LETTER: There is hope for everyone

LETTER: There is hope for everyone

To the Editor:

In an effort to promote National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I am writing to share some of my personal experience, as well as some information about suicide and how it affects us all. My hope is that each of you might be able to gain a better understanding of suicide and mental health challenges, and that it may inspire hope for those who struggle.

Suicide does not discriminate. Anyone can be affected by the death of someone who has taken their own life, whether it’s the loss of a spouse, child, parent, sibling, family member, friend, a member of the community or a celebrity.

According to a 2018 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2016. In New York, reported suicide deaths increased by 28.8 percent since 1999. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in our country. In addition, it is probable that many suicides are not reported as such.

My story is equally as unique as every other person who has experienced loss by suicide or mental illness.

When I was young, I remember feeling different from everyone else. I was a bright child and attended a program for “gifted” children in elementary school; however, I struggled to keep my thoughts organized and was extremely anxious. I started having panic attacks when I was 6 or 7years old.

As I got older, certain environments and traumatic life experiences exacerbated my anxiety and depression. In my early teen years, I started having suicidal ideations. I was using drugs, alcohol and exhibiting risky behavior to self-medicate the pain I was feeling. In many cases, the combination of trauma history and mental health diagnoses go hand-in-hand. It is also not uncommon for individuals experiencing these issues to use or develop a dependence on substances.

When I was 15, my father died by suicide. He was 35 years old and had five children. My father told me that he was suicidal a week before he died, and I didn’t know what to do to help him. For many years, I carried guilt because of his death.

It was a lifelong battle for me to want to live. After many years of therapy, a lot of different medications and experiences that some won’t have in their lifetimes, I found purpose in becoming a mother at 18. Despite continuing to struggle with depression and anxiety, I did all I could to be a good mother to my daughter, then to her three sisters who came after her. I attended therapy, took medication, found things to do that I was passionate about and made new healthy friendships.

After our father died, my siblings were separated for several years. When our younger brothers were in their late teens /early 20s, my sister and I were able to reconnect with them. I had been divorced and re-married by then, and I felt complete when my brothers were a part of our lives again. At that time, I learned that my brothers had struggled with depression, as well.

On Oct. 27, 2012, the 19th anniversary of our father’s suicide, my youngest brother took his own life. Daniel was 23 years old. He was smart, kind, funny, driven, talented and had a laugh that was contagious.

There are no words to describe the pain of the aftermath of suicide. It’s unfathomable to find words to describe experiencing it a second time.

Dan’s death took a huge toll on our whole family. As much as I fought it, I started experiencing ideations again. I just couldn’t live with the pain I was feeling. I was trying to keep my family together, support my daughters who lost their uncle and keep my household running … and grieve what felt like a “double-whammy.”

A few months later, I realized that I needed to channel my grief into something positive that would make a difference for others who were experiencing what I was. I connected with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Madison County. That year, in 2013, the Coalition began the AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk for Madison County, and I was lucky enough to be a part of organizing it. I was driven to pay it forward and to support others who were where I had been.

Since that time, I became a member of the CNY Area Chapter Board for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and became the chairwoman for the Madison County Out of the Darkness Walk in 2015. I advocated with other AFSP Chapter Board members at our state’s capitol for suicide prevention and awareness and attended an AFSP Leadership Conference in Arkansas. I received the 2016 Floyd Bennett Mental Hygiene Advocacy Award from the Madison County Community Services Board. I now have a career as a program director of a program that supports other individuals (peers) in the community who are struggling with mental health challenges and experiencing barriers to achieving their wellness goals and pursuing their passions.

The reason I am sharing these successes is to relay that there is hope for everyone; despite what your past looks like, what your bank account looks like or even what your life may look like right now. Also, I feel that it’s important for others to understand that people are capable of changing, despite what you may perceive.

Most importantly, suicide is unfortunately something that will probably affect everyone at some point in their life. Educating yourself about the warning signs of suicide is crucial. Education is more accessible than you may realize, and most times it’s free. Prevention starts at home and in your own circle. We cannot be afraid to talk about it or to hear about it. Many suffer in silence because of the stigma around suicide and mental illness, to quote the title of an AFSP program, “Talk Saves Lives.”

If you are interested in learning more about how you can help make a difference, here are some resources:

  • Suicide Prevention Coalition of Madison County: (Susan Jenkins/Director) 315-697-3947 org
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: (Missy Stolfi/WNY &CNY Area Director) 585-202-2783 org

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call:

  • Liberty Resources Mobile Crisis/ Madison County Mental Health Crisis Line: 1-800-721-2215
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

Sincerely, Janelle Hall Powell

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