It's almost time for me to board a plane to my home state of New Mexico and I'm counting down the minutes! In exactly 24-hours I will be giving a free mental health/suicide prevention training in my hometown of Las Vegas, NM.
In 2004, I read an alarming statistic that New Mexico ranked within the top five states for suicide rates. This raised a sudden sense of urgency within me. I didn't know how this issue was going to be addressed, but all I knew was that someone, anyone, had to do something. My parents were currently living in Houston, TX so I immediately drove to the one place and person who I knew would care as much as I did, and had the power to do something. Pulling up in my 1988 red Nissan Sentra (primmered on the side). I parked my car at City Hall and walked in to visit Mayor Henry O. Sanchez, (nationally recognized basketball coach and living legend). He and my father were good friends, so I grew to learn that the man everyone called coach was also one of the most interesting, honest, and true humans I'd ever met. Many knew and admired him for his coaching skills. So many more know him for the sense of hope he instilled within them to succeed and be more. When he ran for political office, I was excited. When he won for mayor of my hometown of Las Vegas, NM- I adopted him as my mentor. I payed great attention to his demeanor and the many ways he always led with honor. His favorite saying was, "there's never a right way to do the wrong thing." I was serving as Student Body President of my University during this time and so naturally when I needed advice, I'd stop by (always without an appointment) and he'd lend an ear. After learning about the suicide rates in New Mexico, I knew he'd be able to help provide me with some ideas. Informing him about The Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program, I told him that someone from the community needed to get trained. He sat in silence for a few seconds then looked up and said, "you're absolutely right! That someone is you!" Without even thinking about my answer, I agreed. His only stipulation was that he would pay for me to travel to Colorado and get trained, but I had to promise him I'd return and train the entire community. I agreed again. As I stood to leave his office, I looked back and there he sat smiling back at me. While at that moment I knew nothing about suicide prevention, I knew letting the Mayor down was not an option. Little did I know that from that moment on, my life would forever change and I would soon find my purpose and passion.
Getting trained in suicide prevention is the greatest thing I could have ever done. It is the love of my life and something I have committed to do forever, with hopes that one day suicide will become non-existent. Since becoming trained, I have kept my promise and every year it is an honor to travel back to New Mexico to train my community. The opportunity Mayor Sanchez gave me some years ago, is something that has blessed me over and over again, through the people I have met, places I have visited, and so much more! My work in suicide prevention set the tone for my educational and professional career. This year, I completed my Masters Degree in Public Affairs-with my thesis focusing on mental health policy. Today, I live and work in Washington, DC working on critical national mental health policy.
A few weeks ago, I was deeply saddened to hear that Mayor Henry O. Sanchez passed away. The thought of him being gone, immediately fills my eyes with tears and a lump in my throat. I'm grateful for the chance to have met him. I'm even more humbled he took me under his wing. Some often wonder how I can work in the area of suicide prevention and mental health. The question I get the most is, "how can someone so happy work in such an area filled with sadness?" Well, for me it makes sense. I love life! I believe in mental health. I have seen the positive ways it can help others. Most importantly it saves lives. Living your life at your full potential is a message Mayor Sanchez worked throughout his life to share with anyone he encountered. Mental health and suicide prevention are part of the belief that no one should ever believe that this world would be a better place without them. We all have a purpose in life. Each day we are given is one more opportunity to have a positive impact on someone else and the communities in which we live. The loss of Mayor/Coach Henry O. Sanchez, serves as a reminder that life itself is short enough as it is, so while we are here we might as well make the most of it. If you ever find yourself in a situation and don't know which path to choose, remember that, "there's never a right way to do the wrong thing." Be well my friends and hope to see you all soon. May the man that so many of us loved and respected rest in peace. You will be missed.