Raise Awareness Not Stigma

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Article Contributed by
Joni Blackman

Why Suicide?

Imagine a young boy with a supportive, loving family who had no idea he felt like he didn’t deserve to be alive because he had terrible thoughts and did mean things. His family thought he was a wonderful son. Where did his negative and self-hating thoughts come from? The talented, kind young man this writer spoke to doesn’t remember how the bad thoughts started. He does know he was singled out at school because he studied and loved ballet. That’s when it started. He was bullied and beaten, both mentally and physically. He hid his feelings and made sure his loving family could not blame themselves for his actions. He constantly thought about “today is a good day to die”. He thought of his life with the possibility of death, by his choice, every day. Most of us go through most of our life not giving death a thought until it happens around us.

As a teenager he began acting out. His parents thought he was just going through a phase. After all he was creative and smart so why wouldn’t he question his life? It would be alright. It wasn’t. He tried pills first, and when that didn’t kill him, his emotions became more unpredictable. He could go from calm to angry and self-loathing in a flash. He hid his feelings by acting the part of the teen that had it all together. He lashed out in brief fits of anger and then would leave out of shame, taking control of the situation when he had caught everyone off guard.

After high school graduation he seemed to have more self-control. He was still easily overwhelmed with everyday life. He got to a point that summer where he attempted suicide again. This time he jumped from a ledge in a secluded forested area. His last though before jumping was of calling himself a “fraud.” He lay at the base of the rock cliff over 24 hours, then he crawled to his car and got himself home. He said, “My parents didn’t suspect anything because I was normally unpredictable. Sure I was limping around for a while, they didn’t ask me why and if they had I would have lied again. I lied all the time.” Again, he made sure that his parents knew nothing so they couldn’t blame themselves for his death. Which he was sure was coming.

Meet Sheridan Smith. Sheridan was that creative, kind little boy. He made a conscious effort to change after the cliff attempt, he said,” If I think I am a terrible person, I need to die or change by acting as a person worthy of living.” So, he began acting like he wanted to be seen, living a good life. Slowly over time, through counseling, meditation and study, he has become known in the community for his work helping others. He is employed as a counselor for the Mental Health Alliance and is also part of the team that revived Awareness Theater, a closed teen peer program administered by the Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, now renamed Prevention Works. His motto is whatever happens, let it make you kind. Sheridan has started a new Mental Health Association group called Alternatives to Suicide – the group is for those that have survived suicide attempt(s) and those that have had suicidal thoughts. Alternatives to Suicide are meeting Wednesdays 5:30-7 at the Mental Health Association.

Sheridan has come to understand death as context in his daily life and he chooses to live.

Victoria Patti visiting a local high school to share about suicide prevention

Suicide and Loss

Suicide has many victims. Not just the one who takes their life, but the families and friends of the lost soul. Carri Raynor lost her husband Danny Raynor in 2007. She said, “Anyone who met Danny thought he was a jokester. When they talk about him, they smile and then they tell you about some shenanigan he pulled.” When Danny died, she was lost and found no support. Now she gives support. Carri added, “I give back to those that have lost a loved one. Nothing was available when Danny died, I had no support. I like to check up on people and let them know they can call me anytime and they are not alone.”

Five years after Danny died, she started the Raynor Golf Tournament for Suicide Prevention. It was held September 7 this year. The golfers, volunteers and other supporters are many of her and Danny’s friends. The proceeds this year went to help the family of a pre-teen that took his own life last year. Owen was 12. He was from Ripley. He was bullied into thinking there was no reason to go on.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America.

According to America’s Health Rankings by the American Health Foundation, “nationally, the suicide rate has increased by 25.4% from 1999 to 2016, with nearly every state in the U.S. experiencing increases during this time period. Health factors such as mental health disorders and/or a substance use disorder are the most significant risk factors for suicidal behaviors. In addition, environmental factors such as stressful life events and access to lethal means like firearms or drugs can increase risk of suicide. Previous suicide attempts and family history of suicide are also risk factors.”

The Albany Times Union reported in June 2019 that “while New York State houses millions of its anonymous residents in the city, the likelihood for suicide is greater in its poverty-stricken rural areas. Suicide-prevention experts say New York’s nearly 30 percent rise in suicides since 1999 is linked to its sparsely populated zones upstate, which often lack access to resources that care for mental illnesses, like depression or anxiety.” The New York Times listed the NYS Counties with the highest and lowest rates of suicide. The east coast counties are the lowest, while Cattaraugus, Alleghany, Niagara and Wyoming are listed the ten highest. Chautauqua is in the middle ranks of suicide rates. The focused work of the Community Alliance and all of it’s partners seem to be saving lives.

Veterans Alarming Suicide Rate

Veterans are almost two times more likely to commit suicide than the non-veteran population. Cindy Reidy of the Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Project, a New York State program, has been working hard over the past few years to offer opportunities for veterans to meet and socialize with other vets enduring similar challenges, at no cost to them. Peer support has been proven to be extremely successful with options available to meet each veteran’s interest. The upcoming Dwyer Suicide Motorcycle Poker Run for Suicide Prevention on September 21 at the Falconer Harley Davidson location was organized to raise awareness about suicide prevention for veterans as well as the local community. Money raised will be used for local suicide prevention efforts through the Community Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the NEIGH program, an equine and human behavior training program for veterans and their families.

Sheridan Smith, Counselor Mental Health Alliance

Talk Saves Lives

Loss survivor Carri Raynor now works for the Community Alliance for Suicide Prevention which is a non- profit organization that provides information and holds events to raise the awareness of what we can all do to help prevent suicides. Coordinator Victoria Patti, received her Masters in Social Work from Case Western Reserve in 2014, and worked for the Department County Mental Hygiene. The Alliance is made up of a variety of county-wide community partners. They range from individuals to organizations and agencies, from law enforcement to veterans and educators. They work together to spread the message of suicide prevention.

How you can help

Patti says, “One of the biggest misconceptions is if you ask someone about suicide it will put it into their mind. Not so, we need to ask directly, ‘are you thinking about suicide?’, then do something about it.” Actions you can take are to call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-724-0461, take them to the hospital or to a counselor.

There are events throughout the rest of September and the first week of October. To see and support upcoming Suicide Prevention events visit the Community Alliance for Suicide Prevention Facebook page.

“Sharing helps you and others,” said Victoria Patti of the Community Alliance for Suicide Prevention. That is good advice for us all.