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Cape suicide prevention advocate recognized

By Staff | Oct 14, 2008

A local suicide prevention advocate was named the November recipient for the Reader’s Digest “Make It Matter” initiative because of her dedication to educate Southwest Florida residents on the issue of suicide.

Virginia Cervasio, the executive director of the C.A.R.E.S. Suicide Prevention Center, is the recipient. One recipient is chosen each month for 10 months.

The Reader’s Digest Foundation now will donate $100,000 to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Cervasio’s name.

“I am so honored to have been selected by Reader’s Digest,” said Cervasio. “As the recipient of the grant, AFSP will be able to educate our communities in Southwest Florida on suicide prevention with their Gatekeeper Program.”

In July, Cervasio opened a new prevention center in Cape Coral, the only one of its kind in Southwest Florida. She formed the C.A.R.E.S. organization in April 2006 after her 24-year-old son, Angelo, committed suicide. During the first two years, the organization was run out of Cervasio’s living room.

The donation goes to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention because the initiative rules state that the money has to go to a national organization, she said, although national programs and training opportunities are coming to Southwest Florida.

Part of the funds also will go toward a national volunteer training conference hosted in Dallas, Texas, at the end of January, she said.

The Gatekeeper Program also will be available locally. It is a workshop for public servants such as police officers, teachers and firefighters to learn about the signs of suicide and what to do if they suspect a person to be suicidal.

“I wanted something here for us and we were able to agree on that particular program. It will be open to everybody,” said Cervasio.

The issue of suicide is at the forefront of health concerns locally and across the United States. Cervasio said that since Sept. 13 there have been 94 suicides in Lee County, equal to all of the suicides in 2007.

“We still have a few more months to go and we are already at the same number of last year,” she said.

More people have been calling the suicide prevention center over the past few months, she said, because many of them have lost their jobs and are contemplating suicide.

“We refer them and give out our resources, offer counseling and all that. Unfortunately we have been keeping busy,” she said.

Not only has the unemployment rate — now 9 percent in Lee County — caused some to consider suicide, but also potential investment losses as a result of the crisis on Wall Street.

The issue is especially prevalent in college students. An August survey carried out at the University of Texas reported that more than half of college students in the United States have considered suicide in their lives.

Further, more than 5 percent of these students have attempted suicide. It is the second leading cause of death among college students.