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Survivor of suicide loss spearheads mental health resources for other survivors in Idaho

Posted: 12:35 PM, Jul 11, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-11 16:19:09-04

BOISE, IDAHO — 2017 data by the CDC reports suicide is the second-leading cause of death in Idaho among people ages 15 to 44.

But the sad journey of the surviving loved ones of those who have died can be an isolating and confusing one. Now, survivors are paving the way for others by adding more mental health resources in Idaho-- and one survivor says, in seeking help, she gained hope that she can learn to live again, and not just survive.

"She had the most warm, completely embodying hug-- and that was her signature," said Carmen Stanger-Barney, Public Policy Chair, Idaho Chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

It's been 5 years since Stanger-Barney experienced the unthinkable.

"Nobody ever thinks that. You think to yourself as a parent, 'What would I ever do if this happened to me?' And, 'This happens to other people. It won't happen to me.'"

But, tragically, she lost her 15-year-old daughter Maddie to suicide.

"It was an absolute and complete shock. My whole world caved in," she said.

She described Maddie as her "best buddy," and "sidekick," and says she raised her on her own. In the wake of Maddie's death, Stanger-Barney said she was left with a choice.

"You can fall into that depth of darkness and stay there. Or you can honor and memorialize."

So she honored her in an 18-mile Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Seattle.

"It was amazing to be among other people who had had a similar experience," she said.

Community support and understanding, she found, was key.

"You can embrace that grief, and move through it... I-- all of a sudden-- for the first time since I lost Maddie, became energized."

She became energized to bring resources to Idaho, like the annual Out of the Darkness Walk in Meridian coming up October 12-- as well as two new ones this year:

"In southeast Idaho we've also been able to bring two new walks there," she said.

Stanger-Barney co-founded the Idaho chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, establishing survivor support groups in Idaho.

"Someone who has suffered a loss can contact our Healing Conversations trained survivors and they will be able to help somebody walk through the initial shock," said Stanger-Barney.

So with her daughter's ashes and a photo book of memories she said she takes with her everywhere she goes, she pushes forward with the strength Maddie's memory gives her-- to both save lives and support the mental health of all loved ones.

"I believe that when I see her again, um, it will be a beautiful reunion, and that she will wrap her arms around me and give me that hug that she's so famous for, all-encompassing, heartwarming, and I hope I get a soft whisper that says, 'I'm proud of you, Mom.'"

If you or someone you know is a survivor of loss by suicide and would like to learn more about resources, the Suicide Prevention Program-- together with Idaho Department of Health and Welfare-- (IDHW) created a multi-page packet "Loss Survivor Packet" filled with messages of hope, community, tips, suggestions, and more. The packet is not yet available online but can be requested free-of-charge by calling the department at (208) 334-4938.

Additionally, to learn more about Healing Conversations, click here. If you have questions or would like to connect with the team directly, contact healingconversations@afsp.org .

If you or someone you know is exhibiting warning signs, having thoughts of suicide, or just need to talk, you can text or call the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at (208) 398-4357 to get 24/7 confidential help from professionals.