the year Robin Williams died. All across news networks, suicide became front & center. Opinions kept silent were now out in the open. “What a tragedy!” “How sad!” “What a coward!” Mental health experts were being asked by media outlets for insight. How could someone who brought joy to so many be that depressed? Over time, it’s been said that Robin’s diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia—a degenerative brain disease—played a crucial part in his suicide. Regardless, people were holding an open discussion about psychological diagnoses and treatment on the news, blogs, Facebook, and at work.
the year my brother died. I was the youngest of 3 brothers: Michael, Jonathan, and Stephen. My brother Michael had been struggling with bipolar disorder for quite some time, experiencing powerful highs and despairing lows. Finding the right medication and dosage was always a difficult transition. At the age of 22, he ended his own life. I remember running into an old friend from High School. I asked, “How’ve you been, Tim?” “Oh well. I got a new job, married my high school sweetheart, and had a kid. And, you,” he asked. “I dropped out of college and my brother died,” I said…silence. Many conversations would end this way. The topic of family would arise. I went from saying “I have 2 brothers” to “had 2 brothers” to “I have a brother.” My conclusion: change the subject and never have these conversations again.
the year I decided to walk. 2 years prior, I was punched in the gut once again. My cousin Matthew committed suicide. Michael was best man at his wedding. He was a 3rd brother in the family. After 10 years of inaction, I needed to do something. I first heard about the Out of the Darkness Walks while attending college. It’s a walk to raise money for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), an organization that supports research, educates the public, advocates for government legislation, and offers programs and resources for people at risk and survivors of suicide coping with the loss. After finding the local AFSP of Central NY, I called my friend Mike Intaglietta about the possibility of joining the CNY walk. Mike and I are both part of the same improv organization, the Syracuse Improv Collective (SIC), and we came to the conclusion: let’s make the next show a fundraiser.
While I feared another set of uncomfortable conversations heading my direction, this was not the case with the Syracuse Improv Collective. There are many in the community whose lives have been affected by suicide or depression, who’ve lost brothers, sisters, friends, family, or considered suicide themselves. I’m constantly amazed at the support and even enthusiasm for helping such a cause. In the last 2 years, performers and audience members have donated generously to suicide prevention. At the fundraiser shows, we’ve had musicians, stand up comedians, artists, and improvisers entertain and even explore the topic, as well as volunteers from the AFSP speak in an effort to help.
I want to thank all those who’ve contributed in the past to further the advancement of mental health. With the 2008 signing of the Mental Health Parity & Addiction Act, health insurances offering mental health coverage have to offer benefits equal to medical and surgical conditions. In addition to psychiatric treatment & therapy, there are community meetings, lifelines, and much much more. If you are in crisis, do not hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you are looking for more information on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention please visit www.afsp.org. To donate to the Syracuse Improv Collective team raising money for the AFSP, visit:
A warm thank you to Stephen Peters for sharing his story. We hope you’ll join us for our show tomorrow night, 10/22, 8PM at The Vault – 451 S. Warren St. All proceeds will benefit AFSP.
Thank you to all the performers, Collectivists, and AFSP volunteers who support the cause and this show. We want to shout out: our host, Anthony DeMario of 107.9; Zeke Leonard of the Tin Can Toucan Twin Cantina, for entertaining & educating us with his folk instrument inventions and songs of the working class; Andrea Springer, for bringing us laughter & catharsis; Meghan, for drawing improvisational art and auctioning it for charity, and improvisers for…well…improvising.