WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – There were nearly 100 suicide-related deaths in Sedgwick County last year. That’s the highest number since 2001. This week is Suicide Prevention Week and Wednesday KSN spoke with a family who said they didn’t see the signs before their loved one took his life.
“Leon was a great dad and my best friend,” said Shana Stevens, Leon Sneed’s ex-wife. “He had his everyday issues like you or I but I never knew it would come to this.”
Shana Stevens met Leon Sneed when she was 13.
“When we met, he went home and told his mom he was going to marry me,” said Stevens.
Stevens was told that she would never have kids, so when they had their first child together she felt their purpose was being served.
“He was our miracle baby,” added Stevens.
Leon committed suicide when their son was 11. This came as a shock to everyone who knew him, especially his coworkers at the barbershop who said they didn’t know Leon suffered from depression.
“I just seen him Saturday,” said Jon Williams, a coworker and barber at Franklin’s Barbershop. “He had just come back from a nice little vacation a few days prior and then we got the news on Tuesday that he was gone.”
Williams said Leon loved cars and cutting hair, adding that he was always very artistic and had a deep love for his son.
“He cut his hair from the time he was born until the time he took his life,” explained Stevens.
Leon battled with depression and bipolar disorder. These were mental health issues that Stevens said stemmed from his childhood.
“I knew he went through things but would have never thought the burden would have been heavy enough for him to take his own life,” explained Stevens. “That is what is still very difficult to deal with.”
Stevens told KSN that in December of 2016, she noticed Leon slip and tried to find resources to help him. She felt her best option was to get him committed into a mental health facility but was told there was no available bed.
“His case worker said there was nothing she could do,” said Stevens.
Three months later, Stevens said her life changed forever.
“It was like I lived in a parallel universe,” she explained. “In that moment what was real and what was happening, divided forever.”
Stevens said she was at work when she got the news and one of her first thoughts was her son and how she was going to tell him.
“I mean, what do you do? How do you explain that to an 11-year-old?”
Jon Williams said he still finds it hard to believe.
“It was a devastating blow. I was at home on my way to work when I got the call and when they told me what happened I couldn’t even come to work,” he said.
Stevens told KSN that mental health issues are often stigmatized in the black community and opportunities to share Leon’s story help break those stigmas and help her cope.
“We have to talk about it,” she said. “Life attacks you in areas of darkness and if I could just share his story or if I could just say what happened maybe someone will be willing to shed a little more life on their area of darkness.”
Shana said she is now a strong advocate for breaking the silence around mental illness, adding that she’s not mad at Leon.
“People say that it’s selfish and the one thing I think I have recognized is there is nothing selfish about fighting your body’s natural desire to live.”