#ITSOKAYTOTALK Seeks to Raise Suicide Awareness Among Men

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Every year, more than 42,000 Americans die by suicide. If you see a selfie that looks like this in your newsfeed, it’s because your friend wants you to know it’s OK to talk.

Men around the world are sharing photos of themselves making the OK hand symbol to raise suicide awareness, as men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Now men want others to know it’s OK to speak up about mental illness.

 

 

 

 

 

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The #ITSOKAYTOTALK campaign was started on July 31, by U.K. rugby player Luke Ambler. “My brother-in-law killed himself back in April and it was completely out of the blue,” Ambler told Indy100. “I found it staggering – the impact it left on my kids, his family and friends. I decided something needed to be done, so I created a Facebook group called Andy’s Man Club UK where men feel it’s safe to talk.”

After starting Andy’s Man Club, Ambler posted a selfie of himself making the OK hand symbol on Twitter, asking others to do the same. Shortly after posting his tweet, friends of Ambler’s and fellow rugby players followed suit. Within a week #ITSOKAYTOTALK was trending in the U.K. and Australia, making its way to the U.S.        

 

 

 

 

 

Along with a selfie, some men are also sharing messages of encouragement as well as the suicide rates for men in the U.K.

Blokes get depression. It happens. It doesn’t make you weak or broken, but it means you need to talk to someone. Your mates, girlfriends and family are there for you.

The single biggest killer of men aged under 45 is suicide. In 2014, 4623 took their own life. That’s 12 men every day, 1 man every two hours! 41% of men who contemplated suicide felt they could not talk about their feelings.

Only 20% of people know that suicide is the most likely cause of death for men age under 45.

Let’s show men across the world that #ITSOKAYTOTALK and take a selfie with the [OK hand symbol] and lets get the message out there.

While #ITSOKAYTOTALK is raising awareness of suicide among men, it’s not just men sharing their selfies. Many women have joined in on the trend too.

Those interested in participating are encouraged to share a selfie on their preferred social media with the hashtag #ITSOKAYTOTALK, as well as tag five friends to keep the trend going.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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The Delicate Balance of Helping Someone Thinking About Suicide

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Too many days I have wanted to give up. Say, why do I bother? Afraid of who I was and who I am and who I might become. Wondering if the feelings of loss and abandonment and sadness will ever shake loose.

The demons of my past cast long shadows that leave me fearful of the chill in the air. A darkness creeps into every crevice of my body. Some of the pain flourishes in the cool, quiet desolate spaces within me. And other bits of it await the sunlight to continue to mature until they sprout needle-thin roots that wrap themselves tightly around my esophagus and leave me struggling to breathe.

Suicide. Something often said in a whisper. Or not said at all. Because it frightens people. Because it is the unknown. Because it is an ultimate end. Speaking about suicide forces others to look squarely at a darkness that feels impenetrable to those teetering on the ledge.

The number of times I have thought about suicide are inestimable. From the time I was very young and thought I had already died and was dreaming about the horrid and sordid details of my childhood, to the present day where the option between continuing to move forward and allowing myself to fall into a deep dreamless unending sleep still surfaces, suicide is something that has been ever abiding in my life.

Generally not in a planning, thought-out manner, but more in a wondering, contemplative way. Because it is an escape when nothing else seems viable. A way to let go of everything that feels so heavy, so solid, so enveloping and so suffocating.

After a particularly difficult day of battling demons from the past and demons in the present, I found myself immersed in much more than just the grips of teenage angst and ennui. I was 14 and desperate, despairing and nearly despondent.

A dear friend looked me square in the eye and said, Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary situation.” At the time, it didn’t feel temporary. And in many ways, the effects of what has happened have not been. But even as I waded through the labyrinth of melancholy, I did have to acknowledge that there was some truth to her words.

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Things change — constantly, quickly, continuously. Without our consent or our acknowledgement, or even our noticing much of the time. There are ups and downs. Ebbs and flows. Nothing ever stays exactly the same, not for a single moment.

Depression can make everything seem sluggish and immoveable. It has the power to make me believe that no matter what I do or say, this desperation and sadness will remain with me forever. A dark spot on my soul, a constant companion that I have no interest in befriending. But how can we fully embrace life if we do not consider the implications of death? I do not believe they are polar opposites. Yes, death is the absence of life, but life is not the absence of death. There are parts of me that died long ago — some that needed to simply because there was no time or space for them, and others because they were violently taken and vehemently cast to the side.

