very stunning to me and I was not prepared for it," explained Lynn Cook, Emily's father. "It was the perfect storm, in the sense that we were on the freeway and I had no alternative than to stop; and she was able to get out of the vehicle and wandered on the freeway, very disoriented.
Eric had been on the phone with Cook and could hear the commotion. Then the phone went silent.
"I don't think Emily was trying to take her own life, I do not believe that — but at this point, it doesn't matter, the illness was very, very deep," Eric said.
He believes they did everything they knew how to do to help Emily, and he doesn't blame anyone for her death.
"We took full advantage of the medical resources that we had at our disposal. I've since come to find out there are other resources," Eric said.
He found those resources, however, are underfunded and not readily accessible, and that is what he hopes to change through The Emily Effect Foundation.
"I think the one thing I've learned through this process is we need to anticipate better," Eric said.
Depression is the No. 1 complication of childbirth, but few mothers are screened for mood disorders. There is also a shortage of psychiatrists and only a handful of therapists who have specialized training in perinatal mental health, according to Amy-Rose White, director of the Utah Maternal Health Collaborative.
"With the right help you will be well. Full recovery is possible," White said.
Because of The Emily Effect, more women are seeking help. Eric Dyches said he has received countless messages from women who are getting the right treatment because they heard Emily's story.
One woman wrote, "I've gotten the help I needed and have been able to help another friend with postpartum depression. I hope you can feel our gratitude and love."
The Dyches family is still coming to terms with Emily's death, but knowing they can help others has brought all those who loved Emily a lot of peace.
"She had such a great effect on individuals, and the effect that she left is lasting on all of us. We want to take that and share those with others," Eric said.
The Emily Effect Foundation is teaming up with Postpartum Progress for their annual Climb Out of the Darkness hike on June 18 at the Spanish Fork Reservoir.
Visit The Emily Effect website for more information and resources for those struggling with perinatal mood disorders.
- Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226- 4433
- Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
- Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373- 7393
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
- Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1- 866-488-7386
Candice Madsen is a senior producer of special projects for KSL-TV and produces the Deseret News National Edition television program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org