New suicide prevention program offers hope, healing
If you were gone, what would you have missed? A St. Petersburg woman is helping fellow suicide attempt survivors identify and celebrate that answer through multimedia and personal connections.
What I Would Have Missed is the name of a new nonprofit organization, campaign and vision to create a world full of hope, healing and happiness for the people who need it most. Julie Rocco’s ultimate goal is to build a global movement that helps prevent suicides, and promotes mental wellness through community collaborations and courageous conversations.
The program is well on its way. The official Facebook group has gained over 6,000 international followers in its first two months. Its recently launched podcast features several intimate interviews with people who encounter the same daily struggles.
“I’m hopeful that by sharing our stories, by creating a context and a platform, we will be able to save more lives,” Rocco explained. “There are many individuals who carry this journey, that carry this story, often with a stigma or shame.”
She noted that many attempt survivors try again as the fear is gone and hopes for a better, brighter future become increasingly fleeting. The Facebook group, website and podcast allow people who have attempted suicide or struggle with that ideation to reflect on aspects of life – from birthdays to sunsets to music – they would have missed if their life ended.
Rocco also believes in the power of artistic expression and will issue a call for artists who have fought or continue to fight those same demons to join her mission in the coming days. While she plans to start in St. Petersburg, Rocco envisions a traveling exhibit showcasing art that almost never existed.
St. Petersburg’s Arts Xchange will dedicate its campus to a What I Would Have Missed art show in September.
“In my moment of giving up, I didn’t know what I was giving up,” she said. “Everything is too far away and too removed. Too dark. You cannot see beyond your pain.”
The project’s mission could not be more personal. In 2009, Rocco returned home one day and found her partner dead from suicide.
That led to a downward spiral fueled by loss, guilt and pain until she attempted to take her own life. Fortunately, someone found her and brought her to an emergency room. Once released, Rocco received mandated mental health services that helped her gain hope, healing and happiness.
Sharing her story in the podcast’s first episode was important to Rocco, as many people compartmentalize their struggles.
“It’s a chapter closed,” she added. “For many, that’s the survival of it, and I don’t diminish that.”
Rocco doesn’t want people to travel that journey alone and said What I Would Have Missed creates a collective consciousness of courage.
Including family, friends and colleagues who share their perspective of what they would have missed had someone successfully taken their own life is another critical aspect. Rocco also wants to identify “how many degrees of separation are there from suicide.”
“You don’t know, was that building created by someone who tried to attempt suicide and survived?” asked Rocco from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus. “We would have missed that architect. We would have missed that fountain.
“So, the idea of what I Would Have Missed becomes this broader perspective of ‘I would have missed a lot of things had somebody died from suicide – I’m living in a world, and I’m not even aware of It.'”
In addition to artists, Rocco is also searching for mental health partners to help guide decisions and programming. She is also funding the project herself and could use financial support.
She said the project is already resonating across the nation and globe, as there is no shortage of people who want to connect, not feel ashamed and feel like a “tribe” is accompanying them on the road to appreciating life’s ups and downs.
Rocco stressed the importance of creating connections with people who understand the struggles and grief accompanying that journey and said she still hurts nearly 14 years after losing her partner. She lamented the people who ask when she will completely get over those feelings.
“I’m trying to navigate the conversation to a more celebratory space,” Rocco said. “Talk to people like myself, and we’ll say ‘we didn’t want to die. We just wanted the pain to end.’”
She explained that adopting a new outlook is exponentially more difficult alone and without the proper tools. Rocco added it is not enough to promise loved ones that you will never attempt suicide again – so they are not filled with anxiety every time you are unavailable.
While that was all she could muster at one point, she now wants to help others do more than survive and live a vibrant life. When Rocco reminisces on recent experiences, she called it crazy to think of all the great things she would have missed.
It is never easy. Rocco noted people often befriend their depression and intrusive thoughts, which underscores the need for the “collective” she is creating.
She said people trust the podcasts are a safe space, and conversations typically run longer than planned. Suicide attempt survivors, and those who have lost loved ones to suicide, post encouraging quotes and offer personal thoughts in the Facebook group.
“That’s really powerful, too,” added Rocco. “They will say, ‘you missed Thanksgiving at Mom’s when we went for a walk. Or you missed your cousin’s wedding.
“I’m just trying to – I don’t want to say, ‘normalize conversations about mental health,’ I think that is kind of overused – I’m trying to amplify the need to create connections.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline immediately by dialing 988.
For more information on What I Would Have Missed, visit the website here.
February 26, 2023at9:22 pm
Brava, Julie. This will save untold numbers of individuals and spare their families and loved ones from grief.