CORAL SPRINGS, FL - Last March, shortly after I was elected Mayor, our community lost two teenagers to suicide.  I was devastated.  My heart broke for the families of Calvin and Sydney, and it broke for our City. 

You see, I knew how the families felt to an extent because when I was 23 I lost my Mom, Marcia Brook, to suicide.

I decided to do something different and along with various leaders, we formed The Mental Wellness Networking Alliance last March.  Our group is committed to help eliminate the stigma often associated with the need for mental help, and we are dedicated to help save lives and share suicide awareness.

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We meet monthly to share solutions, ideas, stories, and our collaborative is a commitment to mental wellness.  There are always at least 10 mental health professionals that participate, including Dr. Elizabeth King and Pamela Baker.  We have all walks of life that contribute, including student leaders like Steven Munsie and Luke Lefkowitz.  We have suicide survivors, educators, entrepreneurs, parents, clergy and many others who share in our safe and non-judgmental environment.  Thanks to Scott Bagoon and Keller Williams, we have had a wonderful meeting space to 50-80 of us gather monthly.

We are changing the dialogue to educate others that mental illness is not a choice, that mental wellness is what ALL of us seek and to encourage others to share when they are not okay and to seek help.  Too many people that die by suicide have felt isolated. 

We urge our attendees to look for signs of depression and reach out to offer love, hugs, solutions, and resources, including 2-1-1 and the suicide prevention hotline (800-227-talk).  I have shared my story about losing my Mom and having no idea she was depressed.  I think the stigma kept my Mom and keeps so many others who suffer to suffer in silence.  We urge everyone who suffers depression, bi-polar, anxiety and any other mental challenge to seek help.

After I lost my Mom, I sought counseling and luckily found an amazing job shortly thereafter that took me around the country.  While I was dysfunctional for a short time, the job put my mind and body elsewhere.  In time, I learned to focus on my Mom’s life and not her death.  I know I am here in part to help other survivors have hope and to feel that spiritual connection that I have been blessed to have. 

Unfortunately, only a few years ago, the bubble that God helped create burst after I lost my Dad and I endured anxiety and depression.  I lost focus, confidence and me.  Yet, after prayer, therapy and a lot of love from family and friends, I was able to rebound and succeed once again and find a new me, with much greater empathy.  I often share my story at our meetings to share hope and kinship.  I am grateful that many others do the same.

We recently held our first virtual meeting (with Zoom and Facebook Live) because of the work of Jason Hansra and Kari Russo.  It was awesome. We had over 120 Zoom attendees and over 700 people catch us on Facebook. 

Now, we are sharing ideas, challenges and solutions to help each other get through and beyond this pandemic.  If you would like more information, please visit our website,www.eliminatethestigma.net and ask to be a member of our Mental Wellness Networking Alliance on Facebook. 

I am happy to be working on this in my individual capacity, as Marcia’s son, a Father of five and Poppy to three amazing grandsons.

Our next meeting will be by Zoom again on Wednesday, April 8 at 6 pm.  The best way to reach me is by cell at 954-494-9872. 

Stay safe, stay positive and stay informed. 

Please know you are not alone.