Fountain House Looks for Answers to Suicide

Posted on May 5, 2016 by Ashley Womble

Over the past few years, the annual Fountain House Symposium and Luncheon has become New York’s leading forum addressing the issues of serious mental illness. This year’s Symposium and Luncheon, held Monday May 2nd, was a resounding success. It was both well attended, with more than 500 guests, and highly informative. From a fundraising perspective, it was truly spectacular, raising more $1 million to support our innovative approach to improving the lives of people with serious mental illness.

This year’s topic, “Suicide: Looking for Answers” was both humbling and hopeful. Preventing suicide – and giving people with mental illness a reason to live –  is the underlying goal of all the work our members, staff, and donors do every day. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death, tragically ending the lives of more than 40,000 Americans each year. According to the Center for Disease Control, people with mental illness account for the overwhelming majority of deaths by suicide. Suicide is a preventable tragedy. Fountain House’s programs give people with serious mental illness a reason for living.

Consuelo Mack, the founder and Executive Producer of Consuelo Mack WealthTrack, was the Master of Ceremonies. She began the program by saying, “Fountain House is all about life, recovery, and hope. They recognize that suicide is real and it affects all of us.”

Although the suicide rate is at a 30-year high, our panelists Dr. Maria Oquendo, Dr. Thomas Joiner, and Kevin Hines shared their promising research and inspirational stories.

 Dr. Maria Oquendo, Sheila Nevins, Rosie O'Donnell, Dr. Thomas Joiner, and Kevin Hines, Consuelo Mack

Dr. Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Vice-Chair at Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, addressed the neurobiology of suicide during her presentation. She discussed the research she does on biomarkers (measurable indicators of the presence of disease or disease risk) as neurobiological predictors of suicide.

The second panelist was Dr. Thomas Joiner, the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. He has authored or edited seventeen books, including Why People Die by Suicide, Myths About Suicide, Lonely at the Top and The Perversion of Virtue: Understanding Murder-Suicide. Dr. Thomas Joiner discussed some of the biggest myths about suicide.

Dr. Joiner also discussed the importance of community in suicide prevention. “Small doses of connection and caring can make someone feel like they belong. Those are Fountain House values,” he said.

Last, but certainly not least, Kevin Hines shared his powerful story of surviving a suicide attempt. Two years after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Kevin attempted to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. He is one of only 34 (less than 1%) to survive the fall and he is the only Golden Gate Bridge jump survivor who is actively spreading the message of living mentally healthy internationally. In the summer of 2013, he released his bestselling memoir titled Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt.

Sheila Nevins and Rosie O'Donnell

Every year, we present someone with the Fountain House Humanitarian Award at the Symposium and Luncheon. This year we honored Sheila Nevins, President of HBO Documentary Films, for her exemplary work advancing community knowledge about mental illness and reducing the associated stigma. The award was presented by her good friend, comedian, actress, and philanthropist Rosie O'Donnell. Rosie acknowledged the importance of our cause during her introduction and shared that she suffers from depression and PTSD.

Sheila is the executive producer of the Academy Award®-winning documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Boy Interrupted, and the upcoming film Every Brilliant Thing, all of which courageously and insightfully explore the challenging topic of suicide. She has received more Primetime Emmy Awards than anyone in history.

“I like to do films about empathy, that make people care about others, because that is the best part of who we are,” she said in her acceptance speech.

Alexandra A. Herzan, Kitty de Chazal, Carolyn B. MacKenzie, Lorna Hyde Graev, Anne Mai, Ilyse Wilpon Patricia Begley

Our Symposium and Luncheon Co-Founders, Lorna Hyde Graev and Lynn Nicholas, PsyD, began this event to advance community knowledge about mental illness and to reduce the associated stigma. It has now become the premier lay forum for the discussion of the illness in New York City and Fountain House’s most important fundraiser. Our dedicated Chairs, Patricia Begley, Kitty de Chazal, Alexandra A. Herzan, Podie Lynch, Carolyn B. MacKenzie, Anne Mai, and Ilyse Wilpon, worked tirelessly to ensure the event’s success.

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