SPRINGFIELD — Mychal Connolly’s connection to the subject of suicide is all too personal.
“I was talking with my friend Nate about ways to teach our kids about entrepreneurship,” he explained. “He had moved to Florida with his family and was back for a visit. We were talking about his business and how it was doing well. I was taking my family to Florida on vacation soon and thought we could connect, but with my family focused on theme parks, it never happened.”
After he got home, Connolly saw a post on Facebook alluding to a friend who had died, but it wasn’t clear who. When he reached out to learn more, he received a shock: Nate had taken his own life, in front of his wife.
“Nate was a quiet guy who stayed to himself, but that was his personality,” Connolly recalled. “His friends knew that about him. I knew that. There were no signs he was going through anything difficult in his life. Nothing suggested there was any issue troubling him. He left a wife and three kids.”
Now Connolly, in partnership with MHA and the Pioneer Valley Coalition for Suicide Prevention, is taking a message to the streets: suicide is preventable when people start talking. The message is getting out via Stand Out Truck, a business Connolly created that uses a mobile, digital messaging platform built into a truck that drives wherever a message can make the most impact.
“Our friends at the Pioneer Valley Coalition for Suicide Prevention made a grant to cover half of the cost of the campaign, and Stand Out Truck offered a discount,” said Kimberley Lee, MHA’s vice president of Resource Development & Branding. “All three organizations are working together to get the message out that suicide is preventable, continuing through the second week in October.”
Connolly explained that “Stand Out Truck takes the message directly to the streets where people in motor vehicles, on the sidewalk, or out in their yards can see it. I’ve known Kim Lee for several years, and MHA does a lot to aid suicide prevention, so Kim and I connected to see how we could work together specifically for Suicide Prevention Month. Short story, we made it happen.”
Stand Out Truck is uniquely mobile and, frankly, hard to miss, Lee added. “Silence breeds stigma, and we must take every opportunity to encourage each other to talk about how we’re feeling emotionally and raise awareness about resources for suicide prevention. Stand Out Truck is delivering our message throughout the Pioneer Valley: Springfield, Agawam, West Springfield, Westfield, Tolland, Huntington, Chicopee, Holyoke, South Hadley, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Wilbraham, Hampden, Monson, Ludlow, Palmer, Brimfield, and more. It’s traveling daytime hours as well as evening, which is great because the truck is brightly illuminated; it really draws attention after dark.”
Connolly stressed that this issue hits home for him. “Having a conversation with someone may encourage them to talk some more, get some help, and realize life is worth living.”
Stand Out Truck, in business since March, provides mobile digital messaging for business promotions, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, and a wide variety of activities and events. What makes it unique is taking a mobile message directly to the community, instead of hoping members of the community happen to pass a fixed billboard and notice a message. That’s especially critical with a message this timely and important, Connolly said.
“People see the truck and say, ‘wow, what’s that’” he noted. “It’s just not something you see every day, a billboard driving by with a message. We use a GPS system that highlights busier routes, and we travel those. We also travel predictable high-traffic routes and times, such as during the morning and evening rush. If the one person who needs to see the message sees it, or if a friend or family member sees it, then it’s made an impact.”
It’s important to reach people who aren’t feeling quite right before they start to feel that killing themselves is their only option,” said Sara Kendall, vice president of Clinical Operations for MHA.
“Through BestLife, MHA’s outpatient center for emotional health and wellness, people who are anxious, depressed, afraid, or at risk of hurting themselves can talk with someone who cares, who listens, and who can help connect them with supports to help them start feeling better,” she added. “BestLife opened right here in Springfield in 2019, and in a little over a year, we have had conversations with more than 500 individuals in this community — people ready to start talking about their anxiety, their depression, their fears … even their thoughts of suicide. And let me be frank: COVID has certainly not helped with any of those things. More than ever, people are feeling distressed, isolated, frustrated and confused.
“So, we invite members of the community to join us for a conversation,” she went on. “Whether that conversation happens in person, with appropriate social distancing, or whether it happens virtually using MHA’s TeleWell app to connect interested persons with a licensed MHA counselor, we are ready to start talking. We are ready to listen. We are ready to help save lives by helping people live their best life.”