By ALISSA SCOTT
When Mary Fran Fiorillo's 16-year-old son started to withdraw and change his behavior, she said she knew something was wrong but never could have predicted what happened.
"I kept telling my husband 'I think something is wrong with Vincie, I don't think he can get through this,'" Fiorillo said. "He said, 'I'll talk to him. It's a teenage thing.' ... He was gone two weeks later."
Fiorillo's son, Vincent Fiorillo Jr., committed suicide almost 20 years ago, and still, she said, people are uncomfortable talking about it. Last year, during an annual Out of the Darkness Walk at the Saratoga Race Course, a car stopped to ask why the group was wearing purple Team Vincent shirts.
"My sister responded to them, 'It's a suicide prevention walk. I had lost my nephew to --," Fiorillo said her sister said before the car's passengers interrupted her. "'Oh, oh, oh, I'm sorry' they said and rolled up the window and took off because they didn't want to hear it was suicide."
Fulton-Montgomery Suicide Prevention Taskforce Chairwoman Kathy Cromie said there's definitely a stigma surrounding suicide, though it's the tenth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second-leading cause of death in college students.
According to an official report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 38,000 Americans took their own lives in 2010.
Research shows that 90 percent of all people who died by suicide were suffering from a mental illness at the time of their death, Cromie said, which gets muddied up in another issue that is often taboo in society.
September is Suicide Awareness Month -- a month to recognize the "surprising" statistics and get people talking, she said.
"The goal of the month is to raise awareness and get people to change their reaction," Cromie said. "To reduce the stigma, to start a conversation about mental illness, about suicide, about prevention, so there's a level of hope for people."
Suicide, Cromie said, causes both people dealing with it to feel uneasy toward outsiders and outsiders to feel uneasy toward those dealing with it.
"Sometimes people are afraid to talk to a family who has lost someone by suicide," Cromie said. "They're not sure what to say, they're not sure how to treat them. If it's a parent who lost a child, do they mention the child's name?"
Most times, the answer is yes, she said.
"Most survivors of suicide loss say absolutely," Cromie said. "Talk about my child. Tell me about my child. Tell me stories. Keep that child's memory alive."
Fiorillo said she loves to hear people speak about Vincent, a star football player at Amsterdam High School, a popular kid, a handsome boy, and she would answer any questions they have.
That's why for the past four years, she has participated in the Out of the Darkness walk. This year, she said, at least 100 people will join Team Vincent. Her goal is to raise $20,000 -- $1,000 for each year her son has been deceased. So far, the team has raised nearly $12,000.
"I'm doing this walk to keep his memory alive," Fiorillo said. "After 20 years of not having him, this keeps his memory alive. I want people to know he existed."
Still, she said she wishes she could have done more, a feeling not uncommon, according to Cromie.
"People say I shouldn't, but I still think it," Fiorillo said. "As a mother, I failed my son. I should have known. I knew something was there. I should have gotten him the help. If I had, I would feel better to myself because I took the step."
In Fiorillo's case, she said relationship trouble led to her son's suicide. To girlfriends, boyfriends, teachers, doctors, anyone who sees someone displaying warning signs, Fiorillo said she urges them to speak up. It could have saved her son's life, she said.
Cromie said some warning signs include changes in behavior, talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless or feeling a lack of purpose in life, talking about being a burden, an increase in the use of drugs or alcohol, displaying extreme mood swings, mentioning feeling trapped or say they're in unbearable pain.
Knowing the warning signs, Fiorillo said, may have pushed her to intervene sooner.
"I knew a lot," Fiorillo said. "I just didn't think that the end result would be that he would have taken his life. Never in a million years would I have thought my boy would have done that. Never."
If someone notices some of the listed warning signs, Cromie said there are various avenues that person can take.
Depending on the level of severity people can call 911 and take their loved one to the emergency room. They can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
If families or friends are struggling after the loss of a loved one, locally, there is a support group called Survivors of a Loved One's Suicide (SOLOS), offered at St. Mary's Healthcare at 427 Guy Park Ave.. The group meets every other Wednesday at 7 p.m. Interested people should contact Marianne Reid at 209-3569 of firstname.lastname@example.org for more information prior to the meeting.
The Out of the Darkness walk is Sunday, and people can join and donate to Team Vincent by logging on to afsp.org.