By: Staff Writer
Orlando - Have you ever heard of The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention? For those who have never heard of it, for this edition, we would like to introduce you to them.
According to its website, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), which was established in 1987, is a voluntary health organization that gives those affected by suicide a nationwide community empowered by research, education, and advocacy to take action against this leading cause of death. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for ages 15-24, the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 25-34, the 4th leading cause of death for ages 35-54, the 8th leading cause of death for ages 55-64, and the 16th leading cause of death for ages 65 & older.
AFSP is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that is smart about mental health by engaging in the following core strategies: Funding scientific research, educating the public about mental health and suicide prevention, advocating for public policies in mental health and suicide prevention, and supporting survivors of suicide loss and those affected by suicide in their mission.
Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, and with a public policy office in Washington, D.C., AFSP has local chapters in all 50 states with programs and events nationwide. One of those chapters is here in Central Florida.
The AFSP Central Florida Chapter is composed of a great group of volunteers whose main mission is to offer resources and services that are designed to support and guide loss survivors throughout their journey. Their Healing Conversations Program (https://afsp.org/find-support/ive-lost-someone/healing-conversations/) offers people the opportunity to talk with experienced volunteers who are themselves survivors of suicide loss and offer guidance and support as they grieve and heal.
Each year, AFSP supports many large and small Survivor Day events around the world, in which suicide loss survivors come together to find connection, understanding, and hope through their shared experiences.
As part of their mission, they also try to share the importance of self-care. According to Danyel Lieberman, a suicide loss survivor, and the HealingConversations Coordinator for The AFSP Central Florida Chapter, "During times of stress, it’s so easy to lose sight of ourselves and what we need both physically and mentally. It is very important to take some time to breathe and relax a bit. If possible, to take a walk, watch a movie, or even just sit and read a book. Taking care of ourselves allows us to also help others in our lives as well."
For Danyel, it is important to start talking openly about suicide and how it affects those left behind in order to break down the fear and stigma associated with it. How does she know? Well, because she knows first hand how it feels to deal with the loss of a loved one who took his own life.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Danyel and this is what she shared with us:
NEPG: Can you tell us about your brother?
Danyel: There’s so much to tell! My brother’s name is Shaun and he was only 33 years old when he died. He was so full of life, always smiling and always making others laugh. He had the most amazing sense of humor. Even when we were struggling, he could always make us smile and feel better. When I think of him, I think of the brightest light in the room. He was always helping others even though he was dealing with such difficulty in his own life. He started to struggle in his early 20’s and, after many years, was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks so you can imagine how difficult it was just to do what so many of us take for granted. Due to this, he also struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. Shaun eventually took his own life on October 20, 2011.
NEPG: How did all this affect you and your family?
Danyel: We were devastated to hear the news of my brother’s passing. It was like life just stood still. We had so many unanswered questions that we knew we’d never get answers to and that’s so difficult to have to accept. We felt so alone. I remember a few days after the funeral thinking, “Is life just supposed to go on as nothing happened? ” I watched strangers around me going about their daily lives and I thought, “I wonder if they have any idea what pain and sadness I’m feeling, or how much I’m missing my brother today .” We, as a family, felt like we were the only family going through such tragedy and heartache. Over the next year, we tried to make sense of it all and spent as much time as we could supporting each other and helping each other day today. I’m so thankful for the love and strength that we have and the amazing family we're so blessed with because, truly, that is what got us through.
NEPG: How did AFSP help you move forward and come to peace with what happened to your brother?
Danyel: After about a year, I started to do some research online and look for organizations that offer support and services for suicide loss survivors and I came across AFSP. That was the day our healing journey began. I saw that our local chapter was planning an Out of the Darkness Walk in Orlando and I knew it would be a great way to come together as a family to honor my brother and to raise money for suicide prevention and research. I remember on that day walking up to these huge boards filled with pictures and letters to loved ones lost to suicide. I looked at the families surrounding those boards and I knew then that we were not alone. It was the first time I felt somewhat whole again and I knew that my mission was to help as many families as possible to never have to feel what my family felt with the loss of my brother. I thought to myself, “I can choose to be bitter or I can choose to be better, I choose better. ” I became involved with the Central Florida Chapter of AFSP shortly after the walk and have continued to walk every year in honor of my brother. I’m an active field advocate and have been to Washington D.C. to speak with legislators to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention. I volunteer on the Polk County Out of the Darkness walk committee, tabling events, and I’m the Healing Conversations program Coordinator and Board member for our Central Florida Chapter. I know in my heart this is exactly what my brother would want me to do in his memory… help others.
NEPG: What message would you give to a person/family who is going through a similar situation?
Danyel: That there is hope… it's often so hard to know the right words to say to someone who has just lost a loved one to suicide. Though you can’t make the pain go away, supporting them and letting them know that they’re not alone in their loss is key. Being a friend, just sitting and listening to their feelings and acknowledging their loss can be comforting. I try to share my own healing journey with other loss survivors as well. I’ve found that, when loss survivors see me and my family as an example of better days ahead, they start to look for that light in their darkness and that provides them hope. Offering guidance to services and resources that are available is also very helpful in the healing process. I know for myself, it was difficult and confusing to know where to turn with so much on your mind and, because of this, many loss survivors don’t seek the help and support they need.
For more information on the Survivor Day events, you can visit https://afsp.org/find-support/ive-lost-someone/survivor-day/