BY KEVIN MCCONLOGUE
While the holiday season can be a time of joy for a lot of people, it can also be a time of isolation and pain for others. There have been 42 suicide attempts in Wyoming County since July 1, and the Family Service Association of NEPA wants people to know that help is always available for someone who may need it.
Tom Foley is the director of helpline services for the organization, and he said that if you or anyone you know is going through depression or having suicidal thoughts, dial PA 211.
The NEPA 211 covers 17 counties, and is staffed with mental health counselors 24/7 that are trained in any crisis that a person may be having. Those counselors will also be able to transfer you to an agency that may be able to help the person further.
“There are times when the call is very serious and we need to conference other mental health agencies, but our counselors are trained for most crises,'” Foley said. “The first step to getting help is making that phone call, and our agency is always here to help.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FSA said that calls have increased this year, which they attribute to all of the time spent in isolation, which is where a lot of issues can come up. They also contribute the isolation to a rise in opioid abuse in 2020.
“This year we have found a lot of depression connected to the use of drugs,” FSA CEO Gertrude McGowan said. “No one should ever be afraid to seek help, that’s what 211 is all about. Individuals shouldn’t be embarrassed, they are doing this to save themselves.”
Suicide has affected a lot of families, some of those families want to get involved in raising awareness so other families don’t have to go through the same pain.
That reason is why Teressa Ruspi started the Lou Ruspi Jr. Foundation in honor of her brother, who took his own life on Dec. 21, 2011.
“Suicide is a choice, they don’t want to end their life, they just want to end the pain,” Ruspi said. “And to know that my brother was in such pain, that he thought the only way to stop it was to end his life, brought me so much shock, anger and confusion,”
Ruspi said that getting the phone call that her brother had taken his own life was one of the worst moments of her own life.
“The world was spinning and moving in slow motion,” Ruspi said. “You have no idea how to process it, so the first thing that you do is go into a period of denial, which leaves you so confused.”
Because Lou’s death took place so close to Christmas, the holidays can be a tough time for the entire Ruspi family, even if they try to remember all of the good times that were had.
“Holidays and birthdays can be an awful time for families of suicide victims,” Ruspi noted. “Those first couple years after you realize there are no new memories to make, and how much of his life that Lou still had in front of him. It’s family time that we’ll never be able to have again. That hurts the most.”
When the Ruspi family started the Lou Ruspi Jr. Foundation in 2012, they did so to process what happened, and to help raise awareness for mental health education.
Every year, the foundation goes around giving presentations at area schools trying to get teenagers to open up about things such as anxiety and depression.
“Mental health can cripple someone to the point of depression, bullying, anxiety and self harm,” Ruspi said. “We are trying to create programs so kids feel comfortable talking about this stuff and bring them together.”
For all the work that has been done bringing awareness to suicide, depression and mental health, there are still ways where everyone can do better according to the FSA.
“People have to know that there is no such thing as a stupid phone call,” Foley said. “If someone has a concern, they can dial 211 to have it addressed. The hardest part is taking that first step in getting help.”
Besides dialing 211, people can text 898-211 or go to www.pa211.org to get in touch with the hotline. All of these numbers are available 24/7.