Written by The Business Journal Staff
Leann M. Gouveia M.P.A.
Fresno Survivors of Suicide Loss, Inc.
What we do: Fresno SOSL (est. 1985) provides emotional support to those who have lost a loved one to suicide and educates the community about issues related to suicide. We offer a monthly support group meeting, a monthly newsletter, annual events, and a mentoring program. We also offer an education program that goes into high schools and in the workplace to educate youth and those who deal with high-risk populations. We speak to service/business clubs, universities, churches, etc.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in political science and Master of Public Administration, both from Fresno State.
How did you come into your position as executive director of Fresno SOS, Leann?
I moved to Fresno, from Visalia, in 1994, to further my education at Fresno State. Two months into my new life here, my mother, Sharon Ann Ennis, age 51, suicided. This single event would change my whole world and who I would become. I joined Fresno SOSL for support because I could not go through this tragedy alone. Simultaneously, there was great momentum and priority toward suicide prevention in our nation. I wanted to become educated in this topic and at least try to make a difference in memory of my mother. I traveled extensively to conferences and served on committees and joined national survivor groups. I learned as much as I could from others and developed a few successful projects here in our community. I also served on the executive board of this organization, 1995-2000. Upon completing my master’s degree in December of 2000, the board of directors offered to me an opportunity to centralize the efforts of Fresno SOSL and forward its mission of survivor support and suicide prevention education. I began my new career on 2/1/01, 12 years ago.
What do you communicate about suicide when you give presentations to the public, Leann?
My goal is to change how people think about suicide. We want people to know that suicide is not about being weak and that it is not about dying. It is about ending PAIN. Most people believe the many misconceptions that exist in our culture and society. We want to dispel these myths.
We want people to know that the number one leading cause for suicide is undiagnosed, untreated depression. One-in-five Americans has a depressive disorder, yet few seek help. Treatment can be very successful for depression. Depression, in its worst form, is a disease no different than cancer or diabetes. The brain can get sick just like any other organ in the body and it is very insidious. Suicide is not prejudiced against anyone. We want people to know that it is very important to take care of their mental health and to establish a personal mental health plan.
Suicide is something that is rarely reported in the media. How prevalent is it in our community, Leann?
Suicide is a major public health problem. In the U.S. over 36,000 Americans complete suicide annually. Fresno County ranks #13 among the top 15 American cities for the highest rate of suicide. In 2011, we had 90 suicides and 70 homicides. Consistently, suicide is more prevalent than homicide in our county. Suicide increased 26 percent from 2010 to 2011. Thirty-two of the 90 suicides were by guns followed by hanging and overdose, respectively. Sixty-two of those were by males and 28 were female. While males complete suicide at a higher rate, females attempt more often, 4:1. Most suicides were among the 41-50 year old age group, followed closely by the 51-60 year old age group. We lost 11 youth between ages 11-20. Most suicides occurred in August.
What is your message to business owners or professionals when it comes to depression and suicide, Leann?
Education is extremely important. Your employee’s mental health impacts their work performance. The American workplace loses over 40 billion dollars annually due to depression and mental health related issues. We would like to partner with your local business to build awareness by offering workplace trainings and presentations. We want to get the word out about our organization to your clients/customers by placing a display in your lobby/staff break room.
What resources are available locally for people contemplating suicide, Leann?
If you know of someone who is actively suicidal the best thing you can do is take him or her to an emergency room immediately. Do not be afraid to call the police if you need to. Consider seeing a medical doctor. Other resources in the Fresno area include: New Fresno County suicide hotline: 1-888-506-5991, Urgent Care Wellness Center: 600-9171, Blue Sky Wellness Center: 230-2501, Alliant University Counseling: 253-2277, Fresno Family Counseling Center: 229-3085, Behavioral Health 24/7 Access Line: 453-4894, CCAIR: 600-6760, University Psychiatry: 320-0580, Clinica Sierra Vista: 457-5826, National Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), Fresno State students can call the health center 278-6738 for psychological services.
What are some of your interests and hobbies, Leann?
I have 2 dogs, toy poodles, who keep me active. I enjoy making altered jewelry and collect vintage papers, making notebooks, note cards and such. I enjoy walking, my friends and my work very much.
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it, Leann?
My first job, when I was a teenager, was working in a fruit packing shed. It was hard work! I learned time management, financial responsibility, and to get an education.