So many, too many, people walk the fine line between life and death on a far too frequent basis. Yet it remains something that can rarely be spoken about or acknowledged. Because it does instill fear. There is too often a sudden withdrawal when we hear the words. Contemplate the possibility that someone would choose such an option. There is an inherent need to protect and hide from the possibility. Because it is terrifying to wonder what if, or to think that there was some point of intervention that would have made a difference. And what if we say the wrong thing or do a mistake. No one wants blood on their hands — figuratively or literally.

So instead, most people duck their heads and run for cover. Not an entirely unreasonable action, given the stigma and the fear and the disgrace too often associated with suicide.

But is there a middle ground where we can acknowledge the stigma and the fear and yet still engage with it? Is there a way to not only prevent suicide, but to acknowledge that it can be a thought, without having to be an option?

There can be a freedom in thinking about suicide. Because it does offer a way out, and for some, it feels like the only viable choice. When you feel trapped by darkness and sadness and unending memories and worries, just entertaining the notion can offer a flicker of light. Not one I would ever encourage anyone to walk toward, but sometimes having that choice in your pocket is enough to allow someone to make it through another, hopefully less excruciating, day… or hour… or moment.

During the times where I have walked along the edge and peered over, the people who have been most beneficial to me are not the ones who have said just stay, but the few who have been able to hold the delicate balance with me. The people — friends and colleagues and family and strangers alike — who could look me in the eye, see the suffering, acknowledge my pain, sit with the sadness and help me to see the possibilities and potentialities that still existed outside of it.

These people want me to heal. They demand that I stay. They see the good in me that I cannot. But they also realize it isn’t so easy to just be happy.

Suicide should never be the answer, but when the fight and the struggle feel like they are taking us under, it does still surface as an option. And it is one that needs to be acknowledged because it does not simply disappear when we choose not to look at it. It is a lingering thought I have learned to negotiate and never take advantage of. I have been fortunate enough to have people in my life who have taught me that when the currents get too tough, I can allow myself to flip over and float until I am strong enough to swim or able to find someone with a life preserver willing to pull me in. There will be those who will shout encouragement (and discouragement) from the sidelines. And those who shine a light to show the way.

But there will also, I hope, be the few who are willing to be completely immersed in the pain and the sadness, the despair and darkness, the depression and the ennui, and are able to help me stay afloat.

I need them all – we need them all – to help find the way.

Those who are contemplating suicide, or wondering if the pain will ever end, need other people, even when we least want to be around them. Even when we feel we don’t deserve to be around anyone. Even when our own self-loathing is so high we cannot imagine how anyone can stand to be in the same space as us. This is what we need the most — compassion, understanding, presence. Potent reminders that no matter what we are experiencing, we do not have to be alone and that there are always — always — other options.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

This piece was originally published by Rebelle Society for World Suicide Prevention Day 2015.

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Suicide Prevention Is Not Just About Awareness – It's About Access to Mental Health Services

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There is a dreadful word we use that has such negative and terrifying implications — and that word is suicide.  There it is, out in the open.

Now, there is no way to normalize the word suicide. I truly believe, however, we can normalize the struggle of countless people who contemplate suicide. Talking about it will certainly help educate, but it is not the only issue.

Finding the appropriate mental health care is another matter that requires some real understanding.

When you are sick, you feel terrible and you want to receive treatment and relief. When you are depressed, it is very difficult to navigate the mental health arena and find appropriate and good care.

Here are two snapshots of my journey in the world of mental health:

The Beginning of Treatment

I am a 19-year-old college student and I go to my university’s health services. I meet with a social worker for two visits only to be told I will be referred to a private practice outside of the health services as I require long-term therapy. I then had to rely on my parents to pay this private provider. I also see a psychiatrist at the university’s health services and am prescribed an antidepressant. After several months of taking this and not feeling well, physically, it was learned I was toxic on my medication and was never followed appropriately by my psychiatrist. After a second opinion gave me this information and started me on another medication, I changed psychiatrists. Luckily I was referred to a wonderful psychologist for therapy and we worked together for seven years. I was also lucky to have the help of my family to steer me in the right direction in terms of providers and to help financially.

