After the tragic loss of her brother, Michelle Jones set out to change the conversation about mental health.
By Tiffany White | Photo by Kylene White
Michelle Jones is on a crusade to save lives. In 2016, her brother Pete died by suicide at the age of 23, but there were no warning signs. “We were shocked, because we knew he had been struggling with depression and anxiety for a long time, but suicide never crossed our minds … at the time, there wasn’t a lot of awareness about mental health in our community and resources available so we wanted to change that,” she says.
Michelle, along with her older brother Jeffrey and their mother Molly, started The Pete Foundation shortly after Pete’s death. Michelle, who is the director of the foundation, says their purpose is to advocate for youth mental health, normalize the topic, promote education, assist with healthy emotional development in youth and show people how to handle a crisis. Suicide prevention is an important piece of the work Michelle and her team do. Their 90-minute course, which they provide to businesses and schools, teaches people how to determine if someone is suicidal. They learn about intervention techniques and other local lesser-known mental health resources that are available.
And although mental health is a heavy topic, Michelle is giving everyone a reason to smile. Every year, the foundation plans their annual music festival called The Big Stomp (FKA PeteFest) in October. The event will feature mental health organizations, guest speakers, equine therapy and an opportunity for attendees to speak privately with mental health professionals and counselors. Money generated from the festival will be used to help the foundation continue their mission.
In 2020, the group also partnered with entrepreneurs, mental health organizations, and clinicians to create a mental health flag. The flag, Michelle says, has been shipped throughout the country and overseas with the intent of making it a global symbol. Flying the flag, she adds, is a way of acknowledging the mental health crisis our world is experiencing and showing compassion to anyone who has been affected by it. For now, Michelle’s primary goal is to expand the foundation’s reach so that more lives can be saved.
She says creating The Pete Foundation has helped she and her family heal – and find purpose. “We were extremely close, and he was my best friend. His passing absolutely changed my entire life. It flipped my life and the life of my family members upside down. Channeling the grief, shock, and confusion into something positive helped me. Pete was too much of a good person to just lose him, so I feel like having The Pete Foundation is like having a little part of him here, because he was such a compassionate and good person. His loss is a true loss to the world.”
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