Hope Travels: Joel Frieders Talks About Suicide

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Since last year, Yorkville Alderman and Hope For The Day Agent of Impact, Joel Frieders has relentlessly advocated for suicide prevention, exemplifying Hope For The Day’s core mission to be proactive and ignite the conversation on mental health in our communities. In his second term as a City Council member, Joel has chosen to use his platform within local government to raise the visibility of resources and break the silence of mental health stigma. When you visit the United City of Yorkville Illinois website, under Mayor Gary J. Golinski’s photo, you’ll find Joel rocking a “TALK ABOUT SUICIDE” T-shirt.

Joel was first affected by mental health at 12 or 13, when a neighbor he looked up to completed suicide. Later he experienced the loss of two people to suicide in high school as well as a college friend in 2013. The breaking point came in July 2017, when he learned that his close friend—the popular and well-liked Chicago musician, Mike Malinowski, had completed suicide. This loss left Joel and his friend group reeling with questions like, “Why was he so miserable, why didn’t we know about it? And why couldn’t I do anything about it?”

In the wake of Mike’s death, Joel felt a personal responsibility to pull his resources and use his position within local government to prevent future tragedies from occuring. “I have to use the seat I am sitting in for as much positivity as possible,” he said. In August 2017 he asked Mayor Golinski if he could write a proclamation to support the national movement of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Within three weeks Joel had drafted the proclamation and reached out to every elected official he knew, asking them to sign on to the proclamation to recognize September as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Along with the United City of Yorkville, 24 Illinois cities, 2 Illinois counties, the State of Illinois, as well as the cities of Ft. Wayne, Indiana and Canton, Georgia adopted and publically read the proclamation at their council meetings.

During a 2017 council meeting in which he was honored for his suicide prevention activism, Joel spoke about his grief and mission:

“I want to do all that I can to make sure no one has to hold these same feelings inside of them . . . so I am formally and publicly asking that if you are ever in a place where you consider harming yourself or anyone else due to things that are beyond your control, to call me before you act upon those thoughts. The world might suck sometimes when you’re around. But without you, it would most definitely suck.”

This year Joel started sooner, ensuring the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month Proclamation Project reached as many municipalities as possible. With recurring approval by Mayor Golinski, he began outreach in April by representing the entire City Council in a letter addressed to numerous city and state governing bodies. In the letter he asks municipalities to consider reading the proclamation at a public meeting sometime within National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and publicly recognizing the importance of talking about mental health to break the stigma. He writes:

“It is my and my Yorkville colleagues’ intention to help rid the world of the stigma of uncomfortable topics. If you as an elected official can remind your constituents that it’s OK to not be OK, and that there are people trained in discussing matters most find uncomfortable, maybe you will have a hand in saving the life of someone you love.”

On April 24, the first 2018 readings of the proclamation took place at Yorkville, Plano, and Batavia, IL council meetings— and this was just the beginning. In the months that followed, 78 Illinois cities signed on to the proclamation along with city and county municipalities across the nation, from Phoenix, Arizona to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Today, a total of 196 cities, 13 counties, and 26 states have adopted the proclamation to discuss mental health and honor those impacted by mental health and suicide.

In regards to the city of Yorkville alone Joel says, “19,000 thousand people isn’t a lot of people, but there are 19,000 people that now have a city government—of 8 alderman and 1 mayor—that recognize the fact that suicide is a problem and there are services available in our community.”

The extensiveness of Joel’s reach is palpable through the numbers and outpouring of support received in emails and phone calls from elected officials who have personally been affected by mental health and suicide. Along the way Joel has also formed meaningful friendships with individuals currently participating in prevention initiatives and implementing mental health care programs and services in their communities.

In one instance, the mayor of Farmington Hills Michigan, Mayor Ken Massey PhD., answered Joel’s outreach letter explaining the mental health challenges they have faced in their community, including the loss of Mayor Massey’s son to suicide. In response to his loss, the mayor helped develop a citizen committee called Farmington “Suicide Awareness For Everyone” (SAFE) in 2010. The goal of SAFE and its Suicide Prevention Task Force is to provide a platform for conversation and resources around suicide. According to the mayor, since the committee’s inception, the city has seen a 42% increase in hospital check-ins and treatment enrollment for mental health care.

 Jonny Boucher, HFTD Founder and Joel Frieders, Yorkville Alderman.

Jonny Boucher, HFTD Founder and Joel Frieders, Yorkville Alderman.

The real impact of The National Suicide Prevention Proclamation is that it puts a conversation about mental health and suicide into public record. Because one of the highest risk factors of suicide is the silence of stigma surrounding mental health, it is imperative that our communities know that nobody is immune to mental health challenges and we are in this together. We must work as a community to create safe spaces where we can communicate our feelings and ensure that our friends, family members, and neighbors feel supported and are directed to resources before crisis.

In an interview with 95.9 FM The River, Joel re-introduces himself: “My name is Joel Frieders, I’m 38 years old, I live in Yorkville, IL, I have a beautiful wife and three awesome kids, I started therapy in January 2018.” In an inspired response, radio show host, Scott Mackay follows suit, stating, “I’m Scott Mackay, I’m 56, I’ve been in counseling for a little while myself, dating back to the 90s.” No matter who you are, mental health can affect your life and breaking the stigma starts with conversations like this—where two people are able to connect over life experiences and admit they have faced mental health challenges.

As a Hope For The Day Agent of Impact, Joel supports Hope For The Day’s proactive suicide prevention outreach, education, and activism initiatives. We stand with Joel in his effort to drive the conversation in our communities, and we honor those affected by mental health and suicide through the month of September and onward.

For a constantly updated list on communities participating in The 2018 National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month Proclamation Project, click here.

To become an Agent of Impact click here.

Sydni Budelier