State and local officials speak out on suicide
By Justin Wier
State Sen. Charleta Tavares had just won her first election to the state House of Representatives when her brother killed himself in 1994.
She described him as a singer and dancer who lit up the room.
“He was the person you wanted to be around,” Tavares said. “He was the life of the party.”
That changed after the sudden death of their father who suffered a heart attack.
She said her brother began behaving differently. He received a bipolar diagnosis, and he eventually died by suicide.
She shared her story Monday at the Mahoning County Mental Health Board’s program at the county Children Services building downtown to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.
Tavares said through her pain she found her passion, and through her passion she found her purpose.
“My purpose is to help others and make sure no one else goes through the pain that my family went through,” she said.
Unfortunately, a growing number of Ohio families are losing loved ones to suicide.
Shawna Hite-Jones, director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, said suicides have increased by more than a third in Ohio over the last 20 years.
It has moved from the third-leading cause of death to the second among residents age 10-24.
“This is why we don’t want these discussions to end here today,” Hite-Jones said.
Both Hite-Jones and Tavares talked about ways communities can get involved and promote education and suicide prevention.
Vince Broncaccio, CEO of the Help Network of Northeast Ohio, recalled speaking to a mother who wondered whether her son would be alive if he had been aware of the network’s crisis hotline.
Tavares said people should continue to discuss the issue, in order to fight stigma.
“We have to be able to speak up and speak out,” Tavares said. “There is still so much stigma.”
“We have to work toward that mission of making [mental illness] equal to any other illness,” said Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti
State and local officials, including state Reps. John Boccieri of Poland, D-59th, and Michele Lepore-Hagen of Youngstown, D-58th, and Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd presented proclamations to speakers and the Mahoning County Suicide Prevention Coalition.
Those considering suicide or concerned about a loved one can call the Help Network of Northeast Ohio hotline at 211.