Recently, Bethany Genenbacher was elected as State President of the Illinois Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Getting to know Bethany, you will soon discover she is a caring and passionate person, socially active and dedicated to the cause of suicide prevention. Her journey along this path began through personal tragedy as you will read in this interview.
When did you begin doing volunteer work in suicide prevention and what led to your decision?
I became involved with AFSP (The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) in 2006. It started with walking 20 miles, overnight, to raise funds for AFSP. I walked another overnight walk in 2009. After this walk, I attended a legislation conference in Washington DC, with the purpose to educate legislators on suicide prevention and mental health issues. This trip was when I became actively involved in the organization.
I chose to become involved after my step-sister Jennifer completed suicide and I needed an outlet to cope with her death. I did not want my grief to define her life. Jennifer’s death altered me and my family and I wanted to become involved in part of the solution.
Share some of your reflections about Jennifer. What was she like?
The picture above of Jennifer when she graduated high school in 1994 is my favorite. She was passionate about life and attended college majoring in special education. She loved her family, but her favorite was her dog Hailey. Jennifer was fun, independent, and full of life, most of the time. However, she suffered with severe depression for most of her teen and early adult years. It was debilitating and drained the life out of her. Our family did the best we could to care for her. Then on June 25, 1998 Jennifer could bear it no more. She took her life. It was a shock to our entire family.
How did this painful experience influence the path your life would follow?
I wanted to take action to prevent suicide and to reach out to those that lost loved ones to suicide. It started out very personal for me and has grown since meeting so many families that have lost their loved ones to suicide. I am constantly humbled when they share their stories of pain and healing with me. When my sister died no one would say the word “suicide” and few people acknowledged her death. That was one of the most difficult aspects of the death. I wanted to ensure that if someone loses a loved one to suicide, they are able to talk about it.
For those whose lives have been impacted by a completed suicide of a loved one, friend, or co-worker, what advice can you give them?
Talk about it. Find those that are willing to listen. Share not only the story of their death, but the stories of their lives. Educate yourself about suicide. Consider attending a support group that understands how suicide impacts families.
What advice can you give to someone who is having suicidal thoughts?
Talk to someone, right away. Don’t suffer with those feelings alone. There are people that will understand and listen. Talk to a friend, family member, therapist. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1800-273-TALK (8255). You can also go to your local ER and they will help to refer you to services that will help. Keep talking until you get the help you need.Talk about it. Find those that are willing to listen. Share not only the story of their death, but the stories of their lives. Educate yourself about suicide. Consider attending a support group that understands how suicide impacts families.