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Affiliation: Alumna

Program: MS, Mental Health Counseling

Education: BS, SUNY at Brockport (psychology)

Current Employment: Clinician at Monroe Youth and Family Center
Renae Carapella-Johnson

 

Renae Carapella-Johnson

Renae Carapella entered college as a journalism major but switched to psychology her sophomore year, after her younger brother was hospitalized for the first time for depression. She figured it would help her better understand what he was going through, so that she could help him deal with his mental illness.

After Raymond took his own life during Carapella’s senior year, her focus switched from counseling her brother to counseling others with similar struggles, as well as their loved ones who, like Carapella had been, are usually afraid to use the S-word.

“I felt like if I had talked to Raymond about suicide, I would’ve put that thought into his head,” she recalls. “But the fact is it was already there. And it would’ve been validating. I have to ask clients about it all the time and you can almost see the sense of relief that they can actually talk about it now. They’ve found a safe place.”

As a master’s student at Warner in mental health counseling, Carapella started volunteering at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention less than a year after she lost her brother. Fifteen months later, in September 2007, she became the foundation’s area coordinator, which involved planning and participating in educational presentations to various schools and community organizations in 19 counties. She also saw six college-age clients through her internship at the University of Rochester Counseling Center, where she not only recognized but openly acknowledged the warning signs her brother had exhibited shortly before his death at 19.

Carapella says that she and Raymond, who was three years younger, had a special relationship. They grew up playing football in the backyard and watching Sunday afternoon games on TV; Raymond rooted for the Tampa Bay Buckaneers while Carapella cheered on the Dallas Cowboys.

Raymond knew about and appreciated the change she made for him in college, and toward the end of his life Carapella attended one of his counseling sessions. Still, when her brother made hopeless comments, such as his family not having to worry about him anymore, Carapella would tell him to stop saying such things. And for that she felt tremendous guilt, something she has learned, three years later, to use to help shatter the social stigma attached to suicide.

While seeing herself always maintaining some affiliation with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Carapella plans to do even more counseling work with people who have lost loved ones to suicide. There aren’t enough support services for this population, which are at a high risk for suicide themselves, she says.

Carapella, who now works as a clinician at Monroe Youth and Family Center, remembers the awkward silences that followed her answer to concerned questions about Raymond’s death at such a young age.

“You say ‘suicide’ and people don’t want to talk about it anymore,” she says. “They get very uncomfortable. So along with counseling we have to educate the public and raise awareness.

“I used to say, ‘What could I have done?’ I’ve changed that to, ‘What can I do now? How can I keep Raymond’s memory alive?’”

(Published July 2008)

 

 



Tags: counseling, mental health counseling and supervision