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Grassroots Efforts Under Way To Raise Awareness of Suicide Prevention

Laurie Ann Marrano Johnson, secretary SAVE Central NY.

Gathered outside the Counseling and Healing Arts office are: Geoff Baer, executive director; Tiffany Gentile, clinical director;
Shelly Sloan, treasurer for SAVE Central NY; Jamie Leszczynski, chair for SAVE Central NY; and
Laurie Ann Marrano Johnson, secretary SAVE Central NY.

OSWEGO, NY – Jamie Leszczynski is making strides to assist those who have gone through what she’s experienced and, hopefully, save others from the ordeal.

She lost her brother to suicide 13 years ago.

Laurie Ann Marrano Johnson, secretary SAVE Central NY.
Gathered outside the Counseling and Healing Arts office are: Geoff Baer, executive director; Tiffany Gentile, clinical director; Shelly Sloan, treasurer for SAVE Central NY; Jamie Leszczynski, chair for SAVE Central NY; and Laurie Ann Marrano Johnson, secretary SAVE Central NY.

“For the past five years I have been working with a close group of others that have lost someone to suicide to plan a community 5K Run/Walk to raise awareness,” she told Oswego County Today. “Last year alone we had more than 500 people participate. This year we are aiming for 700!”

Stride to Save Lives gets under way Sept. 19 at SUNY Oswego. Runners and walkers, including suicide survivors (those who have lost someone to suicide) and mental health advocates, will gather to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.

Proceeds raised will benefit SAVE – Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

So far, there are 199 participants and more than $8,421 of the $20,000 goal has been raised.

“This is our fifth year, which is amazing. Counseling and Healing Arts of Oswego County is our underwriters. We’re so thrilled that we have their support. We would not be able to do this this year without their help,” Leszczynski said. “I want people to hear Counseling and Healing Arts and go, ‘Oh, yeah, they’re the SAVE people.”

Leszczynski approached Tiffany Gentile, clinical director, and Geoff Baer, executive director, of Counseling and Healing Arts recently with the proposal.

“We were looking for a partner that would truly be a partner for us. We could have gone after a large corporation to sponsor our event. But, we want somebody that aligned with our mission, that truly, because we’re dealing with suicide survivors, those at risk and families that if something happened, we could call on these guys to be support for us,” she explained. “That’s how this partnership, this marriage, kind of evolved. They’re not just sponsors. They are truly partners.”

They’ve already had conversations about starting support groups at the Fulton office  in October.

“Every month, we’re going to have a support group for survivors. That’ll be huge,” Leszczynski said.

“One of our missions that we want to do as an organization is to off that for the community,” Gentile said.

Suicide is a national public health crisis and is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 34-year-olds and the third leading cause of death for 35 to 55-year-olds.

“The problem is overwhelming. For adult white men between 35 to 55 – it’s like the third leading cause of death in this country,” Leszczynski said, adding, “And, that’s not counting the number of attempts!”

“Each population has its own statistics. Armed Forces, for example, are extremely high. The White population, Native Americans and military  those are the big numbers right there,” said Shelly Sloan, treasurer for SAVE Central NY.

“That’s one of the reasons we opened where we did. It’s an area in need of more service accessibility,” Baer said. ” The number of drug and depressive anxiety types of issues and new clients that have suicidal ideation in their head, and they have attempted is huge, so it’s a very complex situation of care.”

“If you see someone with a cut, you know that they need attention. If someone is struggling with a mental illness, you don’t see that (need). So it’s harder for people recognize their loved ones or friends might be struggling with that – or that they might be struggling with it. They just know that they feel ‘off,'” Gentile said.

“You run into it with parents  There’s a sense of embarrassment about their children, especially in smaller towns. The facade that we have is that our children are all successful. We want them to be successful and if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist,” Sloan added.

“The big push now is that it is just like heart disease, it’s just like cancer, it’s just like anything. It’s a disease an illness,” said Laurie Ann Marrano-Johnson, secretary SAVE Central NY. “It’s just not seen. It’s not really an invisible illness because it does show itself through various actions at different times. But, in general, we’ve all learned how to act pretty well when we’re in situations whether it be school or in front of other people. Even people with severe mental illness know how to play the game. We understand the cycle. But we’re not getting to the root cause, which is the anxiety, the depression and perhaps a traumatic event that spurred this. People tend to ask what happened to you? Instead of what’s wrong with you?”

Addictions can play a big part, whether it’s drugs or alcohol or food, Gentile pointed out.

“It’s emotions. Emotions sometimes they don’t understand why they feel that way, sometimes it’s a result of the addiction and sometimes it’s the reason for the addiction.
It’s really important in terms of treatment that whoever is working with these people knows how to make a safety plan, keep them safe, what their supports are, what their resources are and what their strengths are,” she said. “It’s OK to seek help. We’re going to help you. We’re not looking to put you into an institution. We want to keep you safe.”

