Suicide Survivors Urge Open Conversations, Awareness Around Mental Health
Five women whose lives have been intimately, irreversibly touched by youth suicide — two by their own attempts and three by deaths of family members — spoke candidly about their experiences on a panel in Palo Alto Wednesday night, urging others to speak with the same candor about the oft-silenced topics of suicide and mental illness.
“Talking about suicide is what we all need to start doing, and talking about mental health conditions,” said Mary Ojakian, a Palo Alto resident whose son died by suicide as a college student in 2004. “That is where we need to go: understanding and awareness, which is pretty easy to get, for everyone.”
The panel featured Ojakian, who along with her husband Vic have become staunch mental-health advocates locally and statewide; Kathleen Blanchard, a Palo Alto resident whose son died by suicide as a Gunn High School student in 2009; Melissa Seligman, a Los Altos resident whose daughter died by suicide as a college student in 2006; Taylor Chiu, a Palo Alto High School graduate who attempted suicide in high school; Julia Tachibana, also a Paly graduate, whose brother died by suicide as a high schooler in 2003; and Robin Fox, a Gavilan College student who attempted suicide at age 15.
The catalyst for the panel was conversations between Ojakian and Ramsey Khasho, director of The Center at CHC, about her lived experience with suicide. He realized, he told an audience Wednesday night, that many others could benefit from hearing from survivors directly in a honest, open conversation.
The event, hosted by Palo Alto nonprofit Children’s Health Council (CHC), aimed to break stigma and increase awareness about these difficult topics. The five women, from an 18 year old to grown adults, have all been spurred to action by their trauma or loss, making it their mission to accomplish both of those goals.