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Shoeleather Journalism in the Digital Age

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Mental Health Matters Conference in Scottsdale amid suicide awareness

Meet a Scottsdale mom who is turning tragedy into triumph
By Jan Horne | city of Scottsdale

Zach was a kind-hearted, animal advocating, Minnesota Vikings loving, Horizon High School sophomore. He also suffered from mental illness. And at almost 17 years old, Zach took his life in June 2017.

Zach’s mom, Francine Sumner, is now a mental health advocate. She’s been instrumental in coordinating the Mental Health Matters Conference. This free event offers information and resources available to support youth as it relates to mental health, substance abuse, eating disorders and LGBTQIA+.

The event will be held from 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, at SkySong whereas former news anchor Brandon Lee will be the keynote speaker. Mr. Lee is founder and chief operating officer of Art of Our Soul, an art healing program for trauma survivors.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. After declining in 2019 and 2020, suicide deaths increased approximately 5% in the United States in 2021.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimates indicate that suicide deaths further increased in 2022, rising from 48,183 in 2021 to an estimated 49,449 deaths in 2022, an increase of approximately 2.6%.

According to Zach’s mom, he had his first mental health breakdown in December 2016. He needed help with homework. Francine needed to wrap up a few things before doing so. Zach took her response less than lightly, accusing her and others of not caring about him. That night was his first suicide attempt.

While Francine saw Zach as a smart, funny and sometimes quirky kid, she didn’t know that he had been silently struggling. He felt abandoned by his family and lifelong school friends.

Over the next six months, the family sought help. Zach saw four psychiatric providers, none was able to properly diagnose him. In the end, Zach was misdiagnosed and prescribed the wrong medication. Zach suffered from bipolar disorder, but he was on a high dose of anti-depressants.

As much as Zach tried to get his life back by attending therapy and in-patient programming, he still often felt isolated and alone. He felt like that “kid in the corner.”

Zach’s mom did not want Zach’s life to be in vain. Just a few months after his suicide, she created Kid in a Corner, a nonprofit whose mission is to #ShatterTheStigma that surrounds mental illness and to support the “kid in the corner” — whoever that may be.

“Losing a child is the worst and most difficult journey anyone could possibly go through,” said Francine. However, her advocacy work has helped tremendously with the healing, she says. “We get to work with Zach and use his story to save other lives! Working in his memory is truly a blessing.”

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