PLATTSBURGH — It’s been just two months since Josh “Joshy” DuFault died by suicide in his bedroom.
His parents, Linda and David Levandowski of Plattsburgh, are now left trying to answer the heart-breaking question of why their 19-year-old son decided to end his life.
After he died, the Levandowskis found that DuFault had confided in friends, telling them he was considering suicide via text messages and in conversation.
“We’ve been finding out things my son told people,” Linda said.
They are left to wonder not only why but what if?
What if someone spoke up?
What if DuFault had been able to receive adequate medical care, which he was denied due to lack of health insurance?
“I think that’s why we need to talk to the community,” said Bonnie Black of Behavioral Health Services North. “We need to talk to everybody, regardless of their age, so they are comfortable enough to reach out to somebody.”
Black facilitated a recent public dialogue at St. Joseph Church in Treadwell’s Mills where survivors of suicide, mental-health providers and concerned citizens came together to openly raise these issues.
TALK ABOUT IT
Panelist and survivor Mary Gillen understands the Levandowski’s pain. She lost her son Justin in 2006 to suicide, without warning.
She is hopeful that by bringing suicide and mental-health issues to light, more people will speak up, seek help and save others.
“I don’t care where you are, start talking about it,” she said. “I feel like the best thing I can do for my son’s memory is to save someone else’s son or daughter or parent because we just have to talk about it.”
Tom O’Clair, a survivor and family-care advocacy specialist for the New York State office of Mental Health, agreed with Gillen and urged everyone to speak out for suicide prevention and mental illness.
“When we start talking about it, we can give it the attention that it’s due. We can start preventing. We can get the government to fund research further than they do.”
O’Clair is concerned that too many people care too much about the stigma attached to suicide. He worked tirelessly following his son’s death to reform health-care coverage for mental illnesses by urging lawmakers to pass Timothy’s Law.
It requires health plans to provide coverage for mental-health and behavioral disorders that is comparable to coverage for other physical issues. Then-Gov. George Pataki signed it into law in 2006.
“We want to say the word suicide, but that brings about a common myth that by me saying it, you are going to do it,” he said.
“The human mind is not that easily manipulated. By talking about it, you are not going to put that thought into someone else’s brain.”
Despite the shame some people associate with suicide, it needs to be addressed both locally and nationally because it is a serious issue, Sherrie Gillette, director of Community Services for Clinton County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services said.
In Clinton County, she said, white males between the ages of 40 and 50 have the highest rate of suicide.
O’Clair said that both returning veterans and the elderly, especially white men ages 85 and older, are taking their lives at an increased rate.
“We are also seeing nationwide that suicide among women between the ages of 40 and 55 is growing,” Black added. “Women are now making the choice of using more lethal ways. Instead of overdose, hanging is the No. 1 choice, and guns are now coming into play.”
Programs are available locally that are available for anyone seeking assistance.
Behavioral Health Services North, Clinton County Mental Health and Addiction Services, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Champlain Valley and other organizations are working to educate students, adults, law-enforcement officials, clergy members, veterans, tribal nations and medical personnel about the warning signs and prevention of suicide.
Deb and Doug Jerdo do their part by organizing and participating in the annual North Country Out-of-the-Darkness Walk.
They started the walk in 2009 after their son Joshua died by suicide four years earlier.
Deb urged attendees to form teams and join them in putting a face to suicide prevention.
“Show that you care about mental illness and you’re not afraid to put your body and your words into action,” she said.
“That’s why we wanted to do this — because our son died, and we want to save other families from having to go through the pain of losing a child or a loved one to suicide.”
Email Miranda Orso:
firstname.lastname@example.orgIf you're considering suicide, you can get help by calling the following numbers: For counseling: Clinton County Mental Health, 565-4060. ▶ Essex County Mental Health Clinic, 873-3670; after-hour emergencies, (888) 854-3773. ▶ Franklin County's North Star Mental Health Services, 483-3261. For emotional crises: ▶ The toll-free Clinton County suicide hot-line number is (866) 577-3836 or 1-866-5PREVENT. Out-of-county calls are accepted but other options are: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-TALK (8255) and the Essex County Mental Health Association Hope Line, (800) 440-8074. That last number is staffed around the clock, but the phone system handles limited calls. If there's no answer, hang up and try again. Or call 911 or go to your closest emergency room.