News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 11, 2014

Former pitcher Tommy John now saving lives

His ‘Let’s Do It’ Foundation raising funds for suicide prevention groups

TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute native Tommy John is well known for his illustrious major league baseball career, which spanned 26 years and included 288 victories.

But not everyone knows that John’s 28-year-old son, Taylor, died as the result of suicide four years ago. Now, John uses his celebrity and his “Let’s Do It” Foundation to raise funds for and create awareness of a topic close to his heart, suicide prevention.

Sunday marked the fourth anniversary of Taylor’s death.

“He was the greatest kid in the world, but he would get into these panic spells and deep abysses,” John said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “He was wired different than the rest of us.”

As a child, Taylor acted in the Broadway play, “Les Miserables.” He was an illusionist and singer who loved the arts.

But he also had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and took several medications.

Through the “Let’s Do It” Foundation, John raises money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at its Chicago location, the city in which Taylor resided when he died.

The organization has hotlines and symposiums through which it educates people about the signs indicating someone is suicidal.

The afsp.org website says that suicide claims more than 38,000 lives each year in the United States alone, with someone dying by suicide every 13.7 minutes. It’s estimated that a suicide attempt is made every minute of every day, resulting in nearly one million attempts annually — with many requiring medical attention.

AFSP provides opportunities for survivors of suicide loss to get involved through a wide variety of educational, outreach, awareness, advocacy and fundraising programs.

John said he’s not an expert on suicide or its prevention. “I go out and raise money and give money to people who know what they are talking about.”

He described Taylor as “the brightest kid, the most fun kid, the most talented young man you’ve seen in your life. But he would get into these downward spirals.”

Taylor “always thought of himself as not being worthy, no matter how much you told him that he was,” John said.

He hopes that by using his celebrity to raise awareness about suicide and its prevention, others will not have to lose a child as he has.

One thing that bothered him as his son sought treatment was the almost “hit and miss” approach by health professionals, trying one thing, and if it didn’t work, trying something else.

“I know there is no great formula for the brain” and mental health problems, “but still, you would like it to be a little more scientific than ‘what are we going to try next?’” John said.

A doctor once told John, “We know more about the moon and the ocean than we do with the brain.” More research is needed, he said.

If a parent suspects a child is having mental health problems, the child should be evaluated and may need counseling, John said.

On Monday, John granted a telephone interview about his son’s suicide to the Indiana Youth Institute, which plans to focus on mental health issues in April, said Bill Stanczykiewicz, IYI chief executive officer.

IYI hosts a radio show on 13 stations statewide. John “is very open in telling the story about his son,” he said.

In 2009, 109 Hoosiers ages 15 to 24 took their lives, and more than 1,600 Hoosiers ages 15 to 24 visited an emergency room for self-inflicted injuries, according to an Indiana State Suicide Prevention Plan.

A new state Commission on Improving the Status of Children has identified mental health needs and challenges as a major issue, Stanczykiewicz said.

“There is widespread agreement that not enough people are receiving the mental health services they need, including for their kids,” Stanczykiewicz said.

Sometimes there is a hesitancy to seek treatment for mental health issues, “so getting it out into the open is a huge part of this,” he said. “We shouldn’t think any differently about our brains than we do other parts of our body.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

 

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