One way Vice President Biden can help reduce suicide

One way Vice President Biden can help:  raise awareness about the fight to reduce suicide by meeting with the leadership of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

 

May 31, 2016
Dear xxxxxxxxxxxxxx:
Please see below for a meeting request for Vice President Biden.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,
Francesco Bellafante
Dear Mr. Vice President:
Nine years after I graduated from Archmere Academy I nearly died by suicide when I was 27 years old.  Eighteen years after my suicidal crisis I am grateful to be a Philadelphia chapter board member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the leading nonprofit at the center of the fight to reduce the mortality of suicide in this country.  Our mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.

In a couple weeks hundreds of AFSP volunteers will visit Washington D.C. to meet with lawmakers to advocate for increased federal funding for evidence-based suicide prevention programs.  The AFSP has an ambitious goal and a practical plan to reduce the U.S. suicide rate by 20% by 2025.  I am writing to ask you to please consider meeting with the leadership of the AFSP before you leave office.  Robert Gebbia, our CEO, Dr. Christine Moutier, our Chief Medical Officer, and John Madigan, our Vice President of Public Policy would greatly appreciate the opportunity to brief you on our strategy to save the lives of thousands of Americans.  If your schedule permits, a brief meeting with you on June 14th would undoubtedly energize our growing group of thoughtful, committed citizens dedicated to reducing suicide.

We are convinced that our movement is approaching a tipping point in garnering the political will necessary to halt the rising U.S. suicide rate.  Your help in raising awareness about this preventable cause of death will hasten the arrival of the day when suicide is no longer one of the top ten causes of death in this country.  Thank you for your time and consideration, and thank you for being a living example of the positive difference that one person can make in the lives of others.

Sincerely,
Francesco Bellafante
Archmere Academy Class of 1989
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Philadelphia Chapter Board Member

June 2, 2016

[I received an email response indicating that I would hear shortly about Vice President Biden’s availability to meet on June 14.]

 

UPDATE

June 16, 2016

Unfortunately Vice President Biden’s schedule on the 14th didn’t afford him the opportunity to meet with the leadership of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention…  but we still have 145 days left to try to make this meeting happen!

How you can help prevent suicide now

Know the warning signs for a suicide attempt, and get help if you see them in yourself or a loved one, friend or associate.  Click on the image below to review the warning signs and how to get help when needed.

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Advocate for the cause!  The suicide awareness and prevention movement is on the verge of garnering the political will necessary to allocate the federal funds needed to reduce the suicide rate.  Please become an American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Field Advocate for the cause by clicking on the image below to join the growing number of Americans advocating law and policy makers to reduce the mortality of suicide.

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If you or someone you know is in the midst of a suicidal crisis, someone is available to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, and a suicidal crisis is an emergency, so you can call 911 too.

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From suicide attempt survivor to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention speakers bureau member

In 1998 I was a 27 year old, Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Notre Dame who had recently become the youngest Principal consultant in American Management Systems Manhattan office.  Shortly after receiving a 7% off-cycle salary increase due to exemplary job performance, I was found unconscious inside of a running rental car in a parking lot of a warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey.  I had transformed the car into a makeshift carbon monoxide gas chamber the night before.  After losing consciousness in the rental car and prior to waking up in the hospital, I had what is commonly referred to as a near death experience, and if I had not survived, the cause of my death would have been listed as suicide via acute carbon monoxide poisoning.  As accurate as that description would have been,  I’m compelled to share about how my lack of experience with the thoughts and feelings I had leading up to my suicide attempt, and my fears about what other people would think about me, if I had revealed the struggle I was embroiled in, dissuaded me from getting the help that I so desperately needed.  As a suicide attempt survivor fortunate enough to have a second chance at life, I hope others suffering as I did will benefit from the lessons I’ve learned over the last eighteen years.

In late 1997 while on a challenging work assignment in Toronto I began to experience insomnia for the first time in my life.  My mental health deteriorated quickly over the next few months as my five closest friends all coincidentally moved away from New York City, and I began to ruminate over what I was doing with my life.  Up until when I began to have suicidal ideations, I would have described myself as very confident with respect to my intellectual abilities, but the personal crisis I became involved in, stemming from difficulties encountered on the project in Toronto, shattered my self confidence and stripped away my self esteem.  In their place was an overwhelming sense of self doubt followed eventually by self loathing.  Hope and excitement for the future were replaced by fear and apprehension.  Night after night of getting between zero to three hours of sleep at most, and the relentless barrage of dark, automatic thoughts bombarding my consciousness ate away at my sanity, and over the course of only a few months I was lost in a seemingly inescapable, abysmal black hole of simultaneously self-defeating and self-fulfilling thoughts.

