Nonprofit Profile: Preventing Youth Suicide with Remembering TJ

How to Prevent Suicide and Find Hope After Loss

Nancy Sergeant
Milestone Mindset Magazine
8 min readSep 21, 2022


Nancy Sergeant in conversation with suicide prevention advocate Wendy Sefcik.
Click here to watch the full interview.

Here’s an excerpt of my Milestone Mindset LIVE conversation with suicide prevention advocate Wendy Sefcik. We share an honest and inspiring perspective on mental health and the ways each of us can help prevent suicide in our communities.

After losing her son TJ to suicide in 2016, Wendy co-founded Remembering TJ: A Story of Teen Depression, Lessons, and Hope. Wendy and her family have shared their story with over 30,000 people to raise awareness of teen depression and suicide prevention. She was a 2019 Honoree of Morris County Board of Freeholders for Stigma Free Advocacy, the 2018 recipient of the Changing Minds Award by Minding Your Mind, the 2017 recipient of the Suicide Prevention Excellence Award presented by the NJ Traumatic Loss Coalition for Youth, and the recipient of the 2015 Courage Award for Outstanding Commitment to Mental Health by the CarePlus Foundation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Stigma of Depression and Mental Illness

Nancy Sergeant: I’m here with Wendy Sefcik. And we are here today for a conversation about a program that Wendy created called Remembering TJ: A Story of Teen Depression: Lessons and Hope. This is a personal conversation about Wendy’s experience and the loss of her son, TJ. It is what has inspired work that is helping many others.

Wendy Sefcik: I really appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation with you and to bring it to others because it’s a conversation about a topic that is really, really important. And that’s suicide and preventing suicide. I lost my son TJ 11 years ago, TJ was an amazing young man, he was a funny kid and always had this great and beautiful, brilliant smile. He was very, very intelligent. He was a great athlete, a friend to many, and really that kid that people went to if they needed help. But TJ hid behind his beautiful smile, a deep pain that we did not understand or realize what was going on until it was too late. When TJ died by suicide, it completely rocked my world. There really are no words that can adequately describe the pain. How I felt, how my family felt. He left me, my husband, his two brothers, and so many friends and family that really adored him. We didn’t understand how this could have happened to our family.

After that, I threw myself into learning how I could make sure this didn’t happen to other families. I was shocked to learn that suicide is a leading cause of death in this country. It’s the second leading cause of death for youth. I started to peel back the layers and realized that so many people struggle with mental health. They often struggle silently because of the stigma. Because they’re afraid to ask for help. Because the help isn’t always easy to get, and they don’t know where to look.

What we’ve learned is that suicide, in most cases, is preventable. And that’s really where Remembering TJ: A Story of Teen Depression came from. We knew that by telling his story in a way that other teens could relate to, we could reach other kids in those deep dark places. We want them to know where those resources are within your school, within your community, and how to access those resources.

Nancy: I’m going to pause a few times to share some resources here. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is: 800–723-TALK (8255). There is also a text line: text TALK to 7417.

Wendy: On either number, you will be connected with a trained crisis listener. Most of the cases that reach these crisis lines are able to be de-escalated. It’s really important to understand that when somebody is in a crisis situation, especially a suicidal crisis, very often, the feelings can come on very quickly and very intensely. And we know from research that those feelings can often also leave just as quickly. We need to keep people safe in that period of crisis. And sometimes it’s just by making that connection. Other times if you’re concerned about somebody, and you really think they may make an attempt on their life soon, you may need to bring them to an emergency room, or you may need to call 911.

Nancy: If someone is concerned about a loved one and they just don’t know what to do, can they call this number and be guided? Or is this only for one year in crisis yourself?

Understanding Risk Factors of Suicide

Wendy: You can call anytime. I encourage you to make that contact and have somebody help you figure out your concerns and what the next steps should be. That could be either the person that’s struggling or someone who cares about them.

One of the other important things to talk about is what to look out for if someone is at risk for suicide. We really want to emphasize is you want to look for changes in behavior. Specifically, that might be increased use of alcohol or other substances. Another is having trouble sleeping, either sleeping way too much or having insomnia. You may see some mood changes, like acting very depressed, sad, or reckless. It may be isolating and removing themselves from family and friends. But the big thing is to look for changes in behavior that extend beyond, it’s not just a bad day, but you’re noticing something over a period of days or weeks, have a conversation with that person about what you’re noticing.

