I haven’t written in a while. I have spent the last few months completely overwhelmed. But, last week, I was finally able to find myself and my voice again.
On April 5, I made the four hour drive to Tallahassee to participate in the Florida State Capital Day hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I had been looking forward to this event for months, but I was also extremely nervous about it. The only other times I have been to Tallahassee is with my brother, Erik. Erik went to and graduated from Florida State University. I remember his graduation day well. Not only did this place live close to his heart, and therefore close to mine, I was getting ready to tell my story in a very important arena, a political one. Would I be able to keep my composure as I spoke to local legislators about something so emotional? Would every corner I turned on the streets of Tallahassee remind me of Erik? Could I handle it?
When I arrived, before even checking into my hotel, I stopped at FSU. I wanted to acknowledge this place that played such a huge role in Erik’s life. (I hope to go on to FSU to get my Master’s degree to honor this relationship as well.) I left some ashes beside, and took a few moments to think about the excitement that surrounded him on this campus when I would visit. I honestly couldn’t think of a better spot in Tallahassee to leave a piece of him behind (and major thanks to David, one of Erik’s best friends for the location idea). With this campus visit, I shed the only tears I would shed this whole trip.
The next morning, dressed in Erik’s shirt, I headed towards the Florida State Capital Building, ready to spread the word on the importance of suicide prevention. Many people were taken aback when I told them I was only 14 months out from my loss and already participating in the advocacy program. But, I was more ready than I knew.
- Banning of conversion therapy, which treats homosexuality as a mental illness even though it is not and shouldn’t be treated as one
- An increase to $25million in the budget for mental health spending (Florida is currently ranked 50th for their per capita spending for mental health)
- An increase in budget for University Counseling Centers (suicide is the second leading cause of death for college age students)
- Inclusion of disorders like PTSD in worker’s compensation coverage for first responders (who are more likely to die by suicide than on the job)
My first meeting ended up being with a Legal Aid for a State Representative (in the House of Representatives). I was paired with a veteran and we were both able to share our stories and explain the importance of our asks. While we were disappointed we didn’t get to meet with the representative, we were pleased with our meeting.
Then, I met with representative Mike De Rosa who has already sponsored several mental health bills. Tara, someone who I consider to be a great new friend was with me. I can’t express enough how much her support has meant to me. We brought bills to his attention that he was unaware of, and he told us that we had his full support on all of our asks. After my individual meetings, I helped deliver literature to senators and representatives across the capital building.
I overheard a statistic that all of the Florida AFSP walks combined do not make $1 million a year (yet). But, in this one day, we could have upped the budget for mental health to $25 million! That is just huge. How rewarding to be able to speak to someone who can directly do something to make changes. I am more motivated than ever now that I finally feel confident and have found my voice. I know my statistics. I know my story. I know what’s at stake and I know I need to keep fighting. Here’s to many more opportunities for advocacy and to being one of the many soldiers fighting against suicide!