Rick Strait

@rick-strait | contributor
I am a licensed mental health professional using my own experience to help reduce stigma for everyone, including professionals with lived experience. My passion is providing education and awareness to suicide prevention and mental heath.  I am a co-author of The i’Mpossible Project Reengaging With Life and Creating a New You.
Rick Strait

Conversation I Had With My Son About Suicide That Brought Me to Tears

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” My son said when I picked up the phone. Three months later, thinking about that conversation brings me to tears. “Hello?” I said. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” My son said. He was crying. “Of course. What’s wrong?” There was a short pause and he said, “Dad, I am calling you… umm… because I promised you if I ever felt this way I would let you know.” “Are you feeling suicidal?” I asked. “ Yes… I didn’t want to let you down,” he said. “Son, can you please wait for me to come home so I can talk to you in person?” “No, I am just calling because I promised you I would. I don’t want to let you down.” I had so much fear. I wanted to say, “Son please don’t do this to me.” I wanted to call the police to my house — to make him safe. I was thinking, Is this the last time I will ever get to talk to my amazing son, whom I love? How do I help him? How do I not screw this up? Will I ever get to hug him again? Please God, help me. I felt a rush of insecurity. All these thoughts played in my head. Then I started to think differently. I have more training than most people in this area, and I have my own lived experience from a suicide attempt. What would I want and need? I decided to say, “Son, I am so sorry you are hurting. I can tell how upset you are, I wish I could take that pain away from you.” “I know you do, Dad.” “First, thank you so much for calling me, I love you so much,” I continued. “I love you too,” he said. “Can you tell me about what you are feeling?” My son shared with me some things that brought him to the point that he felt like suicide was his only option. After, he said, “Dad, I am so sorry.” “Son, you have nothing to be sorry for. Again, I wish I could take this pain away from you, but we both know I can’t. I can’t promise you any type of quick solution, but I can promise you, I will be with you while you go through this.” “I know Dad, but I just can’t do it anymore,” he said. “Have you decided how you would kill yourself?” He said yes and told me the means and that he was going through with it as soon as we got off the phone. “Can you do me a favor?” I asked. “What?” “Can you please wait until I get home and we can talk face to face and then I can give you a hug? I am not saying you have to promise to never kill yourself, but can you please wait 90 minutes for me to come home and give you a hug?” “I can do that,” he said. “Thank you son, I love you.” I sent a text his sister who lived close by and let her know briefly what was going on and asked to her to go to the house and talk to her brother about anything until I could get there. My son called me and asked, “Did you tell my sister to come over here?” “Yes, I didn’t want you to feel alone,” I replied. “OK.” “Will you wait for me to come home?” I asked. “Yes.” We talked a few minutes, and I told him I would call when I got on the road, but I needed to let my work know I was leaving and I would call back in few minutes. I called about five minutes later and he answered. I told him I was on the way. We talked for about ten minutes, and he was also talking to his sister. I asked him if he would please call me if things changed and he didn’t think he could wait till I got home. He agreed. I texted his sister and she was also going to call me if for any reason he tried to leave. I arrived home. I gave my son the longest and probably hardest hug of my life. We spent some time talking about his suicidal thoughts and plans, and we talked about future goals/plans. My son, daughter and I went for a late lunch and we talked about past and future vacations and family activities and that night we had dinner with some friends. The next day my son said, “When my Dad got home, we had a hug out and the reason I didn’t kill myself was because I could truly see that my family — including my sister — loved me. Kinda brought me back to reality, I guess.” It has been almost three months since that call. Is there still a risk of suicide? The answer is yes. But having the open communication and respect for each other, I am very hopeful that that risk will continue to decrease. I know he knows I will always be there to talk to. I learned many lessons from this experience. I am grateful I talked to my kids about suicide and other mental health topics, including my own suicide attempt. I am glad I have had training in what to do and how to do it. Otherwise, I would have panicked and may have said things that made the situation worse. I learned that being a suicide prevention advocate does not exempt me or my family from mental health crisis. I learned truly just being there with someone is the best thing you can do, letting them know you are there with them and not being judgmental. Not rushing to extremes is important. I was reminded I don’t know what the future holds for sure, but I believe that my son and I having this experience has brought us even closer together. When he says he will call me if he ever has a plan to kill himself, I trust he will call me. And I hope he knows when I say I will be there with him through the pain, that I really will. In this situation, there really was not clinical skill needed (I wasn’t being a therapist). The intervention I did was listen, not panic and be there. I encourage everyone to get trainings such as Mental Health First Aid and/or ASIST. This post originally appeared on Listening Saves Lives. 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 . Photo via contributor.

Rick Strait

The Birth of My Granddaughter Made Me Happy I Didn't Die of Suicide

Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am to be alive. Since my suicide attempt, I have experienced so many different emotions. I was happy to be alive. I’ve been depressed, felt guilt for attempting and guilt for surviving. During the last seven years, I have been proactive in suicide prevention, and in the last three years I have been open and honest about my attempt and my lived experience. My experience has also brought out so many different emotions, from fear of being judged to such great relief that it was no longer a secret. I am working on being open about my lived experience whenever I am given the opportunity. This isn’t easy for an introvert, but I hope that sharing my story may help save someone’s life. Last Monday, I started a new chapter in my life. I became a grandfather. This experience is so amazing. I can’t even begin to explain the feeling. I have a joy that is intense. While holding my granddaughter  yesterday, I was overwhelmed with happiness. This very thought came over me: I didn’t die from my attempt. I chose to live. Even though it was tough, I not only saved my life, but I also saved the life of my children and my grandchild. This has further increased my motivation to work in suicide prevention. Each life we can save helps save an additional life. We get to save a life that we don’t even know about yet. This very thought makes me happy. Please, join me and help continue to share the gift of life. 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. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Image via Thinkstock.

