Every year nearly 37,000 people die by suicide and 90% of people that die by suicide had a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their death.
Today, I attended the Mental Health Matters Legislative Advocacy Day in Albany. Every year the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Mental Health Association of New York State (MHANYS) put on this event that allows people's voices and stories be heard. I had the honor of attending not only as Miss Empire Rose 2012 but as a sitting board member on the AFSP board of directors. They had me manage a table with another board member that had tons of information about suicide and AFSP. I was able to meet so many people, listen to their stories and answer their questions about AFSP and also my crown and platform!
One of the most memorable things about today was listening to a young women give a speech about her story and why mental health matters to her. While she was serving our country she was a victim of sexual abuse which led her to be diagnosed with depression, she told her story and how she was fortunate enough to get the help she needed to get better.
I loved seeing several high schools attend the Mental Health Matters Day. The Yellow Ribbon Group is a team of teens advocating for suicide prevention and awareness, I felt so honored to be asked to get a picture with the group and we had a fun time laughing at my mom struggling with her camera! Just a few years ago, my junior year in high school, I was attending this event...this event opened the door for me to be able to talk about my experiences with suicide throughout my life. It helped me realize that it's okay to talk about suicide. If I had never attended this event a few years ago, I would have never had the courage to choose this as my platform, because I would still be keeping my experiences locked up in a closet. This is what we need, we need schools to become more involved with suicide prevention and awareness and mental health. We need to educate students, teachers and health professionals about mental illness and suicide. Knowledge is power, it will save lives.
After the guest speakers, we proceeded to the Capitol steps, where I was able to share my experience with suicide and tell everyone why mental health matters to me. I admit, I was nervous! Thanks to the help of a board member, I was able to get over my fears and stand up in front of everyone and tell them my story...I have to say it was one of the best feelings. It was also an opportunity for other people to tell their story and that's what is so wonderful about this day, people are able to stand on the Capitol steps and let their story be heard. We proceeded to march around the Capitol building chanting "MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS" and it was wonderful to see people walking on the streets start to chant and join in this fight with us!
I had the honor of meeting with Senator Hugh Farley and I felt like a million dollars when I felt he was just as honored to meet me. We discussed my platform of Suicide Prevention and Awareness and why we were there for Mental Health Matters Day. I remember meeting with Senator Hugh Farley in 4th grade and again my junior year in high school for Mental Health Matters Day, he's still the man I remember, caring, compassionate and so knowledgeable! After getting a nice picture in front of the biggest clock I've ever seen, he gave me a little history lesson about the room we were in...the New York State Senate Chamber. It was hard to believe that I was standing inside a room that was proclaimed the "most beautiful room in America" and what made that even more unbelievable is that the original carpet in the chamber was made in Amsterdam New York, right near my hometown of Broadalbin!!
After a wonderful meeting with Senator Hugh Farley, I met with Assembly Member Marc Butler, I was amazed with how he listened to me with open ears and an open heart. I could tell that he knew how important mental health is and agreed that there need for suicide prevention and awareness.
Thank you AFSP and MHANYS for having me at the Mental Health Matters Legislative Advocacy Day in Albany. It's definitely an experience I will always remember and I can't wait to attend next year!
For more information about AFSP, you can visit www.afsp.org.
For more information about MHANYS, you can visit www.mhanys.org.