Why I Walk for Suicide Prevention

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Ithaca will host its seventh annual “Out of the Darkness” community walk and fundraiser on Saturday, September 15 in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The walk takes place at the Cass Park Waterfront Trail, with registration starting at 10:30 a.m.

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Ithaca’s “Out of the Darkness” walk for suicide prevention

“Out of the Darkness” walks are held all across the country to raise funds for new research, educational programs, public policy advocacy, and supporting survivors of suicide loss. The walks raise awareness about suicide prevention, and support free education programs and survivor reach-out programs in our local community. Our fundraising goal for the Ithaca walk is $25,000.

I will be walking again on September 15 because I am a survivor of my dad’s suicide 12 years ago. He ended his life on November 28, 2005. I felt at the time that my world was crashing.

I was not sure how I could live without my dad, my hero, my other half. Before my father’s death, two of my cousins died by suicide. Ronnie took his own life when I was a little girl, and David died by suicide when I was a senior in high school.

Suicide and depression were never spoken about in my family. They were hushed subjects. Today, I am changing that. I am speaking out, educating, and erasing the stigma.

When my dad died, I was lost. I felt alone in the world. I could not think. My dad and many of my family members suffered and do suffer from depression. I never comprehended the impact of mental illness until the day my dad was gone. I myself went into a deep depression. I was losing my own fight. My husband and friends became worried. A few friends that insisted that I needed therapy. I fought them, but ended up going.

I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. I struggled for many years with thoughts of suicide and a suicide attempt. I have learned, though, that I am not alone. I have a support network and a family within AFSP.

So here I am, today, serving as the co-chair of Ithaca’s 2018 “Out of the Darkness” walk. Every day, I am stronger. Every day, the sun is brighter. I have all my happy memories, a memory box that I go to for strength. At the walk on September 15, I will be wearing gold beads for the loss of my dad, purple beads for the loss of family and friends, green beads for my own struggle, teal beads because I have loved ones who struggle, and blue beads because I support the cause.

—By Stacy Ayres

Stacy Ayres is the board chair of the Central New York Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She lives in Freeville where she is mom to a 16-year-old, 13-year-old, and a 9-year-old. She operates Little Sunshine Daycare, and attends all types of concerts, and loves to cheer at her children’s sporting events.

Come along and bring your family and friends to join Ithaca’s “Out of the Darkness” community walk on Saturday, September 15, at the Cass Park Waterfront Trail. Start raising funds as an individual or as a team by registering online now (or also at the registration desk in Cass Park Pavilion on September 15). For more information, call (607) 327-3370 or email: ithacaafsp@gmail.com

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[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the Crisisline (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

 

Grasping the Profound Pain of Suicide

Describing depression to those who haven’t experienced it can be clumsy. The analogy I’ve found that best embodies my experience is “cloudy days.” The sun is still there but I’m unable to access that light. Instead, I’m cold and muted. Sometimes it’s cloudy for so long it’s hard to remember what the sun looks like. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the sun is there at all.

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A sculpture from “Schism” representing Sophie Hack MacLeod

As someone who has battled depression for years and intimately understands the pain surrounding suicide and mental illness, I want my art to make a statement about this epidemic. Art is visceral and can describe an effect or experience in deeply powerful ways. This, and my drive to grow as an artist, pushed me to complete a minor in fine arts as an undergraduate at Cornell University.

My installation, “Schism,” is featured in Still I Rise, an exhibition curated by Laura Rowley with the work of 12 artists on view at the Tompkins County Public Library from July through September. “Schism” deals with the pain of losing loved ones to suicide, commenting on the profound hole the deaths leave behind. With rising mental health concerns among my generation, the ability to outwardly mourn for people who die by suicide is incredibly important along the path to healing.

Yes, suicide is a sensitive topic. No, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. Treating suicide as a taboo topic not only stunts the healing process for suicide loss survivors, but teaches those plagued with suicidal thoughts that it’s something to be ashamed of, a weakness, which can deter them from seeking support. Open and empathetic conversation is critical to combat such tragedy.