Rick Strait

2 Ways You Can Help People With Mental Illnesses

What if I told you there are two things you can do to help save someone’s life? Would you do them? There are two things all of us are capable of doing that can help people struggling with mental illness and potentially save someone’s life. These may come more naturally to some of you, but for some of us, we may have to work on it. 1. Listen. Highway Patrol Sergeant Kevin Briggs listens to Grateful Berthia Notice I didn’t say “hear;” there is a big difference in listening and hearing. I love the way Mental Health First Aid teaches about listening. They talk about listening without judgment. This means really listening to discover what the other person has to say and to understand why they are hurting. One of my favorite people, Grateful Berthia , spoke at a recent conference and said, “Listening saved my life.” He was talking about Highway Patrol Sergeant Kevin Briggs . At the time, Grateful Berthia was standing on the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. He had already crossed over the ledge and was getting ready to jump. Berthia says, “Right before I jumped, I heard someone say, ‘Wait a minute!’ and then he just listened as I told him everything I was thinking and feeling.” Even though Grateful Berthia didn’t know the man who was listening to him at the time, he still knew he was being listened to — and this saved his life. This is only one example of how important and powerful listening can be. Grateful Berthia talks about the impact of listening in his TedxTalk. 2. Share your story. With at least one in five people struggling with some type of mental health concern in any given year, there are a lot of people in the world who have lived experience. When they share their story in an appropriate way, these people can greatly benefit and help others who may be having similar struggles. Please note: you should only share your story when you are comfortable with doing so, and only share what you are comfortable with sharing. It took me almost 20 years before I was ready to share my story. I can tell you it has been rewarding and therapeutic for me, but it has also been scary at times. Some tips to consider before sharing your story: Make sure you want to share your story. Know why you want to share your story. First share your story with one or a few people you trust and feel comfortable around. I remember the first person I told my whole story to was Heather Williams . She listened and I did not feel judged, so I shared with a few other co-workers. As my confidence grew, I began to share my experiences more openly, and I continue to do so when I feel it is appropriate or beneficial to help someone else. Be prepared for the range of emotions you may feel after sharing your lived experience. My friend Josh Rivedal is an international speaker who helps share the value of telling your story. When presenting, he helps explain how sharing a story can be very helpful, beneficial and inspiring. Josh believes in this so strongly he decided to create a book series called the i’Mpossible Project . So far there is one book in the series in which 50 different people share their stories, and the stories show just how powerful and resilient humans can be. Imagine a world where people can feel safe to share their story and know they will be listened to (non-judgmentally). This is the world I am working towards in my own life. I think we have so much we can learn from each other, if we only listened. I think we can all benefit from being listened to as well. This story originally appeared on Listening Saves Lives.

Rick Strait

Opening Up to People After Having Hidden Depression

“Are you doing OK?” “I’m concerned about you.” These are phrases I hear today in my life. Sometimes it provides comfort. Sometimes it makes me think, “I used to hide it better.” I remember growing up as a child, my family was loving. They were there for me, but I always hid the feelings I felt growing up, which I later learned were depression. My family didn’t know. I hid it better. I remember my teenage years, coming home crying, wondering why I was alive, what is the purpose, why did I feel the way I did. My teachers, my friends, they never knew back then. I hid it better. I remember being active in my church youth group, trying to reach out and help others. At the same time, wondering why I am alive and wondering if my family wouldn’t be better off if I was gone. The other teens, church members and the pastor, they didn’t have a clue. I hid it better. I joined the Marine Corps, went to and graduated boot camp, extremely proud. I still felt like I had no place in this world and like I didn’t fit in. I thought I shouldn’t be here, but my fellow marines, they didn’t know. I hid it better. I had my first child. I loved him so much. I thought for sure this would help me feel better. I had a purpose but that wasn’t the case. The depression was still there, telling me my son would be better off without me, that I would fail him. I wanted to die. My family, my wife, my fellow marines didn’t have a clue. I hid it better. Then in 1993, I lost my brother. He was 17 and I was 19. I missed him. I loved him and on one level I was jealous of him, wondering why couldn’t it have been me. An accident, my family would be better off. My wife and my family had no idea what I was thinking. I hid it better. After my suicide attempt, I didn’t tell anyone. I continued to struggle with my thoughts of suicide, not wanting to die but sad so much of the time. I remember teaching clients about the dangers of living behind a mask, thinking my whole life is a mask. My family, friends, and co-workers didn’t know. I hid it better. Fast forward to my life now, I have three children and two bonus children who mean the world to me, a job I love, family whom I love, friends whom I love, advocacy work I love, and I still have depression I hate. What has changed? When I am having a tough time, my family and my friends ask me if I’m OK. They ask me what is wrong and they tell me they are concerned. Sometimes it makes me feel good that people notice. Other times, I get frustrated because hiding was much easier at times. Why the change? I have chosen to let those closest to me know what to look for, what behaviors to pay attention to and what to know about me so they can intervene. I do this because, even though hiding the feelings is sometimes easier, it doesn’t fit into my plan of being open and honest about my mental health. It doesn’t fit into my plan for my family, friends, clients or anyone in general to be able to be open and honest about their mental health. I want my family and friends to tell me when they hurt. So I owe them the same. This different approach has been a life changer. Yes, I still have depression, sometimes overwhelming. Sometimes, I even have thoughts of suicide, but I am continually growing stronger, more mentally healthy. I know I don’t have to act on these thoughts. I have more good days than bad days. I know it is because I no longer hide my feelings. I don’t try to wear a mask. I have accepted depression sucks, but it doesn’t have to be a game-ender. I am so glad I took the steps to stop hiding. I used to hide it better. What was I thinking? This post was originally posted on Listening Saving Lives. 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.