ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – May 31st marks the last day of mental health awareness month. Each year in the month of May, we bring attention to mental health and how essential it is to our overall wellbeing.

Our country is facing an unprecedented mental health crisis. The crisis isn’t just affecting kids, it’s devastating people of all ages from every background.

Deb Maxwell, an Elmira native, is using the voice she has to bring awareness to this issue. Deb lost her son to suicide in March of 2014.

“David, also known as Bubby, was an absolutely beautiful spirit and a wonderful light,” Deb explained. “It was a devastating time when the pain simply got too much and he took his own life.”

There are no words to described the feeling of losing a child, regardless of how young or how old they are. Deb said her world felt empty. She was confused and left with so many unanswered questions. As any grieving mother would do, she sought help from the community.

“After a couple of months, I started to think somebody else has got to feel like this,” Deb said. “There are some amazing support groups and some incredible people.”

But, Deb faced a problem. She appreciated all of the love and support that was surrounding her, but the group wasn’t focused on suicide. Deb decided to take matters into her own hands.

“When I didn’t find a group, I thought to myself, if you don’t find what you need you make what you need.”

That is exactly what she did. Deb is the founder of Smile Through the Storms, a support group for the survivors of suicide and ones who have lost a loved one to suicide. Her mission is for loved ones left behind as the result of suicide to come together and be comforted in knowing that others understand their thoughts and feelings.

The group used to meet in-person once a month. When the pandemic swarmed the country in 2020, Deb took the group virtually. Now, the group meets twice a month in-person, and the virtual option is available to everyone. Survivors come from all around including Connecticut, Texas, California, and even Canada.

It’s important to remember that someone struggling with mental health can often hide it. It’s something that isn’t so easy for the eye to see. Deb explains you can’t tell what someone is going through on the inside by just looking at them through the outside.

“It’s a stigma. Back in the day, we never talked about mental health. We didn’t talk about suicide,” Deb says. “There are so many things that need to change. We need to communicate and we need to talk about this. You have to listen to what other people are saying.”

That is Deb’s message. While her son was taken from the world too soon, she spends her time spreading the message of how imperative it is that we look at mental health the same way we look at physical health.

“I’m a voice now that I will not be quiet. I will continue on. I think my son is looking down on me and is patting me on the back thinking, go Mom.”

Any of us can make a difference by bringing mental health awareness into everyday interactions with one another, not just in the month of May. Reach out, check in and talk to each other. And always remember, you are never alone.

For more information on Smile Through the Storms, you can visit the groups Facebook page, website, or contact Deb Maxwell. She is always willing to listen.

Email: debmax61@yahoo.com

Phone: (607) 241-6624

Suicide Hotline: 1-877-8-HOPENY