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The Theater Community Mourns Actor and Friend J. R. Finan

Actor J. R. Finan.

Actor J. R. Finan ended his own life on Friday, September 6, 2013.

The rest of us are left to make sense of it.

A 2001 graduate of St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, after high school, J. R. studied theater at Niagara University and later transferred to Buffalo State, where he completed his B.A. in theater. Even before graduation, J. R. began to build an impressive resume of varied roles across the range of Buffalo’s professional theaters: BUA, American Repertory Theatre of WNY, O’Connell & Company, Theatre of Youth.

He was 29 years old at the time of his death.

Known for his fearless lack of self-consciousness onstage and for his mischievous sense of humor, J. R. was also known to be a loyal and caring friend. News of his death traveled quickly through the theater community, which seemed to go through denial, sadness, and acceptance in a matter of hours on social media.

For many, of course, the pain of this loss will be more enduring.

J. R. was among my own students at Buffalo State. While this young rascal with a roguish smile may not have been the most disciplined scholar ever to study with me, he was exceedingly insightful and bright, and was certainly among the most talented and likeable. He seemed to reserve his self-discipline for his work on stage.

I’m afraid I’m still stuck in denial. The thought keeps occurring to me that his death is not possible. I know, in time, reality will set in. This is not the first suicide in my life.

Entirely by coincidence, this week is the 39th Annual Suicide Prevention Week. In the aftermath of J. R.’s death, I called Crisis Services, which operates the suicide hotline for Erie County.

Crisis Services is a not-for-profit agency, and leads the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County, which is made up of community stakeholders working to end suicide. The agency can also provide support to those trying to make sense of loss.

Associate director Jessica Pirro spoke with me. I asked her about the prevalence of suicide in our community.

“There were 79 suicides documented in Erie County last year alone,” she explained. “If it has not touched you personally, it is highly probable that suicide has touched someone you know. Suicide is a serious public health problem, and it not just a local or national issue. This is an international issue.

“People sometimes think that talking about suicide will put the idea into a person’s head,” she continued. “Actually, if you think someone is in crisis, giving them an opportunity to share their problems and find solutions can be very helpful.”

While some suicides are impulsive, Pirro advises that it is false to think that a person who is making suicidal threats is just looking for attention.

“Most but not all people who die by suicide give some indication or warning. We shouldn’t ignore or trivialize such statements. Many people have thoughts of helplessness or hopelessness; sometimes this is triggered by a specific life event; sometimes mental illness or substance abuse is a factor.

“If you see the signs and symptoms—someone seems depressed, is not eating, exhibits changes in behaviors, is not sleeping, or is expressing self-destructive thoughts, it is entirely appropriate to say, ‘I’m concerned about what I’m hearing. Are you thinking of harming yourself?’ Let them know you’re there for them. Try to help them reconnect with the things that give happiness and meaning to their lives, whether it’s music, or theater, or friends, or whatever it is.

“Unfortunately,” Pirro added, “sometimes the situation might be hidden. This is one reason public awareness is especially important.”

Pirro is concerned that people know there are resources to assist both those who might be having suicidal thoughts and their loved ones. There is also support for those coming to terms with loss. The 24-hour number of Crisis Services is 716-834-3131. Their web address is

Many in J. R.’s world are now coping with grief and bewilderment. I thank actor Adam Yellen, a close friend of J. R., for communicating with members of the Finan family on my behalf, and for their permission to highlight this issue at this impossibly difficult time. J. R. was a lovable, funny and talented young man. He will be missed and remembered by many.

Suicide: Myth vs. Fact

Suicide is a serious public health problem that takes an enormous toll on families, friends, classmates, co-workers and communities, as well as on our military personnel and veterans.

To understand why people die by suicide, and why so many others attempt to take their own lives, it is important to know the facts. Please read the facts about suicide below and share them with others during Suicide Prevention Week.

Myth: Suicide can’t be prevented. If someone is set on taking their own life, there is nothing that can be done to stop them.

Fact: Suicide is preventable. The vast majority of people contemplating suicide don’t really want to die. They are seeking an end to intense mental and/or physical pain. Most have a mental illness. Interventions can save lives.

Myth: People who take their own life are selfish, cowards, weak or are just looking for “attention.”

Fact: More than 90 percent of people who take their own life have at least one and often more than one treatable mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and/or alcohol and substance abuse. With better recognition and treatment many suicides can be prevented.

Myth: Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide will put the idea in their head and cause them to act on it.

Fact: When you fear someone you know is in crisis or depressed, asking them if they are thinking about suicide can actually help. By giving a person an opportunity to open up and share their troubles you can help alleviate their pain and find solutions.

Myth: Teenagers and college students are the most at risk for suicide.

Fact: The suicide rate for this age group is below the national average. Suicide risk increases with age. Currently, the age group with the highest suicide rate in the US is middle-aged men and women between the ages of 45 and 64. The suicide rate is still highest among white men over the age of 65.

Myth: Barriers on bridges, safe firearm storage and other actions to reduce access to lethal methods of suicide don’t work. People will just find another way.

Fact: Limiting access to lethal methods of suicide is one of the best strategies for suicide prevention. Many suicides can be impulsive and triggered by an immediate crisis. Separating someone in crisis from a lethal method (e.g., a firearm) can give them something they desperately need—time. Time to change their mind, time to resolve the crisis, time for someone to intervene.

Myth: Someone making suicidal threats won’t really do it; they are just looking for attention.

Fact: Those who talk about suicide or express thoughts about wanting to die are at risk for suicide and need your attention. Most people who die by suicide give some indication or warning. Take all threats of suicide seriously. Even if you think they are just “crying for help”—a cry for help, is a cry for help—so help, don’t ignore.

Myth: Talk therapy and/or medications don’t work.

Fact: Treatment can work. One of the best ways to prevent suicide is by getting treatment for mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar illness and/or substance abuse and learning ways to solve problems. Finding the best treatment can take some time, and the right treatment can greatly reduce risk of suicide. In fact, it can bring you back your life.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States with one suicide occurring on average every 15.2 minutes. This growing statistic is a call to action. Crisis Services urges that suicide be recognized as a national, state, and local public health problem and believes that suicide prevention must be a priority in our community.

To raise awareness for the 39th Annual National Suicide Prevention Week and World Suicide Prevention Day, The Out of the Darkness Walk, hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), will take place Saturday, September 14 at 10:30am, in Delaware Park, near the Buffalo Zoo. For more information visit the Crisis Services website:

Myths and Facts courtesy of Crisis Services.