A Family Working To Prevent Teen Suicide
The Brian O’Neill Jr Foundation has a simple mission: to empower individuals and their families to help prevent suicide in youth and young adults. For Lee O’Neill, the president of the foundation, this mission is personal. Her son Brian was a typical kid, with many friends. He played saxophone, was athletic, and loved the outdoors. He was constantly helping others. In 2018, he died by suicide at age 23.
Through the foundation, O’Neill hopes “to make a change in our community, make a cultural change that includes strength-based messaging, to promote being kind to yourself, and to believe in your worth.” In its first year, the foundation is introducing three evidenced-based suicide prevention programs to the Eastern Panhandle.
“We worked with American Foundation for Suicide Prevention-WV to bring the Sources of Strength program to Musselman High School this year,” said O’Neill. “This program is about hope, health, strength, and connections. We had the national trainers come to Musselman to train our adult advisors and student peer leaders. The peer leaders learned to identify and define strengths for themselves, to help build resilience to get them safely through hard times, times of crisis, times of struggle. They learned how to identify and connect to trusted adults, mentors and resources.”
“Our peer leaders then did a few campaigns in the school to spread this strength-based messaging to other students,” O’Neill continued. “These were amazing teens, and I am so proud of each of them for being vulnerable to this process and willing to be a leader in our community. We are working with the school system and Sources of Strength to continue this program in Musselman and will be coming up with some creative ways of implementation to accommodate the changes in the schedules. We hope to eventually bring this program to the other middle and high schools in the Eastern Panhandle.”
“The second program we are introducing this year is SafeTALK, a half-day workshop for adults, to educate community members about how to identify an individual in crisis or at risk for suicide, and about the resources available to assist that person.” O’Neill emphasized that, “This is not about making mini-counselors in our area, it is about making people more aware and connecting people to agencies or resources that will be able to help get that at-risk individual through the crisis and back on the right track.”
“Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is a follow-on program to the SafeTALK training,” added O’Neill. “Later this month, the foundation is hosting Barry Faucet and Michelle Toman from Suicide Prevention West Virginia and Brother Up for a two-day training session to teach direct intervention skills for community members.”
The Brian O’Neill Jr Foundation is organizing the Stronger With Each Step 5K Run to raise funds for its programs, to be held September 5 in Shepherdstown. This event is planned as a physical race, but there is a contingency plan in place if health guidelines change. Participant registration is open and sponsor opportunities are available. Register here for the 5K event. For details on registering for the programs mentioned above, visit the the foundation’s website or Facebook.By Staff Contributor