In 2018, forty-eight people died by suicide in Winnebago County. One local woman, Xavier Whitford, is working to increase awareness about this specific mental illness, and help others find assistance, after suffering the loss of her son, Tommy.
Tommy was 19-years-old when he took his own life.
“We never going to know what he could become. That was taken away from us because his brain told lies to him, and he believed it,” Whitford said.
He struggled with anxiety and depression throughout his childhood.
“The loss of his dad, even though he was three, affected him greatly,” she said. “We had him in and out of counseling since he was three years old, but he was officially diagnosed when he was in elementary school.”
After his passing, Whitford decided to make it her mission to advocate for suicide and mental health awareness to help others who might be struggling with life.
She founded the Tommy Corral Memorial Foundation.
“I’m either going to let it control me, consume me, and ruin me, or I’m going to use it to do something positive, and helpful, and inspirational,” she said.
The foundation offers mental health first aid classes, therapy at low cost or no cost, teen support groups, and more.
“I think by being more open to talking about it, to start to (equate) people that have mental illness the same way people can have physical illnesses…depression, schizophrenia. Nobody come to be there for you. I hope I can change that by realizing this can happen to anybody,” she said.
Whitford has taken trips to Washington D.C. as well as the Illinois State Capitol to advocate different legislative changes surrounding mental health issues. She said that, in the next few weeks, she’s meeting with a local representative to discuss potential bill ideas regarding mental health education within our school systems.
Whitford will be part of a free educational event this weekend for suicide and mental health awareness, on Saturday, February 2nd from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Evans United Methodist Church, at 7605 N 2nd Street in Machesney Park.
If you or a loved one are facing challenges, contact the suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741-741.