Community Engagement Specialist John Giampaolo Works to Improve Suicide Prevention

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Southern Region Community Engagement Specialist John Giampaolo still looks up to his big brother Steve, but wonders what might have been had things been different.

The oldest of six children, Steve Giampaolo was a cool guy with a great job in the software development industry. By the age of 30, he had worked his way up to manager. He even dated a University of Miami cheerleader at one point, impressing his baby brother John, who now works for Cardinal Innovations. But sometimes beneath a seemingly normal life lies torment.

“I was 21 when he took his life," John Giampaolo said about his brother. “He still fought. He just couldn't deal with it anymore. As a survivor you're left with the mystery and the blankness of it all.

Giampaolo was aware of his brother's illness from the age of 9. “I saw the in and out of the hospital, the coming home and the being institutionalized. But I also remember seeing remarkable things, too. Even though he's passed, I still look up to him. I don't see his mental illness as barrier to that."

Today, the younger Giampaolo builds relationships with Cardinal Innovations' stakeholders in the Southern Region. His brother's memory is his base, what keeps him focused and grounded, he said.

Earlier this year, Community Engagement Manager LaShay Avery nominated Giampaolo for a Cardinal LEADS Award for his work addressing suicide prevention in Stanly County, which ranks 13th in North Carolina for completed suicides – most often males in their early 40s. The pain of each life lost ripples through the small community, he said.

Giampaolo helped organize the Stanly County Suicide Prevention Task Force, uniting community members to raise awareness and start a community discussion about suicide. The task force has members from across the community who attend area events to raise awareness. The community drives it, Giampaolo said. Local community college students designed a logo and the group is working to break through the stigma of talking about suicide so lives can be saved and survivors can begin to heal. In Union County, Giampaolo is working on a Stigma Awareness Campaign.

“How can we reduce stigma? My brother drives me on that. I think about how my parents suffered and didn't understand. I use that as a guide," he said, adding that mental illness resources weren't what they are now.

“That's where I see my mission," he said. “When I'm talking to members' families, I want to make sure the parents know things that my parents didn't know about."

Giampaolo also has worked to expand Mental Health First Aid and Question, Persuade, Refer training throughout his areas. He's also working with Davidson County community stakeholders who are creating an app to help law enforcement find local resources for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

“John has single-handedly corralled and engaged three different counties as a community engagement specialist. Davidson, Stanly and Union are all collaborative partners with Cardinal Innovations based on John's tireless efforts," Avery said. “I am contacted on a regular basis regarding John's positive impact in the community."

“He engages stakeholders and helps them figure out a way to better serve their community," Avery said. “He doesn't fix stakeholder problems; he helps stakeholders own the community and collaborate in such a way as to address the barriers presented."

But for Giampaolo, his thoughts still often circle back to his brother.

“Even though he looked good on the outside, he was suffering so much on the inside that I think he just simply could not deal with it anymore," Giampaolo said. “I miss him and I feel a bit cheated. What would life had have been if he were still here? That's what survivors are left wondering. Time doesn't heal all, but you have to move on and keep moving forward."

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