SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – It’s been almost 17 years since Deborah Heddendorf lost her son to suicide, but the pain is fresh.

“You learn to move through it,” she said. “It doesn’t go away. It changes. I’ve been so fortunate that I have so many stories, I have all the smiles and I have so much that I have to look to be grateful for.”

Ryan Booth passed away on October 17, 2004, at 26 years old. 

“He was a very compassionate, empathetic, beautiful young soul,” Deborah said. “He had a gorgeous smile and open heart.”

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in people ages 15 to 44 in Georgia, according to the state health department.

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) says some of the warning signs of a mental health emergency can include feelings of hopelessness, withdrawal from others or society, dramatic mood changes and increased substance use.

“There’s never just one thing,” Deborah said. “Did I see it? No. Hindsight, did I? Yes. But I didn’t understand what to look for.”

Since her son’s death, it has become Deborah’s mission to educate others on suicide prevention and intervention. She is involved with the Chatham County Safety Net, where she serves as a trainer for the suicide intervention program ASSIST and also speaks to youth groups.

“Every time I talk about Ryan I get to honor him,” she said. “I get to share in our community. He is not what his death was. He was a beautiful person with a beautiful soul. And he chose to die by suicide and I’ll never know why, and I never ask that question.”

To those who may be dealing with mental health struggles, Deborah says there is always hope and encourages people to find support. She said it’s also important for people to check in with their loved ones if they are concerned they may be having thoughts of suicide.

“Speak the word, ask the questions, listen, don’t try to fix it. You can’t fix it,” Deborah said. “Say the word, the S-word is not that bad and just take that stigma away and people would be more apt to go and ask for help and want to get and seek and, you know, get the help they need.”

Not a day goes by that Deborah doesn’t think of Ryan.

“I love you and I miss you,” she said. “Your children are beautiful and they are your smile, your twinkle and your wit and your humor. And actually, some of your dance moves.”

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

You can also find local resources here.