James “Jimmy Lee” Gruhlkey committed suicide at his home March 2, 2011.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in October 2010, he left grieving family and friends, a fiancee and a 4-year-old daughter.
He was 24.
Almost immediately after his death, his fiancee, Krystina Boang, started The Jimmy Lee Project to celebrate his life and raise awareness about mental illness and suicide prevention, said his mother, Pamela Rocco of Stoutsville, near Columbus.
Rocco and her granddaughter, Jimmy Lee’s daughter, Genaviene Mayhew, 6, of Struthers, on Monday presented $4,000, the proceeds from two fundraisers conducted by The Jimmy Lee Project, to the Help Hotline Crisis Center’s 24-hour suicide prevention and intervention program.
Rocco, whose other son, Karl Gruhlkey, is a childhood cancer survivor, said Help Hotline’s suicide program was a “good fit” for The Jimmy Lee Project.
“It is easy to call Help Hotline for help. The telephone listeners are nonjudgmental and help family and friends dealing with the suicide of a loved one. The support is amazing,” she said.
“I felt so raw until I went to a suicide survivors support group meeting. To speak freely and receive the comfort of others who understand — and not be judged — is a great help. When people talk about mental illness, it makes it easier to reach out for help,” Rocco said.
“To lose a child is the most horrific thing a parent can have ... for me to know he hurt so much. When the pain gets too bad, I get on my knees and pray to God. I deal with the pain through my faith and the promise that I will see Jimmy again,” she said.
Rocco, who graduated in 1982 from Boardman High School and served in the Air Force from 1982 to 1986, said today is World Suicide Prevention Day. She urged people to light a candle at 8 p.m. and put it near their windows.
She said Jimmy had struggled the last few years of his life, but he didn’t know what was wrong. He didn’t have insurance and had a hard time finding help. He didn’t know where to turn.
“When he was diagnosed, he was actually relieved. At least he knew,” Rocco said.
He called me and said he was having those thoughts. I told him to get to the hospital. He said he believed the bipolar medications were causing his suicidal thoughts.
Five months later, he was dead.
Most people outside of his family were surprised when it happened because he kept his problems to himself, Rocco said.
The most important thing is it could happen to anybody, she said.
Jimmy, a 2004 graduate of Poland Seminary High School, had been a student at Youngstown State University, where he was vice president of Phi Kappa Tau.
He wanted to be a schoolteacher, his mother said.
If someone is thinking about suicide even just has sad thoughts, he or she needs to call the Help Hotline Crisis Center at 330-747-2696 in Mahoning County or 330-424-7767 in Columbiana County, said Duane Piccirilli, Help Hotline senior executive director.
Help Hotline, certified by the American Association of Suicidology and a member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, also offered a Survivors of Suicide Support Group that provides emotional support and a means of grief resolution after the suicide of a loved one. It received 6,254 suicide-related calls in 2012, Piccirilli said.