Stories of Resilience: The Parker Family

We’re sharing the Parker family’s story as part of our Raising Resilience initiative, which equips parents and caregivers with tools to teach kids and teens how to cope with challenges, manage stress and ultimately make healthy choices throughout their lives.

Strong4Life mental health expert Erin Harlow-Parker, an advanced practice registered nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, is changing the narrative on suicide.

Erin’s husband and former MARTA CEO Jeff Parker—who she was with for more than 35 years—was her best friend, her favorite travel buddy, and an amazing dad. In January 2022, the Parker family suffered a devastating loss when Jeff died by suicide. Now, Erin and her daughters, Gabrielle and Izzy, are working to destigmatize and prevent suicide by telling Jeff’s story.

“When we first learned that Jeff had died, I wanted the right story to be told,” said Erin. “I couldn't save Jeff, but … calling it what it is from the get-go, saying ‘suicide’ … was an opportunity to educate and to decrease stigma.”

Erin has worked in child and adolescent psychiatry for more than 30 years, and suicide prevention has been an area of her expertise for more than a decade, which she says made sharing Jeff’s story even more important.

“If we don’t change the narrative, we’re going to continue to have people who won’t seek out help,” said Erin.

So, how do we change the narrative on suicide? By learning the facts about suicide and talking about it. Here’s what the Parker family wants everyone to know about suicide:

  • Suicide doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t happen to a certain kind of person or family. It can happen to anyone.
  • Suicide can be prevented. There’s a misconception that if someone is determined to die by suicide, there’s nothing we can do to stop it. But that’s simply not true.
  • Talking about suicide can save lives. There’s no research to support the myth that talking about suicide puts ideas in kids’ or teens’ minds or changes their behavior. Being open and honest about suicide and mental health can help decrease stigma and encourage people to get the support they need.
  • How we talk about suicide matters. Avoid saying that a person “committed suicide,” as this phrase only contributes to stigma and has negative associations. Instead, say that a person “died by suicide.”
  • We can reduce stigma around mental health by teaching all kids—starting at an early age—that we all have feelings, and that it’s OK and helpful to talk about our emotions, rather than bottling them up. This can help kids and teens to build resilience, prevent suicide, and reduce risk for developing anxiety and depression.
  • Take any talk of suicide seriously. If someone is talking about suicide or wanting to die (no matter their age), it means they’re struggling and need immediate support.
  • There’s help available. Call or text 988 if you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide, self-harm or any mental health crisis.

"If we don't change the narrative, we're going to have people who won't seek out help."

There are things we can all do to help prevent suicide:

Any thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously. Call or text 988 if you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide, self-harm or any mental health crisis. You can also chat or text for support by downloading the MyGCAL app in the App Store or on Google Play.

To learn more about building resilience in kids, check out our Raising Resilience initiative.