“Schism” contains three sculptures. Each is a life-size, wooden silhouette of a suicide victim that is painted black with the best runner up to Vantablack commercially available, Black 2.0. It’s a special paint that is meant to absorb a higher percentage of light, creating the visual effect of “a schism in space.” This is meant to convey the loss felt when someone is a victim to suicide, to reveal the hole that remains in their physical shape in space they inhabited in life.

This installation is designed to represent loss of the individual, as each sculpture is a personalized and unique silhouette. Further, it is intrinsically connected to Ithaca as the individuals represented were all affiliated with the area: Sophie Hack MacLeod, 23, a Cornell fine arts major; Jason J. Seymour, 40, a Cornell systems analyst; and Alexander Joseph Reposh, 25, an Ithaca filmmaker and musician.

When someone is having suicidal thoughts, it’s far too easy to think, “I don’t matter, no one will even miss me, what’s the point? It’s suffocating.” I hope that “Schism” can be a reminder to those experiencing suicidal thoughts that your life is not trivial but is something to be cherished. “Schism” is also a symbol for those mourning a loved one and the horrific loss they must cope with.

—By Brianna Evans

briannaBrianna Evans is a 2018 graduate of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. “Schism” was created as an independent study project supervised by Professor Roberto Bertoia of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. She wishes to thank The Sophie Fund, and the families of Sophie Hack MacLeod, Jason J. Seymour, and Alexander Joseph Reposh, for their support.

Finding Hope: Battling America’s Suicide Crisis

Watch Anderson Cooper’s CNN town hall, “Finding Hope: Battling America’s Suicide Crisis,” an excellent program exploring the risk factors for suicide, ways to reach out for help, and how to aid somebody who may be struggling.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing 1-800-273-8255. It provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week for people in suicidal crisis or distress, or for those who are helping a person in crisis.

The recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain prompted a national conversation about suicide. Anderson Cooper’s Town Hall aired Sunday June 24 and featured the following guests who shared their expertise and experience of being touched by suicide:

Anderson Cooper, CNN anchor

Glenn Close and Jessie Close, actor and her sister

David Axelrod, former advisor to President Barack Obama

Karl Rove, former advisor to President George W. Bush

Christine Moutier, chief medical officer, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Talinda Bennington, widow of Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington, co-founder of 320 Changes Direction

Kirsten Powers, USA Today columnist

Randi Kaye, CNN reporter

Zak Williams, son actor and comedian Robin Williams

Jane Clementi, co-founder Tyler Clementi Foundation

James Hatch, former U.S. Navy SEALs member

Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent.

Jordan Burnham, Active Minds mental health advocate

Dese’Rae L. Stage, artist, public speaker, and suicide prevention activist, creator of Live Through This

Can Tompkins County Prevent Suicides?

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain lived the American Dream—professional success, financial security, happy families. No wonder the nation was shocked to learn of their deaths by suicide last week. Were there warning signs? Spade’s husband revealed that the iconic fashion designer was receiving treatment for depression and anxiety. Bourdain’s mother said the celebrity chef and journalist was in a “dark mood” shortly before his death.

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To share current efforts to fight suicide in our community, the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition invites the general public to a presentation on the Zero Suicide Model. The presentation, by Olivia B. Retallack of the New York State Suicide Prevention Office, will take place from 2-3:30 p.m. Monday June 18 in the Borg Warner Room of the Tompkins County Public Library.

The Coalition has taken up the proposed adoption of the Zero Suicide Model as a priority. Zero Suicide is a set of strategies and tools for suicide prevention in health and behavioral health care systems. Zero Suicide argues that suicides can be prevented by closing cracks in healthcare systems—that “suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable.”

Zero Suicide considers suicide prevention a core responsibility of healthcare. Specifically, this entails a systematic clinical approach in healthcare systems—training staff, screening for suicide ideation, utilizing evidence-based interventions, mandating continuous quality improvement, treating suicidality as a presenting problem—and not simply relying on the heroic efforts of crisis staff and individual clinicians.

As the Suicide Prevention Resource Center puts it: “The programmatic approach of Zero Suicide is based on the realization that suicidal individuals often fall through multiple cracks in a fragmented and sometimes distracted health care system, and on the premise that a systematic approach to quality improvement is necessary.”