It’s okay to talk to somebody about those changes in a really kind, compassionate manner. If you are afraid that somebody seems to be depressed or overly anxious, it’s okay to use those words directly, like “have you thought about killing yourself?” I know that that sounds like there is no way you would ever say that to somebody. But this is based on a lot of research. By asking somebody, it’s almost like a pressure release valve.

Nancy: I really appreciate that you made all of those remarks, especially the last point. It’s a difficult thing to do.

Having Difficult Conversations Is Suicide Prevention

Wendy: It is, but life is filled with having difficult conversations. We’re used to talking to our kids about other difficult things, like drug use. Or someone touching them in an inappropriate way. That’s one of the most uncomfortable conversations you could have, but we don’t think even think twice about it as parents. It’s the same thing when it comes to mental health. We need to get more comfortable having these conversations.

When it comes to mental health challenges, many times they don’t make rational sense to somebody on the outside. But we know that these feelings are very, very real. People that have survived suicide attempts people describe a pain that is beyond the use of words to describe how they’re feeling. They can only think of getting out of the pain.

If a loved one is struggling, we also want to make sure their environment is safe. That means limiting their access to lethal means, like storing medications safely. Or if you have a firearm, make sure it’s locked up and that the ammunition isn’t stored with the gun. More than half of all suicides in this country are via firearms because it’s a highly lethal method. We want to limit access to lethal means when we know somebody is struggling.

Nancy: Another thing I’d like to add is to also take good care of yourself, especially if you’re concerned about someone you love and supporting them. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself too.

Wendy: That’s a great point, Nancy. With TJ, we noticed something going on when he started his teenage years. We saw it as bad behavior and punished him because we didn’t understand what he was feeling inside. It often manifests as anger or extreme irritability. When you’re a caretaker of someone struggling like that, it can be very difficult to take care of them and make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

At some point in our life, we will all struggle with our mental health. Self-care strategies are really important. Getting out in nature, hiking, walking, biking, running, anything. Starting a yoga practice and focusing on breath work. A lot of people kind of laugh that off, but I’m an example of how important breath work can be. You’re seeing a woman who is pretty composed and articulate speaking to you today. But as you can imagine, I wasn’t like this 11 years ago when my son died by suicide. I don’t think yoga is one size fits all for everyone, but we all need to find what works for us. The reality is that we need to take care of ourselves so we can take better care of our loved ones.

Hope and Help Alongside Tragedy

Nancy: I’d like to talk about the program you created. Who is for, and how can they access it?

Wendy: Remembering TJ started when I was asked to speak on a panel of parents who had lost children in some way. After I shared my story, some people approached me and said this story is very compelling and very important. Would you be willing to share it with our organization? And I shared it and people said, you know, kids really need to hear this story. Would you come share it at your school?

That was how Remembering TJ was born. After doing a lot of research, we crafted a story weaving in TJ’s life. We want to leave people with the message of hope. While TJ died in a tragic way, there’s a lot we could learn from it. A lot of those things are noticing what to look for, what are the risk factors, and how youth can access help.

We do programs for school staff, for students, and for parents so that we can keep these conversations going. In addition, I’m also the New Jersey chapter chair for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And we have many different educational programs that I am certified to bring out to the community. I recently was able to be part of the national blueprint for youth suicide prevention. There are so many resources for everyone interested in resources regarding suicide prevention for our youth. And everything that we’re talking about with youth also applies to anyone across the lifespan, because suicide really knows no boundaries.

Nancy: I appreciate what you’re doing and what your colleagues are doing. And I also know that you know how to enjoy your life. And that is really important.

Wendy: I do want to add that in July, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be transitioning from this long number to 988. After July 2022, people can just dial 988 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor.

I also want to stress what you said, Nancy, about that message of hope. Even as a mom who suffered a tremendous loss, I can tell you that I’ve had so much joy in my life. That doesn’t mean I’ve ever gotten over TJ’s death. He’s with me every minute of every day. But there has been joy in my life. That’s the message I want people to understand. Life is hard, and none of us will get through it unscathed. But we all have within us more strength than I think any of us give us credit for.

We never forget. We will carry TJ with us always. But there is hope, and there is help.

To contact Wendy Sefcik, click here.

To contact Nancy Sergeant at Sergeant Marketing, click here.



Nancy Sergeant
Milestone Mindset Magazine

Nancy Sergeant helps you get more clients and donors. She is the founder of Sergeant Marketing and founder of the Milestone Marketing Blueprint.