The Last Two and a Half Years to Now

Beginning at age 39, I became ill with severe depression and tried medication after medication where there was either no relief or I felt only side effects. Ultimately, the only
winner in this game was my insurance company due to the co-pays I made on these medications. It was at this point when my depression became worse and I felt miserable. I weighed my life’s positives vs. negatives and wondered aloud, “Is this really worth it? Am I really worth it?” These thoughts entered my mind and much of my time was spent going over them, ruminating and obsessing over these key questions.

I have paid out of pocket over the past two and a half years to my psychiatrist/therapist and am reimbursed approximately 50 percent from my insurance company. My provider is out of network and my husband and I decided I would see this therapist as there is a history of care (I have been her patient, on and off for over 20 years). This has financially drained us. Not only that but I drive almost four hours on appointment days from Connecticut to Massachusetts. I made that commitment as I wanted to work with her and believed she could help me.  

After turning 40, I was hospitalized twice within a month and received ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), where the co-pays were only $20 per treatment. I still felt depressed and after more time and work in therapy, my therapist advised me to enter a DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) group. I researched and only came up with intensive outpatient programs which are half-days for weeks at a time. I was looking for a weekly group, not a group where I would need to take time off of work. Finally, after more research I found one group that met weekly and was not far from home. Meanwhile, my depression was still there and I needed further care and treatment.

These are mere instances of my journey. It has been exhausting navigating providers and treatments while also combating depression and borderline personality disorder. As I researched ECT, reoccurrences of depression, borderline personality disorder, medications, ketamine treatments, etc. there were many times I felt completely lost in the health care system. There were times I was brought to deep and dark thoughts because of my mental status as well as because of the state of our mental health care system. In my experience, insurance companies do not cover the costs of mental health care in a fair way. This has directly affected me as well as millions of others. The entire system is not designed for those of us with diseases of the brain which weigh on us and our cognition. What happens in our minds is the micro and the health care world is the macro — combining them oftentimes leads to further suffering.

Now What?

Suicide happens and we can analyze it all we want after the fact and come to various conclusions, but the truth is we need to reach each and every person who is struggling. There needs to be easy access to help and services and the insurance world must conform to the parity laws and actually help patients get better since, in the long run, they will actually save more money instead of the piecemeal treatment they allow.

Access to care can be difficult even if you have many supports to help you. It sucks up your
physical and emotional energy and leaves you alone, scared and sapped of any will to feel better. This is where society must step in. This is where we can provide care for those with mental illness. Those who experience suicidal thoughts desperately need a system that will care for and about them and help them with every possible option in order to survive. I strongly rely on my family and friends who support me and also rely on each of the professionals in my treatment team who work so hard on my behalf. Everyone deserves that luxury.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

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When You Have a Good Day After Losing a Loved One to Suicide

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There are 24 hours in a day. Today, I spent three of them taking a walk and seeing a funny movie with some friends. The reason I mention this is those are pretty much all the things I did today. Today was a good day. Since my brother took his own life in January, I’ve struggled to engage with my world. The loss of my mother-in-law in June and a sweet, little cat last week have added to the black cloud that seems to follow me wherever I go.

Sure, I’ve done the things I had to do. I went to work, took the kids to practice and showed up for major family and friend events, but I haven’t initiated much social contact. If you see me out and about, you would likely assume I’m doing pretty well considering. If you saw me at home, you would wonder just how many hours a human can spend in bed before becoming a permanent part of it.

The sun was shining on Tuesday, and the normal 95 plus degrees was down to 83. Friends were texting about a group outing to see “Bad Moms.” There was a walking track and a one-hour gap between soccer practice drop-off and the start of the movie. It was 4 p.m. before I crawled out from under a blanket.  I showered, put on exercise clothes that haven’t seen any action in quite some time and made it to soccer practice 15 minutes early. I set a walking goal, then doubled it. I laughed more than I have in a long time alongside some good friends during the movie.

By the time I got home, I’d come down from my happy place a bit. After feeling bad for so long, it’s jarring to feel good, even for a few hours. In a way, it’s scary. Does actually living mean, in some way, I’m OK with the fact my brother is gone? Does every laugh and smile betray the part of me that will never smile again?

For the answer, I look to my 12-year-old son, who has felt the pain and loss of his uncle deeply. Every day, I pray for his little soul to find peace. I ask for him to rejoice at every step he takes back into the world of the living. It has been a hard fight, but through counseling and time, he has found some measure of closure in the face of devastating grief.

