Editor’s note: This article deals with the subject of suicide. Reader discretion is advised.
JOHNSON COUNTY — Shelley Hughes can’t help but smile when she talks about her son, Ryan Jones.
“Well, Ryan was a very special little boy,” Hughes says. “He’s always been very perfectionist.”
She says that Ryan loved sports and he loved cars even more. She says he was eager to drive, so he got a job at Marsh’s old location at a young age to start saving his money.
Her sister, Lindsay Szostak, says the two were very different but very close.
“We were very different. Ryan was a Type A perfectionist and I was a Type B free spirit, but we just understood each other and understood each other,” Szostak says. “He was the greatest teacher and coach I have ever had.”
Together, Shelley, Ryan and Lindsay formed a close family unit.
“Being a single mom, he was just (he) took on the man-of-the-house role and was always very protective of Lindsay and me,” Hughes said.
They say he never suffered from depression or anxiety to their knowledge, but he was a closed book. He kept to himself and didn’t like being the center of attention, but he had a way of making others around him feel good.
“When he was talking,” Szostak said, “which wasn’t often, people were listening.”
That’s why September 2, 2019 came as such a shock to the two people who knew Ryan best.
“It was nothing we expected,” says Hughes. “It’s life changing. It’s just nothing you would ever see coming.”
Ryan died by suicide that day. Her left-behind loved ones began a journey of grief they didn’t know how to navigate.
“As a mother, it’s a loss that’s just incomprehensible,” says Hughes.
“You lose part of yourself. You lose part of your childhood and your memories,” says Szostak. “One of the hardest memories of that first week was having to explain this to my son, Luca. He knew something had happened, but having to walk with him to explain that Uncle Ry -Ry was no longer with us was very, very difficult.”
But in the days, weeks and years since Ryan’s death, the couple are working to end the stigma of suicide and honor Ryan’s life through their work.
“I don’t want Ryan to be defined by his suicide,” Szostak says.
So they talk about the best memories and the best parts of him as a person and Shelley springs into action by joining a new organization in Johnson County.
Upstream Prevention is a non-profit organization that focuses on system-level change for public health, and specifically focuses on suicide prevention and substance use prevention.
Executive Director Kathleen Ratcliff says it’s about raising awareness of the warning signs of suicide, finding gaps in the system and creating agenda and change in the local community.
Their new initiative is one of the few in the state to focus on suicide survivors and breaking the cycle of suicide in families. They work in direct partnership with the Johnson County Coroner’s Office.
“We are activated by the coroner’s office when there is a suicide death,” says Ratcliff. “We will send one to two or three volunteers depending on the number of people present.”
The program is called ATLAS or Assisting Through Loss After Suicide.
The volunteers are also suicide survivors who have been in their shoes and have also undergone specific training for these situations.
The response team does not provide advice or share their personal stories, but they do let loved ones know they have been there too and they provide immediate support at the scene while the coroner’s office conducts the death investigation.
They provide resources for mental health support, housing resources if needed if the suicide occurred at home, activities for all children at the scene and more. Volunteers can also check in with family by writing letters or cards in the coming months.
Ratcliff says they understand that prevention and postvention go hand in hand.
“How do we provide that support, because we know that survivors of loss themselves tend to be at higher risk for suicide,” says Ratcliff.
This caught the attention of Johnson County Coroner Michael Pruitt. As soon as he took office, he accepted this unique partnership with Upstream Prevention.
His chief deputy, Derek Wilson, says the partnership has been a great help to their department so far.
“I kind of feel like we’re really leading the way here in partnership with these people,” Wilson says. “For them to know our role and we know their role, that’s just a good thing. And that’s been very, very helpful over the last 2 years that we’ve been doing.”
Wilson says that while they determine cause and manner of death at the scene, ATLAS volunteers can provide that immediate support to loved ones at the scene who are often in shock and going through one of the toughest days. of their life.
He says they hope the resources and support can help prevent more suicides within families in the future.
“If it helps just one person, the Johnson County Coroner’s Office will do everything they can to make sure the person gets the help they need,” Wilson says.
The ATLAS team currently has 11 trained volunteers and two staff members who can respond when called upon.
It’s a process that began in January 2021, and they continue to look for ways to expand and serve the community.
This includes education and ending the stigma of suicide.
For Szostak, that also means encouraging people to reach out to those they love no matter what.
“Absolutely reaching out,” Szostak says. “There’s nothing you’ll regret reaching out to someone to see if they’re okay. But there’s so much you can regret if you don’t.”
It’s a tough topic of conversation, but talking about it could save someone’s life.
September is Suicide Prevention Month and there is a push to let anyone in trouble know that there is help available.
The suicide prevention hotline is 988 for anyone in difficulty or who knows someone in difficulty.
To support more suicide prevention initiatives in Johnson County, Friends of Hughes and Ryan will be hosting Ryans’ Ride on Saturday, September 17.
It’s a motorcycle ride on country roads. Registration begins at 10 a.m. at the Corner Bar on the south side of Indy. The cost of the ride is $25 per rider or $35 for a couple and that includes dinner. Crutches go up at noon. The ride will end in Trafalgar and Brown County and eventually return to Corner Bar for a block party.
To learn more about Upstream Prevention and how you can help their initiatives in Johnson County, simply visit UpstreamPrevention.org.