I Am No Robin Williams

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Like most of you, I never had the chance to meet Robin Williams. Yet so many of us feel like we knew him so well. I mean, I feel like I’ve lost my funny uncle Robin. By the time I was born, he was already in our living room most nights “calling Orson.” And even though Williams was known as a “character” actor, there was always something so raw about him. He brought himself to all of those imagined circumstances: the wit, charm, and yes, even the pain.

Back in 1987, the same year “Good Morning, Vietnam” came out, I lost my father to suicide. I was 7. Much like Robin Williams, my father lived with addiction and depression. It’s not uncommon for them to go together. Sometimes people self-treat with substances because of mental health issues, and sometimes people become depressed after using substances. Chicken or egg, without proper treatment, suicide is often the end result.

Naturally, I grew up too fast and kinda slow all at the same time. Maybe that’s why I was still watching Disney movies in 1992 at 12 years old. In any case, there was something about “Aladdin” that spoke to me. I watched it so many times, I can still quote nearly every word. It wasn’t the street rat with a golden heart who gets the princess that had me hooked (though, it did give me hope). It was Genie. The sad but lovable wish-granting friend with a 1,000 voices played by Robin Williams. I was fascinated that a man could create so much life with just his voice. I wanted to do what he did.

I can say this without question: I became an actor because of Robin Williams. It was while watching “Aladdin” that I realized people could get paid speaking into a microphone. I would practice silly voices all day long (sorry, Mom). I am no Robin Williams, but eventually, people did start to pay me to speak into a microphone and even act in front of a camera.

As fate would have it, I have had my own struggles with depression and anxiety. Most of my late-teens and early-20s were spent on a cocktail of pharmaceuticals trying to “fix” my brain. It was like “What Dreams May Come” and “Patch Adams” all mixed up in my head. Luckily, I had a great support system (thanks, Mom) and eventually found the right treatment tools.

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In 2007, I had an idea to start a community called NoStigmas where people with mental illness wouldn’t have to feel ashamed and could connect with peer supporters. Since then, the nonprofit movement has grown, and people all over the world are sharing their stories and finding no-cost support. Not surprising, a great number of the NoStigmas community are artists.

When I saw the preview for “The Crazy Ones,” I was upset by the stigmatizing title. People throw the word “crazy” around too much without understanding the impact it has on those with mental illness. But maybe there is another way to look at it. As a badge of courage, like Williams did. That man was “crazy brilliant” and shared it without apology. As he said, “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

Thank you for that, Robin Williams. Thank you for the many years of entertainment, inspiration, and friendship. Thank you for living your life in the public eye and sharing your story with the world. Nanu-Nanu!

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via Facebook – Good Will Hunting

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Why Birthdays Are Hard for Me as Someone With Mental Illness

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Birthdays are hard. I try to will myself to smile and laugh authentically, but they feel fake more often than not. Birthdays just don’t feel worth any celebration lately. Instead, guilt consumes any sliver of happiness I can muster. The decorations, singing and warm wishes come from sweet sincerities — yet they feel like absolute mockery to the depths of despair I call my mind.

But wait… isn’t life worth celebrating? Isn’t it a privilege to have another year of adventures, experiences and wisdom? Yes. And yes. Of course. I don’t deny this. Rather, I recognize I am blessed beyond comprehension to be alive each new morning. Despite all of the suicidal  thoughts and manic-depressive behaviors, I am still here. I’m alive and I’m grateful for that every day.

But I also constantly battle shame for struggling in the manner I do. My brain loves to scream its lies in attempts to muffle the whispers of truth I know at the core of my being. This guilt and those lies overwhelm me every birthday. And this is why: I’ve fought away passive suicidal thoughts almost every day for years — but, active ones still plague me every once in awhile too. I’ve self-harmed. That presented the possibility of infection, severe sickness and even death. Those didn’t happen. Thank God. But, they could have. I feel guilty that I have had a great life so far, I adore my friends and family and I would never intentionally hurt them — yet, I subconsciously consider taking my own life more than I care to discuss. I don’t know why my brain is afflicted with such a weight. I love my life. I consciously fight for it. Every life has value. My brain just doesn’t seem to agree with me all the time.

So when everyone sings happy birthday cheerfully, my brain simultaneously releases its arsenal onto my soul. It reminds me of every close call. Every sleepless night. Every cry for help. Every desperate prayer. It reminds me that even though I am alive, I have brought some people through hell and back to stay that way. My brain holds me accountable. It tells me I’m a liability. A burden. All of this is untrue. I know that. Thankfully, I know that. However, in these moments, what is true can be overwhelmed by what I feel.

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Every birthday I fight to enjoy it. I fight to accept the positivity and warmth extended to me. I fight for that gratitude muffled by rapid thoughts. I fight to remember all of the great times masked by the terrible. I fight to remember that not many kids even make it to 22. How blessed I am.

