Can we rally for this deadly illness?
Part 1: We must talk
Part 2: Back from the brink
Last year’s series on our crisis
Call 911 if anyone is in danger
1-800-273-8255, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
888-207-4004, Mind Springs Health crisis line
Aspen Hope Center, 24-hour Hopeline 970-925-5858
Mantherapy.org, Colorado’s website geared toward men
Garfield County Suicide Prevention Coalition, information on prevention classes, 970-948-6108
Mind Springs Health locations across the Western Slope
Also, Glenwood Springs HEARTBEAT group for survivors after suicide, meets every second Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., Glenwood Methodist Church. Info: 970-945-1398
SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS
• Threatening to hurt or kill oneself, looking for means (such as firearms) to kill oneself, and talking or writing about death or suicide.
• Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use
• No sense of purpose in life
• Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
• Feeling trapped
• Withdrawal from friends, family and society
• Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
• Engaging in reckless or risky behaviors, seemingly without thinking
• Dramatic mood changes
Editor’s note: This wraps up our three-day series around the Aspen Hope Center’s “We Can Talk” campaign to encourage people to engage in the conversation about mental-health issues and suicide. The Post Independent will continue to carry articles about this important, always-relevant subject in future editions.
Imagine that a family member or close friend is diagnosed with a serious disease, and you want to organize a big benefit event to support that person in their treatment, and to help with the mounting medical bills.
It happens all the time, of course, especially when it involves someone who is well-known in the community, or who has a close network of friends or coworkers willing to do the legwork to secure the venue, solicit food and line up some entertainment.
On a broader scale, many public awareness and medical research fundraising campaigns organize rallies in support of victims of breast cancer, childhood cancer, heart disease, diabetes … you name it.
But what if the disease is mental illness? If you organize a benefit on that person’s behalf or stage a rally to create more awareness, would anyone show up?
“I would really like to see people rally around mental illness, like you see with cancer,” said Patty Fazzi of Rifle. “It is a deadly disease.”
She and her husband, Ron, know firsthand. Two years ago this month they lost their 22-year-old son, Brandon, to suicide, brought on by his struggles with depression and punctuated by drug addiction.
Through their personal recovery from that loss, they’ve come to understand that when a person is suffering from mental illness, “they will tell you what they want you to believe and, honestly, what you want to hear,” Patty Fazzi said.
Raising awareness about mental health and how to recognize when someone may need help is crucial. But it has to start with an open conversation that mental illness is a disease and that suicide is real, she said.
That’s the main message behind the efforts of the Aspen Hope Center’s “We Can Talk” campaign to erase the stigma around mental illness and the loss of loved ones to suicide, and to raise awareness about the resources that are available in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“If we don’t talk about it, that’s even more dangerous,” Fazzi said.
Longtime Valley resident Janice Daler agreed. She recently self-published a book, “Collision with Self, A Remedy,” about the steps she took to climb out of her own bout with moderate depression in recent years.
“We have to do a better job of helping people with their well-being before they get to that point” of contemplating suicide, Daler said. “There is a point where it starts to get out of control, and I had a glimpse of that.
“We have to do a better job of taking care of our well-being, and if this helps someone get out of their depression, that is my hope,” Daler said of her book, which she is working to provide to hospitals, clinics, churches, halfway houses and other places in the valley where it might be helpful.
SHARING STORIES OF LOSS
Recently, the Post Independent sat down with some people who voluntarily came forward to share their stories about losing someone close to them to suicide, and how they’ve learned to cope and to talk openly about what happened.
Trish Savoy of Carbondale has experienced six suicides and one attempted suicide involving family members and others close to her, including her son at the age of 21 several years ago and her fiancé just last year.
The trauma has taken a toll on her own mental well-being, to the point that she, too, has contemplated suicide, she now shares honestly.
“It’s gotten to the point where it’s when, not if, it’s going to happen again to someone I love,” Savoy said. “There isn’t a day that I don’t think about it. I just thought it was a normal way of thinking.”
To cope, she constantly keeps herself busy with work, attends the Hope Center’s Life Line group sessions for people who have lost loved ones to suicide when she can, and stays in contact with supportive friends.
Savoy also often writes or paints pictures to express her pain. She shared a letter she wrote after losing her fiancé, Randy, last March.
“Leaving this world so suddenly is the most selfish thing one can do,” she wrote. “Everyone you leave behind feels lost, scared, helpless and devastated.
“Life is impossible sometimes, but there is always an answer,” Savoy continues. “Let’s all try to touch other people’s lives, forget all the battles in our hearts and open ourselves up to our loved ones who really care a great deal about us.”
‘A DIFFERENT KIND OF GRIEF’
Emma Casson of Glenwood Springs also admits she’s fearful it will happen again, after losing her father and her best childhood friend to suicide in the course of just a few months last year.
“When somebody you love takes their life, it’s a different kind of grief,” Casson said. “There’s anger, guilt, sadness … it’s just really hard to make sense of it.”
The emotions come pouring back as Casson recalls the last time she talked to her friend in Chicago about her ongoing struggles following a previous suicide attempt.
“We had a long talk and she promised me she would not go there,” Casson said, recounting the back-to-back losses she experienced.
Even more frustrating was learning after the fact that her father had previously attempted suicide, but none of the family was notified, and that her friend had been admitted to a hospital but was discharged the day she hanged herself.
“Clearly, she should not have been let out of the hospital,” Casson said. “Mental health issues are not getting the attention, the money or the support needed.”
Fortunately, she said the support services in this valley are better than they are in larger areas, she observed.
“There’s more support now than there used to be, which is really awesome,” she said. “The only thing everyone can do more of is talk about it.”
CALLS FOR HELP
In the middle of a person’s deep sadness, Fazzi said you can hear the call for help if you know how to listen. That’s her message in sharing her story about the loss of Brandon.
“I’ve never shied away from telling people how Brandon died,” she said. “I’ve always been honest and told people he died by suicide.”
That’s uncomfortable for some people, she admitted. But it’s a conversation that needs to take place as a way to build awareness.
“There’s not a lot left in the world to look forward to after the loss of a child,” she adds.
But the Fazzis found comfort and support through Compassionate Friends in Grand Junction, a support group that helps people cope with the loss of a child due to any cause, as well as the Heartbeat group, which specifically helps those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
“It’s important for the survivors to know that they are not alone,” adds Ron Fazzi. “Suicide does touch everyone’s life in some way. By having the conversation, I would like to think we can help the next person who might be thinking of suicide.”
Adds his wife, “This is a club we never wanted to belong to, but I’m very grateful to have the support and to have a place where people show compassion and kindness.”
SURVIVORS NEED SUPPORT
Janet Gordon, a Carbondale-based therapist who works with the Aspen Hope Center, said it is important for anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one to suicide to seek out support.
“As you move through the grief, there is a tendency to hole up and retreat,” she said. “It may take some time, but talking about it is important, because a lot more people have been touched by suicide than you might realize.”
In addition to the Hope Center’s Life Line support group, the Glenwood Springs Heartbeat group meets at 6:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of every month at First United Methodist Church.
Also, the Roaring Fork chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness hosts a variety of free programs and support services for individuals and families affected by mental illness.
On March 11, the local NAMI group hosts “In Your Own Voice,” a presentation by two trained individuals who have been living with mental illness for more than 20 years who will share their stories of struggle, hope and recovery. The event takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Library. For information, contact Anika Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 970-618-7770.
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