As of now, I have been unwilling to grant myself the same peace. Holding on to the grief has felt like holding on to Dave. Deep in my heart, though, I know I can’t hold on to him. He is already gone. The hours and days of my life have been passing by, while I hide under my blanket of grief, unable to step out into the sunshine.  Today, I took what felt like the first steps. True to the nature of the sun, in some ways it burned. In others, there was a promise of more light ahead.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Image via Thinkstock.

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Dad Writes Obituary on Mental Illness Stigma After Daughter, Katie Shoener, Dies by Suicide

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Katie Shoener was not bipolar, she had an illness called bipolar disorder – an important distinction her father, Edward Shoener, wants people to know. Katie Shoener was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2005 and died by suicide on August 3. She was 29 years old.

Her dad, a deacon, sat down to write his daughter’s obituary and help people understand mental illness:

So often people who have a mental illness are known as their illness. People say that “she is bipolar” or “he is schizophrenic.” Over the coming days as you talk to people about this, please do not use that phrase. People who have cancer are not cancer, those with diabetes are not diabetes. Katie was not bipolar – she had an illness called bipolar disorder – Katie herself was a beautiful child of God. The way we talk about people and their illnesses affects the people themselves and how we treat the illness. In the case of mental illness there is so much fear, ignorance and hurtful attitudes that the people who suffer from mental illness needlessly suffer further.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults lives with a mental illness, and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Given its prevalence, stigmatizing mental illness only hurts those affected by it.

“No one came up to me or Ruth and said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ If she’d gotten in an accident they would have said kind things, but now everyone knew and no one looked at us, like it was a character flaw,” Shoener told The Washington Post in an interview. “We felt shamed, we felt like maybe we weren’t good parents. They didn’t know what to say. As a society we don’t know how to talk to each other about this. We don’t have a language for how to talk about mental illness.”

So Schoener addressed how to talk about his daughter’s mental illness and shared it in her obituary:

Our society does not provide the resources that are needed to adequately understand and treat mental illness. In Katie’s case, she had the best medical care available, she always took the cocktail of medicines that she was prescribed and she did her best to be healthy and manage this illness – and yet – that was not enough. Someday a cure will be found, but until then, we need to support and be compassionate to those with mental illness, every bit as much as we support those who suffer from cancer, heart disease or any other illness. Please know that Katie was a sweet, wonderful person that loved life, the people around her – and Jesus Christ.

You can read the full obituary here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

Image credit: Thinkstock

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Lions Barber Collective Wants to Prevent Suicide by Talking to Men About Their Mental Health

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Imagine the next time you go in for a haircut, your barber asks you about your mental health and expects an honest answer. A group of barbers – known as the Lions Barber Collective – hopes to prevent suicide by making this idea a reality and talking to their patrons about mental health.

“I strongly believe that by talking about these subjects more openly we will work towards destroying the stigma around suicide and mental health,” Tom Chapman, the group’s founder, said. “The barbershop is a great place for this because we often have a great relationship with our clientele and we are in a position of trust and intimacy.”

According to the World Health Organization, men may find it harder to be diagnosed with depression and are less likely to seek help for issues relating to mental health. In the U.S., men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women.

The idea for the Collective came in 2015, from a comment on Facebook. Chapman was trying to put together a look book that would feature the work of barbers from the U.K. and Ireland, with some of the proceeds being donated to charity. He posted in the New World Barbers Facebook group asking for charity recommendations, when one member suggested donating the money to a suicide prevention group – a cause that hit close to home for Chapman.

“I had lost a friend to suicide only a year previous, and I was totally unaware of any organizations that existed,” Chapman told The Mighty. “I also had no idea that he was feeling that way and I’d only seen him days before. This spurred me on and spawned a lot more ideas.”

Since founding the Collective, Chapman has received suicide intervention training and helped other barbers train in mental health first aid. “I feel there is a fear from men that showing mental illness or sharing emotion and feelings can be seen as weak; however, I think most of us would be surprised at the reaction if we did open up more,” Chapman said. “Mental well-being is just as important as physical well-being.”

The Collective is also developing its own mental health awareness and suicide intervention training program called BarberTalk. The day-long course will help barbers recognize the signs of different mental health issues as well as teach them how to talk about mental health issues and the art of non-judgmental, active listening. Barbers will also learn about local and national organizations to which they can refer clients who need additional help.

The Collective currently includes barbers from the U.K., Ireland and Holland, but is looking to expand to more countries around the world, including the U.S. Two new groups will be announced on September 10, the one year anniversary of the Lions Barber Collective and World Suicide Prevention Day.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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