Sean Rocco Vogel, 15, appeared to have everything going for him. He was popular, a successful athlete, a talented musician and had tons of friends.
“He was never just sitting home alone,” his cousin, Lily Genovese, of Darien, also 15, told The Darien Times.
So when Sean went missing in late November from his Cranbury, New Jersey home, his friends and family just assumed he ran away.
Suicide was never considered — until the truth was later discovered.
“It was so shocking that it happened,” Lily said. “No one understood it.”
Despite her and her family’s grief, Lily didn’t withdraw from the world. Instead, she committed to trying to understand why her cousin had done the unthinkable. She contacted Darien’s Youth Mental Health Project to understand mental health and suicide better.
Lily said many believe depression is obvious, or that it is has a trigger — such as a life event, like the loss of a loved one or job.
In many cases, she said, it is genetic — simply part of a person’s make up.
And in towns like Cranbury, and Darien, it is hard to admit to being less than perfect. Instead, many young people cope in more destructive ways.
Lily referred to a recent talk by former NBA star Chris Herren, who recently came to the Darien community to talk about his own struggles with addiction.
“He pointed out the self-reflection after you drink or do drugs — to ask yourself why you did that,” Lily said.
“Sometimes it can be getting out of a bad state of mind — and for some people that might be suicide,” Lily said.
It’s not just the people with obvious depression, the loners, those on the outside — it can also be people who don’t understand why they are depressed.
“I live in this place. I’m so fortunate. They think, ‘How can I be depressed?’” she said.
Part of the difficulty in raising awareness about suicide and its causes is the stigma that surrounds it. Lily said in her research she’s discovered how often it happens right in Darien — but everyone doesn’t know, because many, even those touched by suicide, don’t want to talk about it.
“That makes it look like something shameful — and that makes it worse,” she said.
As far as her immediate efforts, Lily gave a speech about her own personal story with her cousin at a Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D.)
In her speech, given only a week after her own loss, Lily said:
“I want to reach out to not only friends and parents of those who are suffering, but also the victims themselves. I want to create a community where nobody will have to suffer in silence like sean. I want victims to recognise their own signs and not be afraid to step up and ask for help. The problem comes from towns like this where everything needs to be picture perfect. I want people to know that depression is nothing to be ashamed of.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24. The Youth Mental Health Project reports that 90% of suicides are the result of an underlying mental illness.
Lily says she hopes to bring speakers to town, like Chris Herren, who made a huge impact, she said, who can explain the causes of depression and help eliminate the stigma. However, she is facing a challenge in that many of these speakers are costly.
This stigma is pervasive, according to Lily, even at Darien High School. Upon returning from missing days after Sean’s death, many of her teachers talked about how the impact of missing days might require her to catch up — while never mentioning the cause of her missing the days.
“My main goal for people is for people to feel comfortable admitting they can have depression and asking for help,” Lily said.
Janice Marzano is the program director for the Depot Youth Center, which also hosts S.A.D.D. meetings.
“Lily’s determination to inform people, especially teens, on suicide awareness is coming straight from her heart,” Marzano said.
“She is an amazing young woman who is trying to spread information on suicide awareness to anyone who will listen,” Marzano said.
“We all have mental health, just like physical health, yet far too many families in America are isolated by the shame, blame, silence, and misunderstanding surrounding their children’s mental health. As a result, less than 20% of youth receive the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives,” said Wendy Ward, co-founder of The Youth Mental Health Project
“The Youth Mental Health Project exists to change this reality. We believe every child’s mental well-being needs to be nurtured, and that mental wellness and physical wellness should be equally prioritized. But, such a shift will only happen if we empower parents and caregivers to better understand the mental health needs of youth,” Ward said.
In her speech to S.A.D.D., Lily said, “Every minute of the day I think about how much I wish I could have stopped my cousin, but now I am too late.”
“It is possibly the worst feeling in the world, believing you lost the opportunity to help someone in need. I never want to feel this again, and I don’t want anyone else to have this feeling either. If I could even save one life, it would mean the world to me,” she said.
Lily’s father David said he and Lily’s mother Julie “are both proud of Lily, who is trying to turn this family tragedy into a teaching moment for all of us.”
“If, through her efforts, Lily can plant a seed in the mind of just one person who finds himself or herself feeling desperate and considering the unthinkable, that there is a way to a better place and his or her life is saved as a result, what is better than helping bring about that outcome?” David said.
If you would like to help Lily in her efforts, email [email protected] and your information will be forwarded to her.
For more information on suicide prevention, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org, or call the 24-hour suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
For more information on the Youth Mental Health Project, visit http://ymhproject.org/.