WEST MICHIGAN - After losing her son to suicide, a mother is now telling her story to help save others from the same grief.
Jareb Ryder was only 18 when he shot and killed himself. He was a senior at Fruitport High School, and was his mother's world.
"He was the love of my life," said Jareb's mother, Paula Johnson. "Jareb taught me what unconditional love was."
Johnson says her boy was full of life, energetic and loved by many. She says it never crossed her mind that Jareb would take his own life.
"He didn't seem depressed at all, that's why I want people to understand," Johson said.
Jareb left his family a suicide note saying he was sorry for not getting help and for not telling anyone he was struggling.
"He didn't want to tell me because he didn't want to take the chance of me looking at him differently," Johnson said.
Now two years later, Johnson hopes her story will shine a light on the dark void of suicide. She's now asking parents to pay attention to their kids and not shy away from the difficult conversation of depression and suicide.
"If you love your kid, you're going to talk to them about suicide and depression," said Johnson.
Professionals studying in the field of mental health are also trying to break the stigma. Lynnae Selberg at Grand Rapids Community College says they've received a $300,000 federal grant this year to educate and help students with these same struggles.
"There were 71 deaths in Kent County last year from suicide and there are more, pending an autopsy," Selberg said.
More than 44,000 people die by suicide each year, according to the American Association of Suicidology. That's 121 people every day, with a suicide attempt every 29 seconds.
Building her work off national statistics, Selberg says young adults are more likely to die by suicide than by a car accident. Both Selberg and Johnson say the numbers should stress the importance of being open and transparent with the ones you love.
"You asking them the tough questions is not going to make them bring those thoughts into the forefront or make them act on that, but it could open that conversation," Selberg said.
As for the grant, GRCC will be working with a number of community members focusing on suicide education, training, and crisis planning. The money is from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and will fund campus-wide activities and programs designed to address and reduce students' suicide risk.
You can find Selberg in GRCC's Counseling and Career Center, located in Room 327 on the third floor for of the Student Center. The phone number is (616) 234-3900. The number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.