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Former New Canaan Resident Puts A New Spin on Helping Families Prevent Suicide

A brother organizes a ride to raise awareness and erase stigma from mental illness.

 

Until it affects someone you know or love, suicide might not be something you give much thought to on a daily basis, but if you're former New Canaan resident Jeremy Brittain, it's something you think about every day.

Last Halloween, Brittain's younger sister Sarah, 34, attempted to end her life. She had recently moved home to her parent's house in Guilford after leaving a job and life in New York City. While her parents and family knew she was suffering from some depression, there were no obvious signs of the greater struggle she was battling.

"You think of depressed people as hiding in their rooms and sleeping all day," Jeremy Brittain said in a recent interview, "but Sarah wasn't like that." Like many other families who are touched by an attempt or a suicide, the Brittains were first shocked to learn that she wanted to end her life and then were shaken by the news that she might not survive.

Brittain's parents discovered her the morning after her attempt and rushed her to the hospital, and for weeks the family did not know if she would pull through. Brittain spent the first four weeks in the Intensive Care Unit and then spent an additional seven months in the hospital due to her injuries.

During that time, Jeremy posted a blog about his sister's recovery to help share the information with family and friends.  "I posted a new photo of Sarah each day with an update on her situation because it was hard to keep track of who knew what and it was really hard reliving the experience each time someone called," he said.

The blog, though private, is still updated with her progress on a weekly basis. While she continues to improve, Sarah has a long road ahead of her. She is able to live at home with her parents, but doctors do not know if she will ever be able to drive a car, hold a job, or even make her own meals again. She undergoes outpatient rehabilitation several times a week and the family remains hopeful. "I look back at the blog and see how far she's come," says Brittain, who is comforted by the knowledge that Sarah lived. "It would be much harder on the family if the outcome had been different."

Like others who are touched by diseases, Brittain decided to channel his energy toward raising money for suicide prevention. An avid cyclist, he noticed that while the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosted a series of walks, there were no bike rides. With the encouragement of his wife, Jeremy decided to found an organization he named SPOKES, which stands for Suicide Prevention: Our Knowledge Erases Stigma, and the bike ride idea was formed.

The ride will be held in Fairfield on Sunday, September 19, beginning at 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. The rides are 12 and 35 miles and trace a route through Fairfield and Southport. There are 32 riders registered for the event.  

Work began in May and Brittain has now raised $18,000, just shy of the $20,000 goal he set in the spring. Brittain was able to secure two corporate sponsors who are covering expenses associated with the ride so all of the money raised by the bikers will go directly to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and their research, education, and awareness programs.

Brittain hopes to make the ride an annual event despite the stigma that may surround suicide. "Look at how far AIDS has come in the last 20 years," he said. He's hoping for similar growth in suicide awareness and prevention.

While generating publicity for the ride, Brittain was touched by how many people shared a personal story of how suicide affected their families. "People don't talk about it," he said. Thanks to his efforts and those of the SPOKES participants, maybe now they will.

 

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