Beginning of suicide column2-1-1 Brevard communications manager Belinda Stewart’s column on Sept. 12 in Florida Today kicked off a partnership to raise awareness of mental illness in Brevard County.
Since the column (READ IT HERE) was published, the date of Oct. 9 was selected for a roundtable discussion among experts – from professional or personal experience.
“I was thrilled that people who saw the column contacted me with an interest in participating,” Stewart said. “Plus, people are readily accepting our invitation.”

Those planning to attend so far include:
• Orville Clayton, mental health director, Brevard County Sheriff’s Office
• Gail Cordial, executive director, Florida Partners in Crisis
• Dr. Barry Hensel, vice president of clinical services, Circles of Care
• Jean McPhaden, executive director, Brevard Drop-In Center
• Dr. Lori Parsons, executive director, Family Counseling Center of Brevard
• Dr. Beth Thedy, assistant superintendent, Brevard Public Schools

For more information, contact Stewart via email or at 321-631-9290, ext. 224.

The text of the Sept. 12 column follows:
Suicide first touched my life while I was in college in the early 1980s, when my grandmother found the body of a young man she had helped care for since his childhood – dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
He had struggled for years, but who could believe it would end so tragically?
I feel lucky, if you can call it that, because I didn’t shed uncontrollable tears over a suicide again until last month, when a close friend’s adult son chose to end his pain – less than a week after the death of Robin Williams.
Again, there were years of heartache leading up to that day. He had posted on Facebook about the iconic comedian a few days before, and his family knew he was in trouble and had tried to help.
But suicide?
As we mark National Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 8-14), I am compelled both personally and professionally to do what I can to spread the word about the support available for those battling depression and thoughts of suicide.
Thankfully, Florida Today editors and reporters share my conviction about awareness of mental illness: They’ll partner with 2-1-1 Brevard, which offers 24-hour crisis intervention via the three-digit dialing code. (That’s where I work as communications manager.)
We plan to convene a roundtable of local experts to layer the discussion with a range of perspectives and opinions. Our target date will be during Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 5-11), so contact me via email at if you would like to participate.
Then the journalists will take over to formulate a list of priorities for in-depth pursuit over the coming months – likely culminating in May, when we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month (emphasis on “health,” a positive word).
Topics related to mental illness that might be explored include: demographics and statistics, toll on families, health insurance, criminal justice, homelessness, local resources and financial cost to society.
We won’t know the details until after we get together and talk, which brings to mind another high-profile suicide that came back into the news with the recent death of another comedic icon.
Joan Rivers lost her husband and the father of her only child to suicide more than 25 years ago and openly expressed ongoing anger at him. She didn’t shy away from difficult topics, including Edgar Rosenberg’s death by intentional overdose.
Her signature question for decades: “Can we talk?”
My answer in 2014: Yes.
Talking and listening are keys to suicide prevention and treatment of mental illness. Let’s keep the private and community conversations going.
Belinda Stewart is the communications manager at 2-1-1 Brevard Inc. and a former journalist who spent most of a decade at Florida Today. Contact her at 321-631-9290, ext. 224, or Find 2-1-1 Brevard on Facebook and Twitter (@211Brevard).