I wasn’t familiar with the diagnostic criteria of major depressive disorder at the time, but I learned after the fact, that I was a textbook case.  I had persistent feelings of emptiness, hopelessness and worthlessness.  I lost interest in activities that I normally enjoyed, and my appetite all but vanished.  It was challenging to concentrate and to make decisions, even simple, inconsequential ones.  Not surprisingly given how little I was sleeping, I was perpetually tired and lacked energy.  Recurrent thoughts about dying, the first was imagining that my Friday afternoon flight home from Toronto to New York City would crash, eventually evolved into persistent thoughts about intentionally ending my own life.  The long, sleepless or nearly sleepless nights took the greatest toll on me.  I was unable to quiet my sleep deprived, addled mind from producing a non-stop stream of negative, hyper-critical thoughts, as overpowering feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment consumed me.  I was ashamed that I needed help to deal with how I was feeling.  I felt guilty that I was having suicidal thoughts considering my life of relative privilege and my knowledge of the depth and breadth of suffering experienced by countless others in the world.  I was embarrassed that I had ever considered myself intelligent and capable of attaining any goal I set my sights on achieving.  I was ashamed that I was considering suicide out of a fear that I would become completely incapable of doing my job.  I felt guilty that I hadn’t achieved more in life considering my talents as well as the advantages and opportunities afforded me.  I was embarrassed to be in a position where I obviously needed help and was mortally afraid to admit that fact to anyone.  I viewed my deteriorating mental health as a character flaw, because I believed that other people would see it the same way, and I believed that asking for help to deal with what was going on in my head was a sign of a personal weakness. Thoughts and beliefs like these lie at the heart of the stigma surrounding mental illness, and explain why many people suffering like I was back then never seek help.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2013 an estimated 15.7 million, or 6.7% of all U.S. adults, had at least one major depressive episode in the preceding year, making it the leading cause of disability in this country.  Sadly it is estimated that only about half of Americans suffering from depression ever receive treatment for the disorder.  Over 90% of Americans lost to suicide each year suffer from depression or some other behavioral health condition.  In 2014 alone, 42,773 Americans, or about 117 a day, died by suicide according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.  The tragic reality behind these statistics is that a great majority of people suffering from depression could be helped by one or a number of different treatments that help people return to living full, productive lives.

Immediately after my suicide attempt, I began taking the antidepressant medication Paxil, and seeing a psychologist twice a week, and within about three months, I was well again.  I lived with my parents during that time period, and my mother had bought me a small stack of paperback books to read while I convalesced.  While most of the books were novels, she had also bought me a copy of David Burns best selling book Feeling Good:  The New Mood Therapy.  It was the last book I read out of the stack, and although I was still too depressed when I read it the first time to appreciate the significance of the ideas it contains, over a decade and a half later, it’s clear that what this book taught me about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) comprises some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned during my eighteen plus year journey as a consumer of mental healthcare services.  In the book, Beck summarizes what he refers to as, “the powerful principle at the heart of cognitive therapy,” by writing “your feelings result from the messages you give yourself.  In fact, your thoughts often have much more to do with how you feel than what is actually happening in your life.”  A few years later, my psychologist introduced me to a related idea called mindfulness –  the practice of being aware of the present moment and your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way.  Both CBT and the practice of mindfulness helped me to be more reflective about my thoughts and feelings as I was experiencing them, helping me to consciously respond to them in a more discerning and intentional way instead of impulsively reacting to them.  I have never taken an antidepressant medication since the time immediately following my suicide attempt, nor have I ever had a recurrence of a depressive episode as severe as the one that I had in 1998.  By no means do I believe that I am “depression-proof”; no one knows what tribulations may befall them in the future, but it’s clear to me that years of reflective introspection and personal growth have equipped me with valuable insights, habits and tools that help to safeguard me against the self-defeating thought patterns that led up to my depression and suicide attempt over eighteen years ago.  I have developed other habits over the years that have also helped me to remain well in a sustainable way.  I transformed my diet to consist mostly of plant based foods full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I became an avid distance runner.  I worked to cultivate a habit of unconditional self-acceptance as well as the practice of consciously acknowledging things in my life that I am grateful for on a daily basis.  Recognizing the dangers inherent in becoming isolated, I committed myself to remaining connected and communicative with my family and close friends.  Maybe most importantly, I have promised myself and those I love that I will never hesitate to ask for help from them or a professional caregiver if I need it.

afsp_logo_blue92-53-41-17-1Unlike when my silence about my suicidal crisis over eighteen years ago almost led to my demise, now I view the act of asking for help as a sign of courage and strength.  This belief led me to join the Speakers Bureau of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention where I deliver talks at area high schools and colleges about the warning signs of suicide with the aims of reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and lowering the suicide rate.  I see making myself vulnerable to the potentially negative judgments of others by publicly sharing about my past as a powerful way to offer hope to people who are suffering, and to encourage them to seek help.

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Last Friday was National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, and I had the pleasure of spending it meeting and speaking with some wonderful people at the world renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  A fellow American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Greater Philadelphia Chapter Speakers Bureau volunteer and I shared important information about the problem of suicide in children and young adults, as well as about the various training programs and resources that the AFSP provides to healthcare professionals, educators and the general public.  I was inspired by the people I met today and their sincere desire to make a difference in doing what they can, to help people struggling with suicidality.  I look forward to participating in additional events at CHOP in the near future!

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American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Speakers Bureau Volunteer

On Friday, April 17th, seventeen years, one month and fifteen days since my nearly fatal suicide attempt, I spoke publicly, for the first time, about it, at Lower Moreland High School in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  The prior week I had participated in a training session conducted by members of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the leading, national non-profit in suicide awareness and prevention  in the U.S.  The training was provided for people who want to aid the AFSP’s mission by speaking on behalf of the organization and the cause, whenever needed.  Beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, a new Pennsylvania law going into effect will require at least four hours of suicide prevention training every five years for professional educators of students in grades 6-12.

The training that I helped conduct at Lower Moreland High School is named:  More Than Sad: Suicide Prevention Education for Teachers and Other School Personnel.  It teaches those who work in schools about suicide in young people and how they can help to prevent it.  The training consists of very useful and easy to understand information, delivered via a slide presentation and a short video as well.  I look forward to the opportunity to deliver this invaluable training many times this year in and around Philadelphia.

If you would like more information about the AFSP or the More Than Sad Suicide Prevention training program, please click here to navigate to their website.

17 years, 1 month, and 15 days since my suicide attempt, I’m off to speak in person for the first time about suicide at a Philly area high school!!

Auditorium at lower Moreland high school before the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Philly chapter training event for staff and teachers.