Women Who Move West Michigan – 2021 – Special Section
P.O. Box 822 | Ada, MI 49301
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255
Driven by loss, a passion for educating, and a sense of responsibility to change the conversation around suicide — or even have productive conversations about it — Vonnie Woodrick founded i understand in 2014. That was 11 years after losing her husband. She says depression took his life. The illness won. He didn’t want to die; he only wanted his pain to end. That’s the message that she wants to reach more people: that suicide can be a terminal side effect of brain/mental health illness. Not a choice. Not an act that should be stigmatized. And certainly not a crime, which is where the phrase “commit suicide” is derived.
Based in Ada, Woodrick says, the non-profit organization i understand exists to be a resource in the community, providing compassionate comfort to individuals in a number of ways. These include hosting events, support groups, and weekly walks; airing the “Be the One” podcast; and offering speaking engagements on mental health and surviving the loss of a loved one to suicide.
The organization has partnered with Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, funding a full-time, dedicated clinical nurse who educates hospital staff and provides those in mental health crisis with educational resources and emotional support. At the hospital, there’s also a sensory room for children needing a place of comfort and calm. There are also i understand care packages available through the hospital system, Network180, and the Michigan Sherries’ Association.
One of the more important missions for Woodrick is to change how people talk about and view mental health and suicide — and she believes that goal is achieved by changing the language; changing the definition of the word suicide. “Today, suicide is defined as ‘the intentional taking of one’s own life,’ ” Woodrick says. “We’d like to see it described as it truly is: a side effect of a brain/mental health illness or pain, and the result of wanting one’s physical or emotional pain to end.”
To further this endeavor, she’s created a petition that calls on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to publicly affirm i understand’s more accurate, updated definition by including it in the literature and on their websites. Those interested in contributing their voice can go to: iunderstandloveheals.org/petition to sign.
“We’re not talking about suicide and mental health the way we should be talking about it,” Woodrick says. “For all other illnesses, we speak with compassion and listen with understanding, and that’s my goal for mental health and brain health issues. Because right now we judge them.”
One of the biggest myths out there is if people talk about suicide, it’s going to give someone who is suffering the idea. But it’s likely that person already has that thought. Instead, talking about it can help deescalate those feelings, especially when the focus is on the illness rather than the act. “We need to start recognizing pain,” she says. “If someone in our lives has gone through a traumatic event, such as losing their job or divorce, or is experiencing isolation, bullying, heartache, or financial loss, they need to be checked in on.”
To learn more, look for Vonnie Woodrick’s book i understand: Pain, Love, and Healing after Suicide, available on Amazon and the i understand website.