“Things have changed, but in many ways are still the same. If you’re having thoughts of suicide, (people think) there must be something wrong with you,” Leszczynski said. “There’s still that negative though process.”

Gentile recalled working with one client, who after six months of sessions, told her, “I think this is the first time in my life I haven’t felt suicidal.”

“He was 19. So for 19 years to feel suicidal and then just having somebody care, just having somebody talk to you and normalize that thought process was what it took to help him work through that,” she said. “Now I see him once a month or as needed, where it was twice a week just to make sure he was safe. Counseling is a powerful thing.”

“Our mission is trying to get the warning signs out there to prevent. These guys are able to step in in the event of an emergency. People should realize that they can seek help. It’s not as bad as you may think it is,” Sloan added. “It is a good partnership to be able to have these guys in our back pocket to help us at that next step if we need it.”

The event at SUNY Oswego gets under way with registration from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the Campus Center. The walk starts at 11 a.m. Things wrap up at 3 p.m.

Advance registration is preferred. Go to: http://save.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=632

Baer will be one of the motivational speakers.

“I get up on stage and I greet everybody – and it’s like there are 700 people here today. This is amazing! High-five to my committee. But then it’s like, Oh my God. I know why these people are here. This is horrible. Probably 90 percent has gone through losing someone, like I have and so many other people. The other 10 percent are the advocates who are trying to show support to the families and friends,” Leszczynski said. “It is bittersweet. Every year it just grows and grows and grows. I’d rather see 50 people show up. I’d like to see our numbers go down (because the problem is going away).”

“A few years ago, I (anonymously) brought a client to this. She had really been struggling – lots of cuts, lots of self-harm. She went. She heard the stories. And, she cried. There was a dish of necklaces that she’d won,” Gentile said. “She gave one to me. She said ‘I want you to have this because you are the reason I am still here today.'”

“I think it’s still too much of a secret and people are dying from it,” Sloan said. “It’s becoming more open about mental health issues and suicide. I love it that the gloves are coming off and people are telling it like it is. That’s the only way to bring awareness. I love the fact that many people are getting brave and courageous and talking about it openly. When you want to get well, there is a road to wellness. There is the ability to get well. It starts with a choice. It begins with a step.”

People told her stories about how they couldn’t even walk into a grocery store (because they were embarrassed) and they felt it was their fault, she said, adding that there’s not many families not affected by suicide.

” Just showing them that we are here, other places are here, is a big help,” Gentile said. “There are people who are going to help you, you’re not alone.”

“In addition to the event, we are truly honored to have award-winning, renowned international mental health speaker and executive director of SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), Dr. Dan Reidenberg as our keynote presenter,” Leszczynski added.

He is the executive director of SAVE.

Dr. Reidenberg has done extensive work with adolescents and adults who have serious and persistent mental illnesses or who are chemically dependent.  He is a consultant to psychologists, attorneys, and businesses on healthcare and legal matters, is a nationally and internationally sought after speaker and sits on numerous national expert panels for suicide prevention and mental health issues with many published articles and authored the chapter on suicide for the book Adolescent Health.

He has developed one of only three evidence-based programs for school suicide prevention listed on the National Registry of Evidence-based Practices and Programs, several other best practice materials and he led a team that included senior leadership from Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Twitter, Microsoft, WordPress, Tumblr and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in developing the next generation of suicide prevention technology for the online industry.

SAVE works to prevent suicide through public awareness and education, reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and serves as a resource to those touched by suicide. To learn more about SAVE, visit www.save.org or call 952-946-7998.

“We are the first US charter for SAVE. We’re looking to do awareness in schools and the veterans. We cover the entire CNY region. It (Strides) isn’t just a one-time event. So, if some one wants help or wants to do something after this event we are here,” Leszczynski said.

There are certain warning signs that family and friends should be aware of.

Please check out this site for more information: http://www.save.org/index.cfm?page_id=705F4071-99A7-F3F5-E2A64A5A8BEAADD8

For anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide or harming themselves, Leszczynski urges them to “please call us 1-888-511-SAVE (7283) or you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 24 hours a day / seven days a week; www.save.org is another amazing great resource for help too that I would strongly encourage people to visit.”

For more information, contact event chair Leszczynski, [email protected]

Counseling and Healing Arts of Oswego County’s office is located at 188 S. Third St., Fulton. The Oswego office is at 17 W. Cayuga St., Suite 1A. Both offices have the same phone number 207-5435 (only the Fulton office has a receptionist. So she books everything there). Office hours vary but generally 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.