BATAVIA – Blythe Miller said if she knew as much about suicide prevention as she does today, her daughter would be alive.
Quincee Ariel Barnes-Miller would have been a Batavia High School senior this year. She died because of suicide her sophomore year.
Miller spoke about her experience Tuesday at the Suicide Awareness Community Assembly at Batavia High School.
“Many never seek help because of the stigma and shame,” she said. “We need to change negative attitudes and demonstrate that people with mental illness are everyday people leading meaningful lives.”
She was joined by Donna Wagner, another parent who lost a child to suicide, a suicide survivor and a representative from Suicide Prevention Services in Batavia. The assembly was organized by the Future Educators Association in an effort to raise awareness about suicide and break the stigma that surrounds it.
Wagner, who lost her son, Dylan, when he was 15, said she never would have described her son as depressed, sad or suicidal. She said he had talked to friends about being depressed and wanting to hurt himself, and she was sad her son didn’t trust her enough to tell her.
She encouraged those at the assembly to tell someone if they know people who want to hurt themselves.
“If you notice a change in a friend, or someone tells you they are in so much pain, or are depressed or wants to hurt themselves, tell someone,” she said. “There are people who care. Our family lives with the pain of Dylan’s suicide every day.”
Rachel Hathaway, 17, who graduated early from Batavia High School in January, described how she carefully hid her depression and suicidal thoughts from family and friends. She lost interest in school and soccer and her sleep habits drastically changed. She said small problems that she usually would have brushed aside suddenly felt like huge hurdles.
“I was stuck inside a world that I absolutely hated, and I just wanted to be left alone,” she said.
To cope, she started to cut herself and covered her scars with jewelry, clothing and makeup. She even set a date for when she planned to commit suicide. Hathaway said she attended an Operation Snowball retreat and decided to open up.
“It was the hardest and best choice I ever made,” she said.
She eventually contacted Suicide Prevention Services and through weekly counseling, she learned how to step back from a situation before it escalates. She said some days are more of a struggle than others, and it’s still a work in progress.
“I can’t take on my problems alone,” she said. “I had depression, but that doesn’t define me.”
Mari Wittum, director of clinical services with Suicide Prevention Services in Batavia, said 80 to 90 percent of people who try to take their lives tell someone about it. She said the best thing to do is talk about suicide and to listen to those who talk about it.
Miller said she copes with the loss of her daughter by attending a grief group and surrounding herself with people who understand what she’s going through.
“It does get better. Life does get easier,” she said. “Just because you had a bad day doesn’t mean it’s not worth waiting to see what tomorrow brings.”