“To this day, I don’t know how I survived.”
TUCSON, Ariz. — With pills in one hand and a bottle of rubbing alcohol in the other, Ernestina Limon attempted suicide for the first time. She was ten years old.
“I got so sick,” Limon said. “We were at church. It was Palm Sunday, and I was lying on the pews, and I got a fever. My parents didn’t know what was wrong. My mom took me home and put me in bed, and I kept telling her ‘I’m fine. I’ll be okay.'”
This became the first of many suicidal attempts.
“Still to this day, I don’t know how I survived that,” Limon said.
This started after Limon was bullied as a kid.
“They held me down, and they threw lizards and horn toads and crickets and whatever else they could find on me, and let the things squirm all over me,” Limon said.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health , suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-34. Director of Sonora Behavioral Health Diane Ryan said one of the biggest reasons is bullying.
“Things are dark, and they’re not getting any better,” Ryan said. “There just looks like there is no light, and there is no way to resolve the things that are painful, and they’re just sad.”
This leads people to think suicide is the only option left to make their pain go away.
However, for the past year, an initiative in Southern Arizona called Help & Hope for Youth is trying to help change that by letting youth know the resources to seek help, so they know they’re not alone.
“Mental health is part of your overall well-being,” Project Director for Help & Hope for Youth Arcelia Cornidez said. “If your brain is not okay, how can every other part of your body be okay? Your brain controls everything.”
This initiative is a multi-sector initiative of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Arizona (NAMI SA) with University of Arizona partners Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW) and the Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM).
They have two programs within local schools. One, Text, Talk, Act, which is when kids get into groups and talk through their experiences. They found this was effective because kids tend to reach out to one another whenever they need help.
The other program is called Ending the Silence through NAMI Southern Arizona, where suicide survivors will tell their stories of overcome their mental illnesses to students to show how to overcome your struggles. Limon is one of those survivors.
“(We) just really are getting the kids to understand what it means to have a mental illness, to struggle with suicide and to know that there are options that they have,” Limon said.
Limon said that whenever she presents to a group of kids more than once, she’ll have some come back to her to tell her that her story inspired them to get better.
“It makes them feel they’re not alone and it also gives them hope,” Cornidez said. “It gives them hope that an individual has been living with a mental health condition and they’re here. They’re still here. They’re okay, and they have passed whatever situation they’ve been experiencing.”
Cornidez said between all the kids participating in their programs, they’ve seen 93% of students doing better since.
This initiative is currently only in Southern Arizona, but they hope to eventually spread it statewide. Limon hopes that her story can continue to remind kids that their is a life beyond mental illness.
“I am a survivor of multiple suicide attempts, and I don’t want anybody living their life the way I had to live mine,” Limon said. “There is no reason why there should be a stigma surrounding mental illness. We’re no different than anyone else.”