FRESNO, California (KSEE/KGPE) – Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States and this week’s Healthcare Hero is a Community employee raising awareness and saving lives–one hug at a time–through her organization she started called “Hug Like Trevor”.
Kristine Bernardoni is a registered nurse for Community Medical Centers and says, “Hug Like Trevor is an organization that is suicide prevention and suicide awareness–I lost my son in 2016 to suicide and so since then we’ve gone on–especially with the kids and the schools within the community to try to make a difference and try to break the stigma around suicide. Keeping the conversation going, encouraging kids and parents to have that conversation and to get help when needed.”
In 2016, three suicides occurred within a three month period in the Clovis Unified school district. Bernardoni’s son, Trevor, was one of them. Hurting and searching for comfort, she decided to focus her attention on the living–turning to others sharing her pain and unsure what to do next.
“Sometimes in one classroom there were 3 empty chairs missing–I was thinking about those teachers, those administrators, the parents in our community and was at a loss. It was kind of chaos–everybody was worried. There was rumors that it was a new fad or a new trend that was happening and nobody knew when it was coming at us next or when it was going to stop. “Hug Like Trevor” started in December because trying to imagine the pain that I was feeling or projecting that on to what they may be feeling, I just thought that these kids needed to be hugged,” Bernardoni said.
Studies have found that a simple hug can help reduce stress, anxiety and spark communication–all of which can help prevent suicidal thoughts. Merlina Martin works with Bernardoni every day and describes her as an inspiration to others.
“I was very touched and very impressed with her because being a mother and having kids just like the age of Trevor…I know it’s going to help a lot of teenagers, I know it’s going to help the community that we live in because suicidal awareness is what we need in this community. And no one could do it better than Kristine because she is very passionate about what she does,” said Martin.
Bernardoni says the “Hug Like Trevor” campaign has saved more than 50 lives so far–parents reporting their children opening up about their suicidal thoughts and getting help before it was too late.
“I think the more that we can keep telling them that and not assuming that and taking the pressures off of them to know that it’s okay not to be okay we’re going to start saving lives and we’re going to continue to save lives and I think the hospitals can play a valuable role in this and be leaders in this to make help feel like help,” said Bernardoni.
Weekly, Bernardoni and anywhere from 1 to around 30 supporters will go out in the community with signs reminding people to smile, telling them they matter, and to hug like trevor.
“I can make a difference and I can make it worth something and if it’s something to say please stay, or you matter, I’m gonna be out there and I’m gonna fight for your kids, I can’t bring mine back, but I can help keep yours here.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress or crisis and needs someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.