Recently, one of our distinguished counselors, Bethany Genenbacher was elected as State President of the Illinois Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide. Don Olund, the Owner and Executive Director of LifeWork Counseling conducted an interview with Bethany to talk about her personal involvement in suicide prevention. Click here to see Bethany’s profile.
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 completed suicide and I needed an outlet to cope with her death. I did not want my grief to define her life. Her 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?
Jennifer 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.
Congratulations on your recent election on being elected the State President for the Illinois Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Tell us about the organization. What function does it serve in the community?
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is the leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide. In the community they offer educational programs for professionals, educate the public about mood disorders and suicide prevention, through community program and programs that are offered in the schools, promote policies and legislation that impact suicide and prevention, provide programs and resources for survivors of suicide loss and people at risk.
Can you share with us your vision for AFSP in Illinois?
AFSP has grown throughout Chicago. The last community walk in Chicago had over 2,000 walkers, which broke the record for the most walkers at any walk in the country. It seems that in more urbanized areas there is more of an understanding about suicide and less stigma related to mental health in general.
I feel we need to do more within the rest of the state. More than a 1000 people die by suicide each year in IL. I want to work with all communities in the state to ensure that regardless of where they are they have the information that they need to prevent suicide or to cope with suicide if they occur. I want to continue to work to educate all communities about mental health issues and decrease the stigma associated with mental illness.
If someone wanted to get involved in the cause, where do they begin?
Well, they can always call me. I am passionate about this cause and will talk about it with anyone. Or, they can go to the website at http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_ID=B529AEF5-A0A6-B6D1-EE0346E5C0A75683There is a link for various volunteer opportunities and information about the community walks that are held through out the state. For those who would like to see what a community walk in action they can watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-pgtbA5vDc