For Brandon Rohlwing, prevention and stigma reduction surrounding suicide and mental-health issues have become his life's work. As a national youth counselor for Reachout.com, Rohlwing helps with the organization's decision making processes and organizes community events in the Chicagoland area.
One way that Rohlwing is building awareness about suicide prevention and mental health issues is through the Night of Hope event he is leading at Roosevelt University. ( He is currently a junior at the university, and is majoring in sociology as well as marketing and communications. ) The Sept. 10 event marks World Suicide Prevention Day and National Suicide Prevention Week.
Rohlwing knew from the time he was in middle school that he was gay, however, he feared coming out. "This was really hard for me because I grew up in West Dundee [in Kane County] which is a very conservative community. My dad is a very strong republican and there was a certain stigma that I associated with that political affiliation as well as my town ... this caused me a lot of anxiety and depression," said Rohlwing.
During the spring of his junior year in high school, Rohlwing's anxiety reached a point where it drained him of all his energy so one night he Googled ways to kill himself and through this search he found Reachout.com .
"I almost didn't click on the link because I was looking for ways to kill myself not resources to help me," said Rohlwing. "I was on the website for three hours reading stories from teens who had similar experiences. I watched videos and read fact sheets about coming out. Through that I was able to do some self reflection and learn a little bit more about myself, the LGBT community and the resources available to me. I was able to stop myself from ending my life."
Rohlwing woke his parents up that night, told them he was gay and they immediately supported him. "I couldn't have asked for a better coming out experience," said Rohlwing.
Not only did his parents accept and support Rohlwing, his older sister Elizabeth ( Biz ) was also a big source of support. Rohlwing wasn't sure how his classmates would respond so he told his best friend at the beginning of the summer before their senior year and by the time he got back to school everyone knew and most of them were supportive and told him how much they respected him for living his truth.
A couple of months after Rohlwing came out, he sent an email to Reachout.com thanking them for saving his life and they sent a response back thanking him for sharing his story and asked him if he was interested in joining their youth council. Rohlwing applied and four months later he was accepted as a national youth counselor. "It's been really wonderful working with Brandon because he is so proactive, gracious and such a strong person," said Nicola Survanshi, director of programs and operations for Reachout.com .
Rowling's sister Biz moved to California to take a production job during Rohlwing's senior year in high school and as far as Rohlwing and his parents knew she was happy and liked her job but she was out there by herself. What they didn't know is Biz was struggling not only financially but also emotionally and psychologically. "We knew that she had depression before but we didn't have any reason to believe that she was still struggling with depression," said Rohlwing. On Rohlwing's graduation day ( which also happened to be Biz's birthday ) they were notified that she died by suicide.
"Part of me felt like a failure because I was already active in suicide prevention and mental health awareness and this was what I was passionate about and I couldn't even save my own sister," said Rohlwing. "That experience [his sister's suicide] made me really focus more on prevention and stigma reduction around suicide and mental health and when I went to school [Roosevelt University] that fall I knew that this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life."
Not only does Rohlwing serve as a national youth counselor for Reachout.com, he is also a resident assistant ( RA ) for the gender and diversity inclusion community floor in his dorm. As an RA, Rohlwing is responsible for dealing with any issues that might arise and creating programming for the students living on the floor.
"We are happy to welcome all guests to our event," said Rohlwing. "It's going to be a great night full of speakers and conversation about how we can make a change. I really think that through this event we will be one step closer to living in a world without suicide."
See www.facebook.com/events/718200094883983 and us.reachout.com for more information .