According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 11 minutes, someone takes their own life. For every life lost, there is a ripple effect of anguish through communities.
“It was a Friday morning, about 7:30,” Rob Helfrich said, recalling the worst the worst day of his life. “He was up all night. He had a lot of anxiety about going to school. And we felt that we just needed to get him to school. We sometimes have a lot of anxiety about doing things, but once he did them he was perfectly fine.”
But that never happened. The last 30 minutes of Zach Helfrich's internet history show a last-ditch effort for help that came too late.
“My wife was in the house, my daughter was in the house. I was out in the driveway, and I heard the bang,” said Rob Helfrich.
That harrowing day in 2019 sent shockwaves through the Helfrich family and left them wondering, why?
“I think looking back, it's very easy to do 20/20 hindsight and say, 'Well, could have done this, could have done that.' And honestly, truthfully, perhaps we could have done things differently,” said Rob Helfrich. “Things might have been a little bit different had we picked up on the signs.”
In the time that's passed, Helfrich has been a father on a mission, raising awareness so that so others have critical information.
“A lot of the things that I do now as far as the Zach Helfrich Memorial and a lot of the things we do for suicide awareness and communication is just for parents to understand that these things can happen and in this reality,” he said.
It's something no friend or family member can conceive, in too many cases before it's too late.
“Statistics are there. There's a CDC study that came out earlier this spring that indicated that 9% of high school students in 2019 attempted suicide,” Helfrich noted. “That is a really, really scary statistic, and that was pre-pandemic.”
The Zach Helfrich Memorial Fund focuses on money for the Psychiatry High Risk Program at Upstate Medical that treats ages 14-40 in some of the most critical points in their lives.
“They're doing phenomenal results. They're saving lives. And last time I talked to that director, they haven't lost one single patient.”
It's something that Zach could have looked into in those last 30 minutes and something Helfrich will spend a lifetime advocating for so families feel comfortable communicating.
“We never, we never saw any anything that really alarmed us that he was going to take his life,” said Helfrich. “By utilizing these events within the community and building that awareness with parents, that is the first step.”
Wherever you are across the Empire State or nation, the end goal is the same: find a way to talk to your loved ones about mental health and suicide. If you need help with that, there are organizations willing to help.
The Zach Helfrich Memorial Fund run, Life Worth Living 5K, will be running at Abbot Farms on August 14. They also have fundraisers year round that help the endowment at Upstate and other organizations.