UB community aims to prevent suicide
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Phil Chearmonte’s passion comes from the loss of his son.
Two years ago, Phil and his wife Linda had their world shaken when their 17-year-old son, Joe, completed suicide – “completed” being the distinction Phil makes in retrospect. In the wake of their son’s death, they had no idea how to react.
Phil said there were two ways he could have responded: he could have kept to himself and tried to move past it, or he could have embraced his story and used it to help others who were going through the same thing.
He chose the latter.
“No matter what we do, I can’t bring Joe back,” Phil said. “The only way we could give back in some way is to share our experience and hopefully save another life.”
Earlier this month, during National Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 9-15), UB and the local community held events aimed at bringing awareness to the causes of suicide. But the UB Student Wellness Team – a group comprised of Student Health Services, Wellness Education Services and Counseling Services – continues to fight to prevent suicide year-round.
Phil has been a committee member on the walk for two years. He is also on the Western New York American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) board. Linda and Phil are UB alumni, and their experience fuels their dedication to educating young people in suicide prevention and awareness.
In addition to working with AFSP, Phil works with local high schools, encouraging students to educate themselves on suicide prevention. He doesn’t want kids to stay silent. He said there is nothing wrong with seeking help and believes communication is essential to preventing suicide. He uses his and his wife’s story to try to get through to parents that what happened to them could happen to anyone.
Although Phil had a great relationship with his son, he is stuck facing the “what ifs.” He wonders if there is one thing he could have said or done differently that could have saved his son. He encourages parents to constantly communicate with their children, because with Joe, there were no clear warning signs of suicide.
“As a society, we like to be prescriptive,” Phil said. “That isn’t always the case with suicide. There isn’t one right way to handle [suicide]. ”
Ryan DiVita, a graduate student in adolescent social studies education at UB, recently had his first experience dealing with suicide. This April, one of his friends – a fellow UB student – completed suicide.
DiVita said there aren’t always blatant signs that someone is contemplating suicide. In his friend’s situation, it was a complete surprise.
“I had seen him a few days prior and I didn’t pick up on anything suspicious,” DiVita said. “We could not believe it because he seemed like such a happy, care-free kid on the outside.”
DiVita said dealing with his friend’s suicide has taught him to pay more attention to the feelings of his friends and people around him. He also said opening up to a friend you are concerned about may allow that person to open up to you.
“People don't realize what spending some time with a friend that needs to talk can do for them,” DiVita said. “They could have much more going on inside than you realize.”
DiVita wears a bracelet every day that says, “It’s the life in your years that counts.” It’s a constant reminder of his friend, which reminds him how to treat his other friends. He encourages people to open up to friends and he said that will help lower suicides rates. He believes if his friend had someone to open up to, his death could have been prevented.
According to research by the National Center for Health Statistics, suicide has passed car accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States.
Since 2004, at least 12 UB students have committed suicide. Between 2006 and 2008, University Police responded to approximately 51 calls about suicide attempts.
Experts are now saying suicide in the college student age range is preventable through understanding.
During the 2009-10 school year, UB surveyed 5,237 students asking various questions pertaining to suicide and mental health. About one-third of students stated there had been a time in the last year they felt so depressed that it was difficult to function. One hundred and eighty-three students reported they seriously considered suicide the past year. Thirty-one students reported attempting suicide in 2010.
Carissa Uschold, a licensed clinical social worker and suicide prevention coordinator for UB Wellness, said suicide is preventable. She said students can learn how to prevent suicide and detect depression.
“It is important to educate yourself regarding signs and symptoms,” Uschold said. “If you are concerned about suicide, it is important to understand that hope and help is available.”
According to AFSP, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among college students, behind unintentional injury and homicide.
Uschold was also the co-chair the AFSP Buffalo Out of the Darkness walk, which raised over $100,000 toward suicide prevention. She and her committee members all have a passion that stems from educating people in order to prevent suicide.