Mia St. John grew up in an abusive and alcoholic household. Through sheer will, and in spite of her own mental health struggles, she went on to become a much-decorated world champion boxer. Mia’s son, Julian, died by suicide in 2014 after a long battle with schizophrenia and addiction. Her daughter also struggles with mental illness, and her ex-husband Kristoff St. John recently died of heart disease related to alcoholism. Mia sat down with Your Teen to share her story and to speak about her experience with suicide and mental illness.
Q: In the past you’ve said that by 3 or 4 years old, you already felt different. What do you mean by that?
St. John: I told my parents I was moving out because this wasn’t my real family. I never felt so comfortable in my home. Kids who are raised in an alcoholic home will understand what I’m saying. You always feel different, especially around other kids.
Q: How did growing up around addiction impact your own choices as a teen?
St. John: There was alcohol everywhere, and I started testing it out around 10, 11, 12. I was smoking marijuana and drinking pretty regularly at age 13.
Q: Did the adults in your life know what was going on with you?
St. John: I loved my mother with all my heart. But I don’t think I ever felt really safe. How could I count on my mother to protect me from my father because my mother was a victim herself?
Q: What was it that gave you the resilience you needed to get out of your situation and see a different future?
St. John: I always knew since I was little I was going to do something great, despite everybody telling me I was a piece of garbage. The more they told me I wouldn’t be anything, the more that inspired me. I watched the movie Rocky back in 1979, and I had a dream of me walking through the tunnel, through the ropes, into the rain, raising my hands as a champion. And I pictured that for years.
Q: So was watching Rocky the thing that led you to boxing?
St. John: No, my dad was a nuclear engineer, but he had a fascination with martial arts. I started competing at a young age, and I had hopes for the Sydney Olympics, but I didn’t think that being a boxer was something a woman could do. In the ‘90s when I saw Christy Martin boxing, I was like, “Whoa, wait a second. My dream can come true.”
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your son, Julian?
St. John: He was the most beautiful thing I ever knew. My son was funny; he could play any instrument and his art was so beautiful. He had a lot of talent and was a kind child. He suffered so much with depression, and he turned to drugs at age 13. He was in and out of jail and the hospital. And living like that, I was on pins and needles every day. When I finally got the call that my son was in jail, I was like, “Oh my God, yes!” because I could never find him, and I feared I would find him dead in an alley somewhere.
Q: What do you wish you had known back then?
St. John: I think back then, the information wasn’t there. Now I would have told him to fight those voices in his head, instead of telling him they weren’t really there. That’s the better way to deal with it, but I didn’t know that; nobody did.
Q: What would you tell parents today who have kids who are struggling in ways that they don’t know how to cope with?
St. John: What I would tell parents is what my mother always told me. Educate yourself. Learn about what you can do if your child is depressed, if your child is hearing voices, if your child is a recluse, if your child is hyper. Educate yourself and do your own research because knowledge is power.
Q: Your life has so many tragedies in it, and yet you still sound optimistic and hopeful. And now you’re using your life experiences to raise money and awareness for mental health, addiction, homelessness, and poverty through the Mia St. John Foundation. Can you tell me a little about that?
St. John: I want to spread love as much as I can, love and compassion for all people, because we’re all spiritual beings on this path together, and we must all help each other along the way. And that is what I am going to continue doing.