Antoinette Steinbarth knows firsthand the pain that mental illness can wreak on a family.
Her husband, Andy, who suffered from bipolar disorder, plunged to his death off the Skyway in 2000.
Steinbarth channeled her grief into a career as a licensed mental health counselor, working with the outreach team at Crisis Services in Erie County for the last five years, the last two as supervisor. The agency’s hotline has handled more than 12,000 suicide-related concerns this year.
“There are a lot of things to a suicide attempt,” she said. “The behavior is very complex, and difficult to understand.”
Steinbarth will be among the panelists at the 15th annual International Survivors of Suicide Day Program, which will be held from 12:45 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo Psychiatric Center.
Steinbarth, 43, thought she found her soul mate in the late 1990s when she met Andy Steinbarth. She watched him struggle, but not mightily, with mental health issues before his death at age 24.
“At first, it’s such a shock,” she said, “and that feeling lasts a long time.”
Steinbarth worked at Eastern Hills Mall as a customer relations specialist at the time but afterward went on to get her master’s degree in mental health counseling at Niagara University.
Today, she and her Crisis Services team are trained to spot potential trouble before it spins out of control.
It can be harder for families.
Risk factors include a diagnosed mental illness, substance abuse, a family history of suicide, a serious medical condition or severe pain, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Environmental risks include the death of a close loved one, a big financial hit, the loss of a job, a relationship break-up, an arrest, or bullying. Access to methods of suicide during these periods can increase the risk.
Those concerned about such risks to themselves, or their loved ones, can call Crisis Services anytime at 834-3131 for help.
The Saturday program, to be held in the Butler Rehabilitation Center Auditorium on the Psychiatric Center’s main campus, 400 Forest Ave., will include a broadcast featuring people from all over who have lost close relatives and friends to suicide. Afterward, continuing the discussion will be a local panel made up of family members, including Steinbarth, who have lost relatives to suicide, as well as a bereavement counselor and other mental health clinicians.
Doors will open at noon. A light lunch will be served. There is no fee, but registration is requested. To register or for more information on the program, call 816-2011.
Time and a purpose have allowed Steinbarth to heal and channel her grief. She has spent recent years working with other families to get their troubled loved ones help, and to offer the kind of support she was thankful to receive in the aftermath of her husband’s suicide.
“As much as I could say after he died, ‘My life is not over at 30, I’m going to meet somebody else,’ actually believing that could happen was something completely different,” Steinbarth said. “My mind got it rationally, but it took a lot longer with my heart to be OK with that.”