A woman who tragically lost both of her brothers to suicide has created an online community in their honor to raise awareness about mental health issues.
Julianna Steckler, 27, from Phoenix, Arizona, was devastated when her brother Michael, 34, passed away after a Super Bowl family party last February.
Nine years earlier, her brother Stephen, then 28, committed suicide by taking a deliberate heroin overdose in 2012.
The graphic designer has her grief in the Two Brothers Initiative, creating one website, Facebook page and Instagram account that she hopes will help people struggling with suicidal thoughts and make their family members feel less alone.
Julianna Steckler, 27, from Phoenix, Arizona, tragically lost both of her brothers to suicide
Her brother Stephen, then 28, (left) committed suicide by taking a deliberate heroin overdose in 2012. Her brother Michael, 34, (right) took his own life after a Super Bowl family party in February
‘It has been a tough journey. I feel like I have PTSD because I have flashbacks, ”she said.
‘Since I started this initiative it has been super helpful to see a community of people who want to support the cause and also help people who are going through similar things, be it with a spouse or a parent or a child .
“I hope to teach people so we can pay attention to the signals before it’s too late and that it’s okay to be vulnerable.”
Julianna was only 18 when she lost her oldest brother Stephen by suicide. He had struggled with addiction and had been in and out of prison before his death on drug charges.
“Everything fell on him,” she recalled. ‘I remember coming home from college and he was crying in the backyard.
Julianna (pictured with her brothers as a child) started the Two Brothers Initiative, an online mental health community in their honor
“He said he’d ruined his life, paid so many fines, he couldn’t get a job as a criminal, and the world would be better off without him.”
Although Julianna tried to comfort him, Stephen overdosed a week later.
“He was in an induced coma and the doctors told us to pull the plug,” she said. “We had to say goodbye and we held him until he collapsed.”
Julianna said that while she felt anger over her brother’s death, she learned to feel sorry for his struggles.
‘It really broke my heart. I was so young and I don’t think I really understood how serious it was.
“I was angry and upset for a while after it happened, but you get to a point where you start to realize what he was going through.”
Over the years, Julianna watched her brother Michael, who sometimes worked as a delivery man, began to drink heavily and became antisocial.
Julianna said her oldest brother Stephan (right) had struggled with addiction and had been in and out of jail before his death for drug charges
Julianna, who was 18 when Stephen died, said she was angry but learned to feel sorry for his struggles
“He started to fall into this dark place,” she said. He didn’t really put himself up to be with people or go on dates, but he felt very alone.
“He would beat himself up for living with my mother. He would beat himself up for not graduating if his friends did. ‘
Julianna recalled a car ride with Michael in January, a month before he died.
“I tried to talk to him, but he didn’t feel like himself,” she said. “I wish I knew now I know how to help someone who is suicidal.
“It never occurred to me that it would actually happen.”
Julianna, her fiancé Trent, 29, an engineer, and Michael attended a Super Bowl family party at their mom Stephanie’s home on Feb. 7.
She watched as her brother drank heavily during the game and became enraged.
Julianna said Michael started to drink heavily and grew with age. He committed suicide after attending a Super Bowl party with their mother earlier this year
“ I’m trying to break the stigma around this and let people know they can get help instead of taking their lives to make these issues go away, ” she said
“Over the course of the Super Bowl, he drank more and more,” she said. He started yelling at the game. I looked at my fiancé and thought, “He’s really scaring me.” ‘
The couple left the party at 6:30 p.m. and just 30 minutes later received a desperate call from her mother Stephanie, 64, a law firm’s clerk.
“My mom called me and said she heard a gunshot and couldn’t find Michael,” Julianna said. ‘We hurried as quickly as possible. I texted her asking if she found him, and she replied that he was dead.
“I went into shock, I felt numb and I was just shaking.”
With the Two Brothers Initiative, she is now trying to turn her family tragedy into a positive force.
She has also made a line of t-shirts with the slogan ‘You Matter’.
“There is an idea that middle-aged white men should be strong and tough and not feel their emotions,” she explained.
“I’m trying to break the stigma around this and let people know they can get help instead of taking their lives to make these issues go away.”
- For confidential assistance, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or click here.
- For confidential support on suicide issues in the UK, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, visit a local Samaritan branch or click here.
- For confidential support in Australia, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or click here.