Lauryn’s Law founder reflects on nonprofit’s mission to tackle youth mental illness

When Lauryn Santiago took her own life in 2013, just three weeks after her 15th birthday, her mother Linda Diaz said she didn’t see it coming.

She wanted to “close myself off in the privacy of my own grief,” but instead, Diaz became the founder and CEO of Lauryn’s Law, a Laurel, Maryland, nonprofit organization that helps youth tackle mental illness.

Diaz described her daughter as “a beautiful soul, an empath, someone who could sense and feel the emotions of others, ” while trying to deal with her own struggles including divorced parents, a drug addicted, abusive father and understanding her sexual identity.

That’s why Diaz said she couldn’t turn her back on Lauryn’s many friends.

Suicide has a ripple effect. For every one suicide, there are an estimated 135 people affected, according to researchers.

linda diaz
Linda Diaz is the founder of the nonprofit Lauryn’s Law, which helps kids and teens deal with mental illness. (Courtesy Linda Diaz)

Diaz said several of Lauryn’s friends attempted suicide following her daughter’s death, and even years later, especially in 2016 when Lauryn would have graduated from high school. The graduation became a trigger for many.

Diaz believed her daughter’s friends needed resources: “I needed to allow them to have their voices heard.”

But when she realized neither the parents nor the Prince George’s County schools her daughter once attended were going to help her, Diaz turned to Maryland lawmakers.

With the help of Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk and then-Prince George’s Council member Mary Lehman, and finally a signature from Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland enacted “Lauryn’s Law” in 2015 requiring school counselors to go through youth mental health training in order to better help students in need.

Two years later, another law was passed requiring all certified school personnel to receive suicide prevention training by Dec. 1 of each year.

Bringing mental health awareness to students, parents and educators continues to be Diaz’s mission.

Now, she’s teaching others to teach, partnering with the Maryland State Department of Education to get 65 individuals to become suicide prevention instructor trainers so that they can provide services to schools, communities and in their personal lives.

Her advice to parents in the new school year is to “physically sit down and have an open dialogue with your children … make sure you are looking at your child when they are speaking to you.”

The Crisis Text Line is available 24/7. People who need to use it can text Hello to 741741. To speak with someone on the phone, call 1-800-662-HELP.

This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference in our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. You can read more of that coverage by clicking here.

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant is an Anchor and Reporter for WTOP. Over the past 20 years, Stephanie has worked in several markets, including Baltimore, Washington, Houston and Charleston, holding positions ranging from newscaster to morning show co-host.

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