I know I’m not the only one who feels too much on their special day. Too much pain and not enough celebration. Just remember this: your feelings are real and they are powerful, but they are not forever and do not deplete hope. Focus on the whispers behind the screams. Focus on that light — no matter how small — in the midst of darkness. Focus on hope. There is always hope. Allow my transparency to serve as such. You are not alone. You are loved. Your life is worth celebrating. Your day is worth celebrating. Try your best and fight for this day — it’s your day. You are alive. I am grateful you are. I’m sure others are too. Happy birthday! May there be many more.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via juliannafunk.

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Reasons You Might Not Notice Your Friend Is Thinking About Suicide

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Members of The Mighty’s mental health community share reasons why their friends may not know they are thinking about suicide.

Read the full version of 15 Reasons You Might Not Notice Your Friend Is Thinking About Suicide.

Read the full transcript:

Reasons You Might Not Notice Your Friend Is Thinking About Suicide

“I put on a mask whenever I’m around people and it’s exhausting. Secretly I’m screaming in my head.”

“I smile all the time. I probably look like one of the happiest people out there. I’d rather have them think that than worry about me.”

“I have a loving husband and two beautiful children. I only post on social media about them. I don’t talk about what’s going on with me.”

“I am naturally solitary. No one notices when things are wrong if they are used to not seeing or hearing from you for weeks on end.”

If you are concerned about a friend, here are some things you can do:

Ask them if they’re struggling – and don’t be afraid to be direct.

Be present and ready to listen if they need to open up.

Validate their feelings and remind them they’re important.

Ask how you can help them, and refer them to resources.

Don’t forget: If you’re a concerned loved one, you can call the hotline too.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800)-273-8255.

Crisis Text Line – Text “HOME” to 741-741.

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To the Psychiatric Nurse Who Said I Couldn't Be a Christian

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Dear Psychiatric Nurse,

I came to you terrified, scared out of my mind. I had just been sent from residential treatment to a psychiatric hospital in a nearby city; because of threats I had made, even residential treatment decided they didn’t know how to keep me safe. I felt abandoned, alone, completely hopeless — after all, from my point of view, the “last resort” couldn’t even help. I had tried to hurt myself in the ambulance on the ride there. I had tried to hurt myself in the room waiting to come up to the fourth floor. And then they sent me to you to check in. I was in so much mental and physical pain. And one of the first questions you asked struck me to the core.

“Do you have any spiritual beliefs that would impact your treatment?” she asked.

“Umm… I’m a Christian,” I stammered.

Bluntly she responded, “No you can’t be. It says on your paperwork you are suicidal.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond.

After all, does my faith dictate what I do or don’t struggle with? Is this nurse right? Could this constant temptation mean I’m not allowed to believe in God? I mean, I absolutely struggle with my faith at times. Grace and love, forgiveness and hope… they are hard topics for myself and many others to fully understand, and significantly harder when mental illness is a daily part of my life.

But the question is — could this nurse be right? Does my will to stop living mean more than my desire to know and love God? And if she is right and I can’t have faith, where does that leave me now? With no hope at all, alone in this hospital, where do I turn and where can I find a new will to keep living?

Fast forward a year and a half. I’m still shocked a nurse would tell me that; I personally don’t think that is anyone’s judgment to make. I spent that week in the hospital confused and scared. I left that hospital on more meds but with less hope.

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Truthfully, I don’t have an easy answer. Faith is still hard for me at times. However, I do believe the promises God has made matter more than a comment from a nurse. My mental health doesn’t define me. My diagnoses don’t define me. My temptations and unhealthy patterns don’t define me either. The world has some pretty mean stuff to say, and when I get hurt like I did with that nurse, I have to remind myself that so many of those comments come from a place of brokenness. Maybe she had struggled with mental health, or someone she loved. Maybe she was having her own questions about faith. It’s something I will never know. What I can control is how I choose to move forward. And I choose life.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic

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Michelle Carter Sued for $4.2 Million in Wrongful Death Following Conrad Roy's Suicide

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Earlier this week, Michelle Carter received a two-and-a-half-year sentence for her role in the suicide of her boyfriend Conrad Roy III, who died in 2014. Now, the 20-year-old faces a $4.2 million wrongful death civil suit filed by Roy’s mother Lynn Roy, BuzzFeed News reports.

Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in June after text messages revealed she had urged Roy to kill himself and had done nothing to help her boyfriend, who had confided he was feeling suicidal.

Carter was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison, 15 months of which she must serve and the rest suspended followed by probation. Carter’s sentence is currently on hold, pending the outcome of her appeal.

An attorney for the Roy family told MassLive on Friday that Roy’s parents hope to use any money gained from their suit to memorialize their son’s life. “The family would obviously rather have their son back,” he added.

When a person’s death makes its way through the national news cycle, it can be tough for people who’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, have attempted suicide or have lost someone to suicide to watch a story like this unfold.