Presentation on the Zero Suicide Model

Olivia B. Retallack

New York State Suicide Prevention Office

June 18, 2018   2–3:30 p.m.

Borg Warner Room

Tompkins County Public Library

To RSVP, click on the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZeroSuicidePresentation

For Parents and Schools: 13 Reasons Why, Season 2

Netflix launched Season 2 of its smash hit series 13 Reasons Why on May 18. With the “gravity” of issues featured in the series that debuted in 2017—suicide, bullying, sexual assault, substance abuse, and school shootings—a coalition of mental health organizations issued a statement of concern to parents, educators, and professionals “in an effort to help reduce the risk of a tragedy.”

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Suicide Voices of Education (SAVE), which issued the statement, also announced the launch of a website containing information, resources, and toolkits for youth/peers, parents, educators and clinicians/professionals to address the specific topics raised in the episodes. Click here to access the website.

Netflix itself, following the intense criticism it received from mental health experts after the launch of Season 1 in March 2017, has created a website including a warning video, discussion guide, and other resources. The page includes the warning: “This show is rated MA for mature audiences, it covers many issues including depression, sexual assault and suicide. If you are struggling, this series may not be right for you or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult.” Click here to access the Netflix 13 Reasons Why information website.

The Sophie Fund created a web page with links to information and resources about 13 Reasons Why. The page contains expert studies and commentaries discussing how the series creates risks for suicide ideation and contagion among young people by romanticizing suicide, downplaying the reality of mental health struggles, and undermining the roles of parents and school counselors in supporting young people in distress. Click here to access The Sophie Fund web page for 13 Reasons Why resources.

Here are the recommendations released by the coalition of mental health organizations in its statement of concern:

1. For vulnerable and at-risk youth (for example those living with depression or an anxiety disorder) we encourage families to make a thoughtful decision about whether or not to watch 13 Reasons Why because of the triggering impact it might have on them. We recommend using the show’s TV rating as a source of guidance about the intensity of the content. Some of the story lines could be quite upsetting and result in them needing additional monitoring, support and/or treatment.

2. If your teens do watch the series, make an effort to watch with them. This will allow you the opportunity to monitor the impact the show has on your child. It also affords you the chance to talk after each episode and ensure that they are comfortable enough to continue watching.

3. If you are not able to watch together, talk with your teens about their thoughts, reactions and their feelings about the content. Check in with them multiple times as it can take a few days to process the content and they will likely continue to talk about the show with their peers. Let them know that they can come to you with questions or worries about themselves or their friends and that you will be there to listen and help guide them.

4. Reassure youth that fiction and reality are not the same thing. Even though some might believe that what they have seen on television is or feels like reality, it is critical that you help them understand it is not and that the outcomes from the series do not have to be their outcomes.

5. Learn what resources are available in your local community where you can find help if needed. These might include: a local public health agency, a mental health professional, the counselors in your child’s school, or a crisis phone service in your area. Knowing who you can reach out to for support is a good prevention strategy.

The release of 13 Reasons Why Season 2 coincided with another deadly school shooting on May 18, this time in Sante Fe, Texas, where 10 people—eight students and two teachers—were killed by a 17-year-old student who reportedly confessed to the violent rampage. (Early reports indicated that the suspect had been bullied in school and was suicidal.)

The Jed Foundation, a national mental health and suicide prevention organization, added this statement to its concerns about 13 Reasons Why Season 2:

In light of the gun violence depicted in 13 Reasons Why and the devastating school shootings on Friday, we want to remind you how to be safe if you are involved in an active shooting, urge media to follow guidelines for safe reporting on these incidents, and provide tips for discussing and coping with these terrible events.
What to do if you find yourself in an active shooting:
—RUN and escape, if possible. Call 911 once you’re in a safe place.

—HIDE, if escape is not possible. Once you feel safe, try to reach out for help silently (i.e. text, social media, email, put a sign up in the window).

—FIGHT as an absolute last resort. The first response is never to confront an active shooter.