Clifton resident Julie Borthwick Shares Her Story for National Suicide Prevention Month
Julie Borthwick was only 12-years-old when her dad, Eddie Borthwick (known mostly as “Woody”) committed suicide during the blazing hot summer of 2014. It wasn’t until 2019 when she decided to finally share her journey, and began participating in anti-stigmitizing events that raise mental health awareness, like the walk for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
On early chilly mornings in the long trails of Saddle River County Park, boards with notes to lost loved ones reveal words that families and friends wanted to say. People pick different colored beads that each represent symbols of struggle from suicide - from gold that represents a loss of a parent, to purple that shows a loss of a friend. At first, Borthwick stood perplexed and anxious in the middle of it all wearing a gold beaded necklace, until she was able to spot similar girls and other people wearing the same color as her. With that came relief and comfort; she realized she is not alone and began walking.
Borthwick, a life-long Clifton resident who now attends William Patterson’s University as a sophomore studying nursing, was introduced to mental health awareness walks by her mother in 2015. She decided to join in order to give support to her mother even though she was uncomfortable. At the time, she and her three siblings refused to talk about their father, especially because of the mental health stigma.
“In 2017, I started to embrace this,” Borthwick, now 20, said. I would be embarrassed at first and made-up reasons to not attend. When you are younger, you are vulnerable and I was scared to share my comments to people here, but then I realized that so many people share similar stories. During the walks, people would share their stories with me and sharing similar colored beads definitely made me comfortable to be there and know I am not alone.”
Besides their walk called “Walk for Woody,” which will take place on Oct.16th, Borthwick has been making her own special efforts to raise funds for the AFSP since her first successful fundraiser in 2021, where over a hundred people attended. For this year’s second annual cornhole tournament, held on Sept. 25th, Borthwick hopes to reach her goal to raise over $8,000 for her team. She also says that the fundraising will continue until the walk takes place. The event which starts at 11 a.m. and runs till midnight, features various prize raffles, including from Urban Air, Rutt's Hut and Handsome Devil Tattoo shop. Borthwick also plans to have a DJ for live music for the entire event, along with TV setup for Sunday football. The winner and first runner up will win a cash prize and there will be food and $2 beer served the entire time.
“The difference between the two is that the walk is something more serious and attended mostly by adults,” Borthwick said. “The cornhole tournament is an event that brings people of all ages, who might not be coming for the(suicide) awareness, but still contribute for the cause. People are there to not just have fun, but to also raise awareness for mental and suicide health prevention.”
Borthwick, who contributes her funds from the cornhole tournament combined with the walk, raised close to $7,000 last year. She has received a pin and certificate for her efforts.
“I never openly shared in the past years as much as now. Raising money used to just be a goal before, but it became more meaningful to share my story.”
Borthwick’s father, Woody, was in his late 40s when he passed away unexpectedly. A food-loving Italian, Woody used to live with Borthwick’s grandmother, and would make different cuisines for them often.
“I remember him being more of a friend,” Borthwick said. “We would have a great time eating together, driving around and we always watched the show on Food Network, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with host Guy Fieri. He helped me learn how to cook for myself and taught me eggplant rollatini, which is a complicated Italian dish.”
With a bright smile on his face and countless jokes, Woody never shed a hint of struggle to Borthwick. She remembers her father as a jolly friend, and continues to remember her good times with him. Although she wishes she spent more time with him, she still believes it was hard to figure out what was going on at such a young age. But she wishes that her father had accessibility for help or friends who could have detected something.
“I keep my page public for some months, especially right now so people can have awareness and even ask for help,” Borthwick said. “I know even older people up to the late 60s, have reached out to me and shared their stories even though I am way younger. It is so important to make therapy and support groups accessible to everyone, because people don’t know where to start..”
As a graduate from the Woodrow Wilson Middle School, Borthwick’s guidance counselor at the time, Valerie Joao, helped her cope during the year her father died and became her mentor. Borthwick , who was involved in cheerleading since she was 12, took it as an opportunity to push herself to keep moving forward. Practicing three to four times a week, she considers cheerleading as an outlet that helped her not only forget, but also stay passionate for over eight years.
Borthwick encourages people in the community and outside to continue to attend walks and fundraising events that raise awareness for mental health and help fund research. Both the walk for suicide prevention and the cornhole tournament for mental health awareness have been growing every year due to their spread on social media .
“People tell stories to each other during the walk and these gatherings, it’s a chance to share and support,” Borthwick said. “I really think throughout this process I have realized that suicide effects everyone, and it’s important for people to understand that. I always try to emphasize being kind, as you don’t know what anyone is going through. Even the smallest bit of empathy, support or kindness can really make an impact on another person’s life.”
The cornhole tournament will take place on Sept. 25th at VFW, 491 Valley Rd in Clifton with a fee of $25 per person to play random teams and registration is suggested. The flyer with information can be located on Borthwick’s Instagram: https://instagram.com/juliebor... The walk for suicide prevention will take place on Oct. 16th at the Saddle River County Park from 9 a.m. for check-in and can vary from one to three miles of trails.