Local mother who lost son to suicide to hold awareness dinner on his birthday

    Karen Saunders is holding a suicide prevention dinner Thursday at IHOP in South Charleston to honor her son's memory and advocate for suicide prevention. (Karen Saunders)<p>{/p}

    Thursday would have been Alexander Haynes’ 21st birthday.

    His mother, Karen Saunders of St. Albans, is honoring her late son’s memory by trying to help others the way he would have.

    Haynes died in 2017 from suicide at 19. Saunders has arranged a birthday dinner Thursday night at his favorite restaurant, IHOP. Proceeds from anyone who eats at the South Charleston IHOP between 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Saunders said 20 percent of meals purchased will benefit the foundation.

    “I want to tell my son’s stories and keep his memory alive,” Saunders said. “Telling his stories may help someone else.”

    Saunders said her son helped a lot of people.

    “He was a giver,” she said.

    Saunders didn't known about many of the people who he had helped until after he passed away.

    “He stopped a local girl from self-harm and she has not self-harmed in two years now,” Saunders said in an email. “He stayed up all night on the phone with her to make sure she was OK. He helped a friend in Texas who was on drugs. His friend is now clean and going to medical school. His friend in Ireland dedicated his graduation to Alex. He told me without Alex he would not have graduated. The whole time I thought my son was playing video games in his room, and he was helping people.”

    Saunders said she wanted Haynes to continue helping people with his story. Her family thinks that Haynes went undiagnosed with schizophrenia. He didn’t talk about his mental health, she said.

    “People treat suicide and mental illness as a dirty word,” Saunders said on the Facebook event. “They are not dirty words. These words need to be discussed. I want to make people aware that it is OK to get help. It is OK to ask for help and that they are not alone.”

    Saunders said if the Haynes’ story could help save even one person from suicide, it would be worth the effort.

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