HOMETOWN HERO: Jaletta Albright Desmond
Jaletta Albright Desmond, a California native with a degree in journalism, came to the southeast to work as a broadcast reporter, later becoming a newspaper columnist. Jaletta, her husband, Alan, and their youngest daughter, Julia, have called Davidson home, either part-time or full time, since 2002. Their oldest daughter and big sister, Jocelyn, died as a high school junior. During the warm weather months, you can find Jaletta on a paddle board or kayak on Lake Norman. Year round, you can find her enjoying the cooking of both her husband and daughter.
Tell me about your day job.
My volunteer work has been pretty consuming, especially during the COVID-19 restrictions. Davidson LifeLine (DLL) just had a leadership change when this happened and we were immediately concerned, as advocates for mental health awareness and support, how this would impact folks. Also, I am a peer co-facilitator for two support groups, Hope After Suicide Loss, in Winston-Salem and Davidson. For the support groups, I needed to make the move from in-person support to virtual support as quickly as possible. The members of the support groups are amazingly compassionate and transparent people, and we’ve continued to offer each other support while staring at a Brady Bunch-like screen. Meanwhile, DLL has been teaching the suicide prevention class, QPR (Question-Persuade-Refer), every week throughout the stay at home orders.
How did you uncover this passion?
Many people came together to form Davidson LifeLine after we lost five people to suicide and had 12 attempts in Davidson in 2012. I’ve been involved in it since the beginning, but just took the role as president in February. My passion for supporting folks who lost a loved one to suicide grew over the years, but particularly in the last two years when I took the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention training to co-facilitate peer support groups and the Healing Conversations training, which is a one-time discussion with a person who has experienced this often traumatic, complicated, and excruciating loss.
What inspires you every day?
I’m inspired by my friends and family who were immediately a wall of support and protection from the stigma and judgment that so many others have experienced when a loved one dies by suicide. I am inspired by the folks in my support groups who sometimes faced terrible criticism and judgment within their communities and even families, but who show up every meeting offering their compassion and support to others. I’m also inspired by the strength, compassion, and tenacity of the folks I work alongside in Davidson LifeLine. And my biggest inspiration is my family and my oldest daughter, Jocelyn, who set me on this path with her suicide in 2012 at the age of 17.
What are your challenges and speed bumps along the way?
The biggest challenges are when we lose another person to suicide within our community…it is truly heart-breaking. Yet, I also understand that we cannot save everyone, especially when they won’t give us the chance. We have to try to educate and inform and do the best we can to convince people there is help—they are not helpless against their depression because they are not alone—and there is hope—they do not have to feel hopeless because it can get better. Also, stigma remains a big challenge—people being unwilling to accept that mental health is just like physical health, that brain health and body health are intertwined.
Secrets to staying motivated and positive?
You’d be surprised how much laughter plays a role in my experience with suicide prevention and post-vention support. My support groups—we are often laughing, crying, or laughing through tears. We actually sometimes leave the meetings (or End the Zoom meetings) feeling more positive and smiling, in part because of the connection and in part because of laughter. And the Davidson LifeLine group is serious about mental health but also always ready to find humor in our everyday life or mission. One of my favorite podcasts, the Hilarious World of Depression, talks about taking back the power that depression has over some people’s lives by using humor to fight back…and I’d add fighting back by finding the hope that is intrinsic to humor. If you laughed in the past, you can laugh again. Also, I stay motivated and positive through my personal faith—it helped me in the face of extremely difficult times in the past and I trust I’ll always lean into it, good or bad times.
How can Davidson residents best support you?
The best thing Davidson residents can do to support me is to learn how to support each other—for all of our residents and community leaders to take the 90-minute suicide prevention class we offer for free, called QPR (Question-Persuade-Refer). It is designed like CPR, to enable all of us to be able to identify someone in crisis, help in the immediate moment, and then get the person crucial professional help. We offer these classes to everyone—residents, students, businesses, faith communities, and organizations. If we all take the training, maybe we can prevent another suicide and another family—and this community—from suffering this terrible loss again.