Carmen George

Reconnecting to hope: Fresno man honored for suicide prevention work

DeQuincy Lezine will be honored Wednesday at the Voice Awards in Los Angeles with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his leadership in suicide prevention research and advocacy at the community, state and national levels.
DeQuincy Lezine will be honored Wednesday at the Voice Awards in Los Angeles with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his leadership in suicide prevention research and advocacy at the community, state and national levels. ezamora@fresnobee.com

There is a kind of sadness that goes beyond hope.

Suffering beyond rescue. Pain with no release.

“It feels like nothing is ever going to get better,” says DeQuincy Lezine of Fresno. “It’s just pain and despair, and all you can see looking forward is pain and despair. And if there is only pain and despair, why continue it?

“It’s just feeling incredible pain and isolation and like there’s nothing you can do about it and it’s never going to stop. The only option is to make everything stop. To make life itself stop.”

Lezine tried, many times. But each time, he returned from that dark place to live again.

And more than to live, to help others live, too.

For that commitment, the 38-year-old is being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at its 2015 Voice Awards on Wednesday in Los Angeles for his leadership in suicide prevention research and advocacy at the community, state, and national levels.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there were 41,149 suicides reported in the U.S. in 2013 (most recent data available), making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.

“I never really thought I would get an award,” Lezine says. “For so long I didn’t think I would have lived this long. Getting an award makes you reflect on the things that you’ve done and looking back on the different things I’ve worked on, yeah, I guess some things have made a difference.”

His work with suicide prevention began as a student at Brown University, not long after his first suicide attempt as a freshman. Along with depression, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“So there was that going on,” Lezine recalls, “and not having a major support system in place, and a lot of academic pressure, personal pressure, perfectionism. Feeling like I was failing at stuff.”

With a laugh, he says, “perfect is the enemy of good.”

Lezine started taking medication for his disorder and met with a therapist. And within a year, he started a chapter of the Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network at Brown in the late 1990s, what he says was the first college group in the nation focused on suicide prevention.

It was born from his wishing someone had been there to help him in his darkest moments, “not coming from a cheery, optimistic perspective but someone who had actually suffered that depth of despair. Once I could offer that, I thought I should because I knew it could make a difference.”

He started talking with many students who were having suicidal thoughts.

“I think it was very comforting for them and meaningful to me, and then comforting for me, so it was beneficial all the way around.”

It’s possible to recover. It takes a lot of work, but it’s possible.

DeQuincy Lezine

Many people run from the topic of suicide, Lezine says, including a lot of therapists.

“Being able to openly talk about those feelings of despair and darkness and not have people freaking out and shushing you up — research shows that helps. That silence doesn’t help, talking about it actually helps.”

Lezine has devoted his life to helping people talk about it.

In the late 1990s, he was part of the surgeon general’s first expert panel to help draft the first national strategy for preventing suicide, and others that followed.

At that time, Lezine says, many people thought “there is nothing that can be done” if someone wants to attempt suicide.

Lezine went on to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology from UCLA and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in suicide prevention research at the University of Rochester. He also wrote an autobiography, “Eight Stories Up,” about his suicide attempt in college.

He is currently president and CEO of Prevention Communities, which provides research, education and consulting for groups working to prevent suicide.

For those seeking help for themselves or loved ones with suicidal thoughts, Lezine says the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available, 1-800-273-TALK, along with many local therapists, counselors, clinicians and groups such as Fresno Survivors of Suicide Loss.

Having the support of friends helped a lot and learning more things — learning more about myself, learning about bipolar disorder and suicide.

DeQuincy Lezine

Major changes in lifestyle or work habits can be red flags that someone is thinking about suicide, Lezine says.

Many suicide survivors told Lezine it would have helped them “if someone said, ‘I care about you,’ and called and said, ‘I was really thinking about you and wondered if you wanted to get together to get a coffee or tea or grab a drink.’ Just that type of general social outreach, even if it’s not specific. Just feeling like someone cares and is connected to you can make a huge difference.”

Medication also has helped Lezine, much like Tylenol relieves pain, he says, but it doesn’t provide a cure. Self-reflection is where the healing happens.

Lezine has dug deep to better understand what is important to him, “the thing hurting so much that you’re willing to die for,” so he can work on fixing that and learn from the experience.

Build on strengths and address the challenges.

DeQuincy Lezine

The other big thing that has helped: perspective.

“When you face death and look at other things, they are not that scary. You can realize that a lot of things are pretty small — that shift in perspective.”

His 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter also help keep him grounded. He finds joy in teaching them. He doesn’t ever want them to say something like, “I wish my dad was here to see me graduate.”

And more than anything, he says, choosing to live is about “reconnecting to hope.”

“Even if someone is just able to offer that idea, that there is hope, that there is some possibility for a positive future — any way people can bring that to someone is something helpful.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

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