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Needham resident Artie Crocker will forever recall the moment he learned that his daughter, Christine, had died by suicide. He will never forget the horror that seized his body, wrenching him from a peaceful Cape Cod day in March of 2015.
Christine was 27 1/2 years old; a thoughtful and funny young woman who was also profoundly devoted to serving her country. She was a graduate of Needham High School and Northeastern University, an Air Force veteran about to start special forces training at the Pentagon when she died.
The moment Crocker learned of her death is one he thinks no parent should ever have to experience.
“It’s something that’s impossible to be replicated,” he said. “Most people have no understanding of what it’s like, and I don’t want them to know. It’s too much.”
At the same time, he feels it’s important that he share his story – and Christine’s – because “the more we talk about depression and suicide, the more we can help.”
Crocker, who grew up in town and raised his children here, organized the upcoming Needham event “Notes for Hope” in Christine’s honor, to help normalize the conversation about mental health issues and raise money for Riverside Community Care, a behavioral health organization and the emergency services provider for Needham, and surrounding towns.
The event will take place at VFW Hall from 7 to 10 p.m. on June 20, and will feature music and comedy, two of Christine’s passions. Crocker does not intend for the event to be sad, but hopes it includes frank conversations about mental health issues like those his daughter struggled with.
“That’s what it takes – normalizing,” he said. “Realizing that we’re not alone, there are too many people going through the same thing we feel, the same thing Christine felt.”
“If there’s anything we can do with this event to save one child, one adult, one human being from ending their life because the darkness is too great, then I’m all for it,” he said.
Crocker said his parents, Needham natives and business-owners David and Roberta Crocker, raised his siblings and him with a firm sense of doing the right thing and giving back to the community. But they did not provide any guidance for how to think about, talk about, or help a child struggling with mental health issues.
Years later, when Crocker and Christine’s mother first realized that their daughter was feeling suicidal, they found and helped her get into inpatient psychiatric services and therapy. Beyond that, though, they were at a loss about what they could do for her.
Crocker said he often thinks “I could have done this better, or that better,” but at the time, their family was trying to navigate a confusing system and help a child who would often “try to diminish what was wrong.”
They also didn’t know how to talk to her, or others, about what Christine was going through.
Crocker didn’t know then, he said, what he knows now: that “the more mental illness is hidden, the more alone people are.”
“We’re trying to change the stigma that if you’re dealing with mental illness, there’s something wrong with you, and that there’s something wrong with talking about it,” he said.
According to the American Journal of Public Health, more than 70 percent of people worldwide with mental illness do not receive treatment from health care staff. Evidence suggests, the journal notes, that stigma surrounding mental illness and ignorance about treatment options are two contributing factors to this lack of treatment.
For those who do seek treatment, it very often saves their lives, said Larry Berkowitz, the director of the Trauma Center at Riverside.
“About 91 percent of people who make a suicide attempt and survive go on to live full lives and eventually die of other things,” Berkowitz said. “If you think that someone is feeling so distraught that services won't help, it's not true.”
Jim McCauley, who is the associate director at the Riverside Trauma Center and a member of the Needham Coalition for Suicide Prevention, said events like “Notes for Hope” can be important in “dispelling myths about suicide.”
McCauley will be speaking at the event next week, along with other Needham community members about the kinds of services that can help someone and their friends and family when they are struggling with mental health issues, and why it’s never too late to help. Riverside, the beneficiary of ‘Notes for Hope,’ offers suicide prevention and other therapeutic services for teens, young adults, military personnel, and veterans. The organization also staffs an emergency services hotline and mobile team of clinicians 24/7 with the ability to go out and meet with someone in crisis wherever they are, and help them avoid more intensive care, when possible.
As Riverside’s Emergency Services Norwood director Chris Lauzon notes, “we encourage anyone who has a concern about themselves or someone else to call us. We can provide counseling on the phone or in person and point someone in the right direction to get the right services to meet their needs.”
Riverside also provides training for schools and has been used in Needham, on a curriculum that teaches students grades 6-12 how to identify the signs of depression and warning signs of suicide in themselves and their peers.
All the money raised through "Notes for Hope" tickets, raffles, and donations, will go directly to Riverside. The event is underwritten by the Kyle W. Shapiro Foundation, an organization founded by the family of another young person from Needham lost to suicide. The event will also feature speakers and various informational stations about other available services in and around the community.
As for how the event took shape, Crocker said he wanted to dedicate the night to something he and Christine both loved.
After his daughter died, he stopped singing, something he had done for most of his life. A few months ago, he said, “I realized I needed to find a way to work through more of the grief, and that what might help was to get back to something I enjoyed doing.”
As he reached out about the event to various local singers, musicians, and even comedian Jimmy Tingle, “everyone said yes,” Crocker said. “If their schedule was free, their answer was yes.”
He has felt overwhelming support from the Needham community as he has continued to plan the event.
“There’s no question about [the sense of community],” he said. “We have been blown away by the response.”
Crocker said he hopes that people leave with a little more knowledge about what help is out there if they need it or if someone they know needs it.
“It is not a sad event,” he said. “It’s to raise awareness, raise money, and help people. The more we can help people going through difficult times, the better we all are.”