Chipping away at the mental illness and suicide stigma

My journey to raising awareness for mental health issues and suicide began when I published the memoir (Slipped Away) of my soulmate and best friend, Steve Tarpinian.  Steve took his own life on March 15, 2015 and I published Slipped Away in October of that year.

Since then, I have started a blog, created a website and Facebook page and penned several essays about Steve, including articles in Newsday, Lava Magazine and trihistory.com; all done to inspire conversation about mental health.  Only until we as a society can freely talk about suicide and mental illness without shame or embarrassment, will we be able to make greater strides in helping those who are afflicted.   Many of you who are old enough may remember that there was a time no one would talk about cancer or HIV/AIDS.  Since so much has been done to raise awareness for those diseases, there are now more treatment options and people that suffer need not feel shamed or embarrassed if they have one of these illnesses.

Removing the stigma associated with suicide was talked about over 70 years ago.  Norman Farberow is acknowledged to be one of the founding fathers of suicide prevention. In the 1940’s, while pursuing his doctoral studies, Farberow started to recognize an urgent need to look more deeply into the causes of suicide, and to think about better ways to prevent it.   In 2017, many still refuse to talk about suicide as a cause of death and shy away from conversations about mental illness.   Since many celebrities such as Carrie Fischer, Lady GaGa and Sarah Silverman have gone public with their struggles, we are starting to gain momentum, but much work still needs to be done and it is a slow, arduous process.

Today was a turning point for me in the telling of Steve’ story.  I was humbled to be interviewed by Bob Salter of WFAN (a CBS radio station) to talk about Slipped Away and  mental health issues.  Patrick Donohue of Project9line.org (beneficiary of Slipped Away proceeds)  joined me, and he was representing our veterans, a population that  has even higher suicide rates than civilians.  This interview gave me the opportunity to tell Steve’s story to an even larger audience.

It is no coincidence (Steve was a firm believer in this saying) that I was interviewed by Bob.  Last year, Robert Cohen, who was the last finisher at the 2010 Mighty Hamptons Triathlon (produced by Steve’s event company)  reached out to me when he had heard Steve had passed away.  He never forgot how good Steve made him feel  after he crossed that finish line in 2010.  Steve would always try to personally  cheer in the final finishers at his events  and also gathered event staff and remaining spectators to do so as well.  Robert offered to do a review of Slipped Away in his column.  Robert had also been interviewed by Bob Salter on other subjects and he was the one who suggested I contact Bob.  The rest is history and now having been  on Bob’s show, I believe it gave me a great platform to spread such a desperately needed message.

I don’t know where my next stop will be on my awareness raising path , however, I am on a mission and like a former client of mine would always say, I am like “gum in the hair” .  And so, my journey to inspire conversations about mental health issues will continue….

www.SlippedAway.org

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2 thoughts on “Chipping away at the mental illness and suicide stigma

  1. Jean, First of all, I want to say how sorry I am for loss. I suffer from mental illness and in the beginning (years ago) I was embarrassed by it and told nobody. After a few failed suicide attempts, I finally got treatment for my illnesses (a long road, a lot of experimenting with different medications and therapy) and I openly admit to people that I am mentally ill if the subject comes up. I have been fortunate that a little over 2 years ago I finally found a medication combination that “worked” for me and has so far kept me pretty stable. I am very fortunate to have my 2 greatest supporters (my parents). I read your entire blog from beginning to end. It is amazing! I have shared the link on my Facebook page and hopefully it will benefit someone. Like you, I have come to terms with my mental illness and speak freely about my experiences to others in the hope that if I can get through to at least 1 person, and make a difference for them, or give them hope, then I feel that I have accomplished something. Thank you for sharing your story and your experiences. I hope and pray for you that you grow stronger each day. Keep spreading the word and doing the amazing things that you are doing!
    Cathy Lare

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    • Cathy,
      Thank YOU so much for sharing your thoughts and your kind words of support and encouragement. It is words like yours that inspire me to continue my path. I am so happy you have found a solution that works for you and I can only imagine how painful a journey it was based on what i experienced with Steve. Perhaps if someone like you and Steve had spoken or met, it may have given him hope and he might still be here. Although we view mental illness from different perspectives , I believe the sharing of our experiences will help others feel they are not alone and in the long run, help reduce and eliminate the stigma.

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