Suicide education, prevention and support
By Sue Baldani
Kevin Urso was a caring, intelligent and sensitive young man who loved people and had a special connection with animals. He found joy in making others feel special and making them laugh. Unfortunately, Kevin also suffered from a deep depression that eventually caused him to take his life at the age of 41.
“We knew that Kevin dealt with some depression,” says his mother, Gail Urso. “He had been diagnosed later in life with depression, but looking back, I think Kevin probably dealt with depression his whole life, but we never had that diagnosis. We had taken him to see some counselors when he was young, but no one ever suggested that he suffered from depression.”
After a visit to Florida to see their son in January of 2013, she and her husband John thought that he was doing better than ever. He was happy, and they had a great time together. “When Kevin died in March, we were devastated beyond belief, but also shocked, because we had not thought that suicide was a possibility.”
They found a note he had written in November or December in which he clearly decided to end his life, so they found out afterwards his happiness was due to relief. “If someone has seemed sad and depressed and very down, and all of sudden they’re very upbeat and seem all better, or if they start giving away their favorite things, those are signs you have to pay attention to,” she says. “But you wouldn’t know that if someone didn’t tell you.” There were other signs as well, such as a dramatic weight loss, that was blamed on gluten intolerance.
She adds, “One important thing to know is that people who are dealing with suicidal ideation keep it to themselves. They don’t want to be a burden to other people, which is something we learned early on from Dr. Thomas Joiner, an expert in suicidology. Burdensomeness is one of the common denominators among people who take their lives or attempt suicide. Most of us who have lost someone to suicide just want to say, ‘Why didn’t you tell us that you were hurting this badly?’, but they didn’t want us to suffer too.”
Another things that’s critical, she explains, is that it’s not only okay, but a good idea, to ask someone if they’re thinking about suicide. “For years, people thought by asking they would put ideas in the person’s head, but that’s absolutely incorrect. Chances are if you’re concerned enough about the person to have that go through your mind, that person has already thought about it. Instead, to ask is very freeing for them because they can talk about it instead of keeping it a secret. It can open a conversation and that person can then be helped.
“We didn’t know that suicide was a possibility for our son, and we knew that there must be a lot of other people like us. We’re well-educated and informed people, and we didn’t know. Out of our grief, we decided that one thing we could do was maybe help prevent other suicides.”
She and John founded Kevin’s Song in 2013, which obtained its 501(c)(3) status in 2014. The name was chosen because Kevin loved music and had a great voice.
“We began to learn about the different organizations that exist to deal with suicide, such as the American Association of Suicidology, which has been around for over 50 years. We had never heard of it and it’s a national organization. And there were other local organizations as well.”
One of Kevin’s Song’s goals is to educate others about suicide. The second is to bring together all of these organizations that are working on suicide prevention. The third is to support other people who have lost someone to suicide.
After forming a board of directors, they began to raise money to hold annual conferences which would bring people together to share information and educate the public. This past January 27, 28, and 29, they held their 6th annual conference. As in 2021, this one was virtual.
“Another goal was to have a website that would be a resource for people, and to make a film, so over the next couple of years, we accomplished those goals as well,” says Gail. “We’ve been fortunate to have been introduced to Keith Famie, a well-known producer and filmmaker who was on Survivor and was also a famous chef. About 15 years ago, he decided to devote his time and talent to film making and has done a whole series of documentaries on very important causes. He did a film called ‘Death is Not the Answer,’ available through our website, and it was the first of many films that Kevin’s Song has produced.”
Gail is thankful for the tremendous support from the community. The Children’s Foundation, the Dolores and Paul Lavins Foundation, and the Joseph J. Lawrencelle Memorial Foundation are just a few of the organizations that have made the conferences possible. “We try to get as many sponsors as possible so we can keep the ticket prices as low as possible,” she says. “We just recently received a $50,000 grant from the Flinn Foundation, so we know there is clearly a need for what we started back in 2013 and 2014.”
Even though they have many wonderful sponsors, they are always looking for more. While the conference for 2022 has already taken place, they need support for future conferences.
Main attendees, she says, are mental health professionals, educators, medical practitioners, clergy, first responders and many people who have lost someone to suicide. In 2021, over 400 people attended.
“We offer support for people who have lost someone to suicide,” says Gail. “A lot of people who attend our conferences have lost someone and they want to learn more about it and to interact with others who have experienced the same loss. It’s a healing process.”
Detroit Public Television, she adds, has brought Kevin’s Song a lot of exposure and is now producing the conferences. “Also, the media attention we have received from various local channels and radio has all been great at drawing attention to the problem. We have reached a lot of mental health professionals and educators around not only Metro Detroit, but from out of state too, which we feel is very important.”
Everyone who registers for the conference will also have access to a link that will take them to any part of the conference they want to visit. There is also an effort underway to add highlights of past conferences to the website as well.
“We have connected organizations and experts in a way that has been very meaningful,” she says. “I have watched relationships develop around the country that we know we have been responsible for between people who have met at our conferences and are now doing projects together, so we are thrilled.”
Kevin’s Song was actually instrumental in the creation of another 501(c)(3) nonprofit called With One Voice. “It came about because as we were working on the issues and meeting with other organizations across the state who were doing similar things, it occurred to us that in order to accomplish more of our goals, it might be much more effective if we had all of these people working together,” says Gail. “With One Voice is statewide and is going to accomplish wonderful things.”
Kevin’s Song is always looking for donations, which can be made on its website, as well as volunteers to assist with its mission. “We are always appreciative of volunteers for our various committees, and those who want to give their talent and time to Kevin’s Song,” she says.
To find out more, go to https://kevinssong.org/.
Written for Grosse Pointe Lifestyle magazine in Michigan.