CAMPBELL — When Renae Carapella received word that her younger brother, Raymond, had overdosed on his medication, she tried to reassure herself that things would be all right. After all, this was not his first suicide attempt. Perhaps he was just having another bad day.
But this time, Raymond had taken more than 150 pills at his Campbell home in central Steuben County. He died at Corning Hospital the next day, Oct. 24, 2005.
He was only 19 years old — a young man who, despite the demons that beset him, was a shining star to his loved ones. In fact, Renae acknowledged that the expression "Everybody Loves Raymond" fit him perfectly.
"Raymond always put other people before himself," Renae remarked, saying that as a child, "Raymond was a ball of life, contagious smile, so funny, always happy — a typical little boy," and as a teenager, "he was brilliant. He had an incredible mind, huge dreams, wanted to be a movie director. He could remember all these football statistics."
But underneath that radiance, a darkness had begun to surface.
"He started worrying about everything, especially his family, and was scared and anxious a lot. It just kind of became a part of who he was," said Renae, who noted that her brother was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and became fixated on running and losing weight.
Raymond was first hospitalized for depression during Renae’s freshman year at SUNY College at Brockport. He died three years later following his fatal overdose, but not before Renae made it back home in time to share one final precious moment.
"I got to hold his hand and tell him I loved him and say goodbye. Not that many people get to do that with somebody who commits suicide," she said, her eyes brimming with tears. "He was squeezing my hand and smiling."
Life without Raymond is still difficult at times.
"I wonder where he would be, what he would be doing," Renae said, adding that she comforts herself with pleasant childhood memories of their sledding, watching football on TV and huddling together around campfires.
Her brother’s struggles inspired Renae to change her college major to psychology. In 2007 she began working for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. As an area coordinator, she covers much of western New York and dedicates herself to advocacy, fundraising and survivor outreach.
Renae often mentions Raymond in her public speaking and encourages open discussion of mental illnesses, stating that "there’s such a stigma we have." She emphasized that increased awareness can help ward off suicide through early recognition of people at risk; taking the warning signs seriously; and knowing the proper response. For instance, Father Patrick Connor, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Campbell, said he has found that simply listening to people in crisis is a big help.
"I try to reassure them that it’s not that God doesn’t love you. I try to pull them into the idea of God’s presence and God’s love," Father Connor said.
Renae said that other family members also strive to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention. In addition, she has begun studies at the University of Rochester for a master’s degree in mental-health counseling, which she feels is a perfect tribute to her brother.
"This is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing," she said.
Information on suicide available
Here is some key information about suicide, as provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For more details, visit www.afsp.org.
* At least 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric illness.
* People who have made serious suicide attempts in the past are at a much higher risk for taking their lives.
* Genetic predisposition and family history often are linked to suicide, suicide attempts, depression and other psychiatric illness.
* Suicide can be prevented because most people who are suicidal exhibit such warning signs as depression, desperation, rage, anxiety, guilt, pessimism, hopelessness, withdrawal, sense of abandonment, increased alcohol and/or other drug use, impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks, threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die, buying a gun, giving away prized possessions, being unable to function at work or socially, having sleep problems, and experiencing anguish over such distressing events as loss of a loved one or career failure.
* People with suicidal tendencies should be taken seriously. Those who encounter such people should be willing to listen; ask what is wrong; refrain from arguing anybody out of suicide but instead offer reassurance and understanding; and encourage professional help.
* In an acute crisis, suicidal people should be taken to an emergency room or similar facility; not be left alone until help is available; and not have access to firearms, drugs or sharp objects. Call the local emergency number or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.