Lauren Cornelio, suicide prevention advocate
“Depression is real,” says Lauren Cornelio, an 18-year-old graduating senior at Spruce Mountain High School in Jay. “I had people message me and tell me that they were going through the same thing. It’s incredible to see how many people there are out there who you wouldn’t realize are going through depression, and that helps you not feel so alone.”
As she completes the three-year Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute with six other graduating seniors from Spruce Mountain, Cornelio reflected on how the program has taught her to find her voice and transform her personal struggles with depression and suicide ideation into advocacy.
”This program taught me it’s OK to talk about this and to ask for help,” Cornelio says. “It’s easier for me and many people my age to do through social media, so I’ll post articles or my personal accomplishments on there.”
When she turned 18, she posted on Facebook asking for donations to the American Suicide Prevention Foundation—and raised $540.
“I did have an incident, but I got help and powered through it,” Cornelio says. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable talking about suicide. Our generation is the start of talking about it. But I live in a small community and everybody knows everything about everyone, so people are still uncomfortable talking about mental health. Yet, it’s completely relevant and important. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about at all. Some people struggle with diabetes, which is physical. And others struggle with depression, like I do.”
Rural communities like Jay, Cornelio says, tend to lack support groups. She recognizes that void, and the leadership institute program has encouraged her to develop leadership, collaboration and problem-solving skills.
“One of the ideas I hope to pursue is to create a group that meets once a week to talk about mental health, because we don’t have anything like that around here,” Cornelio says, adding that if the local hospital says there isn’t enough of a demand, she’ll turn to social media and show that there is.
Her confidence in being public with something so many people consider taboo stems from the security she has felt with the other leadership institute girls from her school.
“The seven of us weren’t all super-close when we were first selected, but when we get together it’s insane how we relate with each other,” Cornelio says. “It’s great to see how different we all are and all the great things we want to do. I feel like the seven of us and the two advisers have a connection to carry us the rest of our lives, no matter what.”
Volunteers Cary Olson-Cartwright and Dianne Nason, the two Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute advisers at Spruce Mountain, have worked with this class of girls all three years and witnessed notable growth.
“I appreciate Lauren’s confidence that she’s beginning to recognize in herself, as well as her convictions,” Olson-Cartwright says. “She gained the courage to go ahead and run for junior class president, she worked hard and she won.”
“The institute is a great thing for those girl leaders who have great potential but might need a little confidence boost,” says Nason. “For example, Lauren is on the basketball team but wasn’t getting much playing time. Instead of quitting or getting mad, she talked with the coach and asked, ‘What do I need to work on?’ And she worked on it, and she started a couple games after that.”
Cornelio will attend Husson University in the fall and, inspired by a job shadowing experience, plans to study physical therapy, specializing in geriatrics.
“I love elderly people,” Cornelio says. “I noticed how happy I was to help the older patients. I thought, they deserve a second chance and physical therapy could help them achieve that.”
Cornelio also enjoys drawing, painting and volunteering at the Franklin County Animal Shelter—which is also devoted to second chances.
“There’s so much more to life,” Cornelio says, “and there’s so much more that I’m capable of, as long as I keep fighting.”
Suicide is never the answer.
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at
(800) 273–TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741
More people lose their lives to suicide than war, murder and natural disasters combined. Want to change that? The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is hosting several Out of the Darkness fundraising walks in Maine: Portland’s Fort Allen Park on Sept. 8, Bath’s Waterfront Park on Sept. 16, Bangor Waterfront on Sept. 22 and Lion’s Pavilion in Fort Kent on Oct. 13. For more information: afsp.org
Amy Paradysz is a writer, editor and photographer who lives in Scarborough.