'This is the face of domestic violence.' Megan Montgomery's tragic story is far too common

If you were to look at Megan Montgomery's Instagram account, you'd see a beautiful, smiling woman in the prime of her life, her youth and fitness the envy of women the world over. You'd even see some photos of her with her husband (#datenight), with comments saying things like "Aww, gorgeous couple!"

But beneath her picture perfect feed was the story of a woman in an abusive relationship with her husband—one that would start with his arrest shortly after they got married, and end 10 months later with him shooting her to death in a parking lot.


In a Facebook post, one of the people who was out with Megan the night of her murder detailed how her estranged husband had come to their table, put his hand on her neck and shoulder, and escorted her out of the building.

She went with him willingly, but anyone familiar with abusive relationships knows that "willingly" is a subjective term. He had reportedly threatened mass violence before. Perhaps she was trying to protect the people she was with. Perhaps staying felt more dangerous to her than going with him.

RELATED: Australia is banning entry to anyone found guilty of domestic violence anywhere in the world.

The couple reportedly had a volatile relationship from the start, and at one point both had restraining orders against the other. Regardless, she was killed by the man who had claimed to love her, an ex-cop who had been arrested for domestic violence and had bailed out multiple times prior to that evening.

Feminist News wrote the gist of Megan's story on Facebook, sharing photos from the couple's wedding to illustrate how invisible domestic violence can be to those outside of it. "THIS is the face of domestic violence," they wrote.

But what was perhaps most striking about the post was the deluge of comments from women describing their own experiences with domestic violence. Comment after comment explaining how a partner always made them think the abuse was their fault, how restraining orders were repeatedly violated, how they were charmed and loved into questioning whether the verbal abuse or physical violence was really that bad. Story after story of how they didn't see it coming, how slowly and insidiously it escalated, how terrifying it was to try to leave.

Those of us who have not been in abusive relationships don't always understand why people don't leave them. But the dynamics of abuse—the emotional manipulation, the gaslighting, the self-esteem destruction, the fear and shame—are well documented.

Unfortunately, those dynamics can prove deadly. Domestic violence murders have been on the rise in recent years, going up 19% between 2014 and 2017. And sadly, our justice system does not protect domestic violence survivors as well as it should.

Part of the challenge of prosecuting in domestic violence cases is that victims are not always willing to cooperate, either out of fear or shame or embarrassment, or unhealthy loyalty. According to some estimates, domestic violence victims recant their testimony up to 70% of the time. That's why some are pushing for evidence-based prosecution without requiring victim testimony, much like we try murder cases.

But some, like University of Maryland law professor Leah Goodmark, argue that pushing for more law enforcement hasn't proven to reduce domestic violence rates. Addressing issues of poverty, childhood trauma, attitudes toward gender equality, and other risk factors for domestic violence may be more effective by stopping violence before it starts.

RELATED: This simple 'test' can help identify potentially abusive partners early in a relationship.

While abuse happens to both men and women, women are more likely to be victims and much more likely to be murdered by a partner. Thankfully, there are many resources for domestic violence survivors to seek help, whether you're trying to determine if your relationship is abusive or trying to figure out if, when, and how to leave. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.thehotline.org or call 1−800−799−7233) has a wealth of information on domestic violence and what to do about it. The website even has a live chat where you can get your questions answered and receive assistance making a safety plan for you and your family.

If you are afraid of your partner or other loved one, there's something wrong. No one should live in fear of the people who are supposed to love them the most.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

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