In the light of this week’s news, here are five things you should remember in the wake of the Michelle Carter verdict

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Header image via Glenn Silva/Fairhaven Neighborhood News, Pool.

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What You Need to Know About Google Search Trends Following ‘13 Reasons Why’

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A study published this week has given us the first data-driven glimpse into the aftermath of “13 Reasons Why,” a popular Netflix show which suicide prevention experts have argued is triggering for suicide attempt survivors and loss survivors — and potentially dangerous for those at risk.

Most notably, the show features an approximately three-minute long scene of the main character, Hannah Baker, graphically taking her life, despite reporting guidelines that advise media sources leave out information about method as well as graphic imagery.

What the Study Says

The study, which appeared in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at internet search trends immediately after the show’s release on March 31st — excluding searches about “Suicide Squad” and cutting off before football player Aaron Hernandez’s suicide on April 19th. Researchers discovered that the show did, in fact, appear to have an influence on suicide-related searches, which were in all 19 percent higher than average for the 19 days following the show’s release.

More specifically, “how to commit suicide” rose 26 percent, compared to what would normally have been expected for that time. “Suicide prevention” rose 23 percent and “suicide hotline number,” 21 percent.

The authors of the study wrote:

It is unclear whether any query preceded an actual suicide attempt. However, suicide search trends are correlated with actual suicides, media coverage of suicides concur with increased suicide attempts  and searches for precise suicide methods increased after the series’ release.

Not All Suicide Awareness Is Good Awareness

If the intention of the show was to raise suicide “awareness,” as “13 Reasons Why” creators have argued, it would appear to have done the trick, but experts argue not all awareness is good awareness when it comes to suicide. John Ackerman, a clinical psychologist and Suicide Prevention Coordinator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said while the entertainment industry sees all attention as good attention, from a public health perspective, this isn’t always the case. The issue is not that we don’t talk about suicide enough, but how we talk about suicide.

“We’re putting the most vulnerable at risk in hopes of starting a conversation that could help those at risk. It’s the most odd, circular argument that we would never let fly in any other public health field,” he told The Mighty. “Are we going to make the people of Flint, Michigan drink a bunch of poisonous water to bring awareness to the fact that they should have clean water?”

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While we know that simply talking about suicide does not make someone suicidal, narratives that focus on the death and aftermath itself, instead of focusing on hope and resources for people who are suicidal, don’t do much good for people who are suicidal, or at risk. Research analyzing how suicide is presented in the media found “suicide modeling is most likely when suicide reporting is extensive, prominent, dramatic, or romanticizing, features a celebrity, or includes details of the suicide method.”

What Advocates Hope for Season Two

Glen Coppersmith, CEO and founder of Qntfy, a company that allows users to donate data for suicide prevention research, told the Mighty it’ll take about two years before we actually see if the show caused an increase in suicides, which makes an early study like this that much more important. “13 Reasons Why” has already promised a season two.

“One thing that greatly concerns me is that it will probably be two years from now before we will be able to see if there was a rise in suicides coinciding with the release of the show,” he said. “Part of the difficulty in addressing the troubling suicide trend is due to this delay — without a more timely system for detection, the opportunity to react with corrective action is lost. In this case, we are likely to be well into a third season of the show before the producers could have the government data to assess the potential effects.”

As far as what “13 Reasons Why” producers and writers should keep in mind for season two, Dese’Rae Stage, a suicide attempt survivor and founder of Live Through This, told The Mighty, “[This] research shows us that raising awareness without proper resources, education and support can be dangerous. In the future, Netflix would do well to consult with mental health professionals with specialized expertise on suicide who can work alongside writers with personal experience, like Nic Sheff, to create a narrative that is both meaningful and authentic without being harmful.”

Nic Sheff, a writer for “13 Reasons Why,” published an op-ed in Vanity Fair in April, defending the show’s decision to depict suicide in such a graphic way. A suicide attempt survivor himself, Sheff argued that a graphic image of suicide actually prevented him from making a fatal attempt.

But one anecdote doesn’t trump research, Ackerman argues, and for season two, producers can’t ignore what experts tell them, or the established best practices in the field. He also criticized Netflix for not doing enough to reduce the “damage” the show might have caused. The “bonus” episode about suicide, and a website dedicated to suicide awareness was, in his professional opinion, garbage.

“If you are Netflix, you have a platform to help tell stories about suicide affectively. For the amount of money they made, what they did was ineffective.”

When asked what she wished “13 Reasons Why” producers would keep in mind for season two, April Foreman, a psychologist and co-host of the Suicide Prevention and Social Media chat, said, “When you know better, you do better. Please consider the health of others when creating your art. Art is no more sacred than any other part of our public infrastructure. It is against the public interest to knowingly do things that might make the public sicker.”

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Lead image via 13 Reasons Why Facebook page

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