CINCINNATI -- Cathy Lindemann was a senior in high school when she learned the unimaginable: Her older brother had taken his own life.
“Back then, mental health really wasn’t spoken about at all,” said Lindemann, a retired chemistry teacher. “It could have been prevented.”
Now she shares her family’s story with local teens as a volunteer for SEAS (Stay Educated About Suicide) the Day Foundation, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit that aims to raise awareness of suicide prevention through outreach and education programs.
She sees it as a way to advocate for the grieving families suicide leaves behind and as an avenue to help spread a message of hope.
“The kids can relate to my message because I was right where they are, in high school, when my life changed,” said Lindemann, of Erlanger. “It’s real. I can say to them, ‘My life was normal, just like yours, and then this happened.’”
Suicide is happening in more and more families across the U.S., according to Dania Barazi, SEAS the Day’s founder, and victims are getting younger. Data released by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention last year listed suicide as the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24.
The statistics are staggering, but there is a silver lining. It comes in the form of education and awareness, Barazi said.
“Resources are available,” she said. “Demand has increased for our education programs because more schools are being affected by suicide. More are being proactive.”
SEAS the Day started about four years ago. It partners with mental health professionals, like Florence-based Silver Linings Professional Counseling Services, and works with other suicide prevention groups and agencies to provide support to middle and high schools. Together, they offer suicide awareness and prevention presentations and workshops to both student groups and school faculty. Additionally, they help provide emergency crisis relief services for schools in the event of a student death caused by suicide.
Ryle High School hosts presentations and monthly SEAS the Day workshops for its students. Sadly, the high school has also called on the organization to help students cope with the loss of a classmate to suicide.
Losing a student to suicide is devastating to an entire school community, said Tammy Dorgan, a certified counselor who teaches psychology at Ryle.
“The worst part is seeing that empty desk,” she said through tears.
Having trained counselors available during those dark days is an invaluable resource, she added.
Through their grief, Ryle has come together to make suicide prevention a priority. School groups, like its National Honor Society, have shown support with projects and fundraisers. Students also stay connected to SEAS the Day with once-a-month workshops that focus on coping with stress and anxiety, and recognizing possible warning signs in someone thinking about suicide.
“The workshops help provide us with tools to deal with the day-to-day stress we all encounter,” said Ryle senior Heidi Sand. “They provide a really comfortable environment where it’s easy to open up.”
Opening the lines of communication is important with teens, Dorgan said. And it’s not always easy. SEAS the Day helped them get the ball rolling, she said.
“Teenagers seem to have a code. They don’t like to involve adults in their problems,” she said. “Getting them to open up is often the first step.”
Suicide is an especially difficult topic not just for teens, but also their parents, said Julie Feinauer, a guidance counselor at St. Henry District High School. SEAS the Day presented at St. Henry for the first time last month.
“It’s a scary word to use,” Feinauer said. “Suicide is an important topic, though. We need to talk about it, and fight it head on with education and prevention strategies.”
SEAS the Day has been spreading that message to a variety of schools in Northern Kentucky and recently presented at St. Bernard-Elmwood Place Junior/Senior High School in Cincinnati. But its volunteers want to do more. The organization is looking to partner with more mental health professionals and connect with teens in even more local schools.
“We’re a small, mighty resource,” Lindemann said of SEAS the Day. “We just need to build our team, because it’s an important, positive message: Everyone should seize the best part of every day and live life to the fullest.”