'Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath' Investigates Suicide and Mental Illness in the Church

Two former Scientologists recount the suicides of their loved ones and treatment of mental illness by the institution.
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The second episode of season two of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath examined the lives of Church members who suffered from depression and "suicidal ideation." Throughout the episode, Remini and her Aftermath partner Mike Rinder noted that Scientology doesn't advocate treating mental illness with medication, instead advising members to treat themselves with auditing and vitamins and exercise. 

The first interviewee was former Sea Org member Marie Bilheimer, who was born into the Church and remained a member for 30 years, and whose husband, Aaron Poulin, committed suicide in 2004 at age 21. The couple were married when she was 16 and he was 17, a year into her Sea Org tenure. But while Bilheimer ascended the ranks, she said Poulin would get in trouble (mostly for seemingly minor infractions like owning an Eminem CD, bleaching his hair or going out dancing).

When she became an executive and he kept getting demoted, she says she was encouraged to divorce him — but she didn't want to, because she loved him. Soon after, Bilheimer said, her husband kissed her goodbye one night and the next morning she was called to The Hollywood Inn, which is a building containing Sea Org dorms on Hollywood Boulevard. She was informed that Poulin had hung himself and died, and she was left to process the news alone outside the building before Church brass whisked her away. She also said she wasn't allowed to tell anyone that he had killed himself, nor that he was even dead.

Two months after Poulin's death, she left the Sea Org. While moving out, she found a ticket her husband had gotten for prostitution — he had killed himself just three weeks before his impending court date. Now, Bilheimer speculated that he worried she would have reported him and that's why he didn't confide in her about his troubles. 

"I thought that he knew that he could be open to me," she said.

Bilheimer left Scientology in 2010, and the Church noted that she signed an affidavit stating that the Church was not responsible for her husband's suicide.

(Read the Church of Scientology's statement in response to this week's allegations here.)

The second subject of the episode was Lauren Haggis, daughter of outspoken ex-Scientologist Paul Haggis. Lauren detailed her friendship with fellow second-generation Scientologist Tayler Tweed, whom she met as a teen fresh out of the Sea Org. The girls drifted apart throughout the latter years of high school and college, but reconnected on Facebook in their 20s. 

Lauren left the Church after 22 years in 2006, but Tweed was still a member and was going through a very public, messy breakup with a fellow Org member. Haggis said that although Tweed reported her ex's actions through the proper Church channels, no action was taken and Tweed began to post publicly about the experience and the emotional breakdowns she was experiencing as she lost more and more weight. Three weeks after apologizing for her behavior in a Facebook note, she shot herself.

Haggis later learned that Tweed had attempted suicide several times before, and had admitted to having suicidal thoughts since joining the Sea Org at age 12. But text messages with a mutual friend showed that the Church had recommended Tweed treat her mental health issues with vitamins and auditing, and though she was diagnosed with Bipolar I by a naturopath, she'd never been able to see any other type of doctor about her mental illness.

A month after Tweed's death, Haggis said Tweed's mother, Cathy, distanced herself from her daughter's struggles and spoke of being "at peace" with her decision. 

The Church of Scientology challenges the credibility and statements of the contributors appearing in the series, and A&E provides information from the Church regarding claims made in each episode online.

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