Adult Suicide: Let’s Talk About It

Suicide. The willful taking of one’s own life.

This happens with stunning frequency in affluent communities like ours (update: in fact, it happened again on the day this post published, when a Gold Coast man jumped to his death in a confirmed suicide). But, sadly, this is not well known because it’s almost never publicly discussed – particularly suicides by adults.

We need to talk about adult suicide as a community more for many reasons. Most important, public discussion raises awareness – the first step toward fixing a problem. But also, we need to make it easier to publicly celebrate the lives of people who commit suicide too. The press doesn’t cover them unless they are celebrities, no matter how much good they accomplished before succumbing to an unbearable pain.

Those who commit suicide aren’t bad people to be shielded from public view and condemned for the pain they cause others. They’re pained people who couldn’t find a better way to cope. Often they’ve contributed substantially to society too.

Many experts agree with me. Please see the four Ted Talks entitled “Lets End The Silence Around Suicide.”

Fortunately, there is a growing body of work and opportunities to help around teen suicides. This has been particularly prompted in recent years by teen suicide clusters in affluent communities. Lake Forest/Lake Bluff launched a brilliant program called “Text A Tip” which makes it easy and safe for someone feeling suicidal or concerned that another might be to send a text and receive immediate help from a licensed professional. Palo Alto has recently endured yet another teen suicide cluster, prompting the US Center For Disease Control to send a team to help.

So, I particularly write to encourage our community and our culture to break the adult suicide discussion taboo.

We need to more openly discuss the lives of the deceased. We need to celebrate the many gifts they likely contributed to the world, as well as the issues which led to their final fatal decision.

We need to do the same for the survivors of attempted suicide, too. Photographer, writer, survivor, suicide awareness activist Dese’Rae L. Stage hosts a compelling collection of photographs and names of suicide survivors on LiveThroughThis.org.

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The American Association of Suicidology (No, I did not make up this name) offers a plethora of “talk about it and break the taboo” resources, including another excellent Ted Talk by comedian Frank King, a writer for Jay Leno.

I know of at least three adults who recently committed suicide. That’s horrifying. So my contribution to this “Talk About It – Adult Suicide” article is also a public celebration of the one I knew best. This person lived with a large heart, wicked wit and a special gift with children. Sounds like Robin Williams, right?

As we know, Williams suffered a depression in recent years so deep that he took his own life. My friend and Robin must have shared similar genes. (S)He was that funny and lived with a similar empathy for children too. (S)He not only raised four great kids, (s)he continually created ways to support other youth too, including unexpectedly calling parents to share a thoughtful story about their child.

This person also created two of our funniest ever Make It Better videos: spoofs on yoga class and the town of Kenilworth:

(S)he stunned family and friends by finishing a routine phone call with a long-time friend, then driving to the Kenilworth Train Station, parking, calmly walking onto the tracks, and laying down in front of a fast-approaching train.

The family asked that this person not be named though. They’re suffering extraordinarily. Unfortunately, this is the norm too. It takes great strength to publicly discuss a suicide in your family, as Marion Kahle did in this Make It Better article one year after her son killed himself and another.

This means that if we work to find ways to help/stop those considering suicide, the impact will be even broader than the numbers below, because we save families from enduring pain too.

Each year in America:

  • 8,000,000 think about committing suicide
  • 1,000,000 attempt it
  • 39,000 achieve it

Please, help reduce these numbers.

Don’t whisper about suicide or condemn those who attempt or commit it. Instead recognize and try to heal the pain that pushes people to this point. Celebrate the their strengths and contributions too. Encourage people and organizations to work together to find solutions for the adult suicide issue similar to the community response in Lake Forest/Lake Bluff that led to Text A Tip.

Talk more about it please.

Thank you.

 

Talk About It, As Graham Moore Did at Oscars: Teen Depression Affects us All

There, but for the grace of God—and many good professionals and others who understand teen depression—go I.

My family could have suffered the same tragedy as Dana Perry winner of best Documentary Short Subject for “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” or thoseDana Perry oscars speech on suicide Lake Forest families who lost teens to suicide in 2012.

“We should talk about suicide out loud,” Perry said, also mentioning her own son who committed suicide at the age of 15. I couldn’t agree more. Graham Moore gave his moving acceptance speech as well, and I salute his comment: “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there that feels weird and different … Stay weird.” You can see more on his speech in this article and video.

Depression strikes up to 20 percent of our adolescents, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens. If our society doesn’t get smarter about discussing, identifying and treating teen depression—bust the stigma better and faster—there will be others, too.Graham Moore on suicide

That’s why I was so delighted to hear Perry and Moore plead for more awareness and public discussion about suicide, particularly teen suicide.

Every parent and school faculty member working with students from middle school through college needs to know depression’s symptoms and be brave enough to address them when they appear in an adolescent. The symptoms include: loss of interest in activities, sadness, hopelessness, anger or hostility, changes in eating or sleeping habits, lack of energy and loss of enthusiasm.

However, it can be hard to discern between “normal” erratic teenage behavior and “depressed” behavior, as was the case with our child. It can also be hard to discuss with the teen or with others. As the mother of a depressed teen, I felt weak, beat-up, raw. I didn’t think I had the energy to “fight” with or for my misbehaving child any longer. Fortunately, others did and we established a network of support. Eventually, lots of talking about it helped heal our child and our family.

There are a growing number of excellent resources to help identify and deal with adolescent depression. Barrington High School implemented a curriculum developed by Johns Hopkins Medical School, and recently shared it with Lake Forest. Erika’s Lighthouse offers a program for middle schools, a parent handbook and extensive opportunities for teens. The Balanced Mind Foundation has a growing body of helpful content and connections, and several excellent online sites exist including HelpGuide.org, a nonprofit collaboration with the Harvard Medical School, and the U.S. National Library of Health.

Author Ned Vizzini wrote “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story” based on his own hospitalization for depression, and he speaks extensively on the topic to schools. Lake Forest has brought him in at least twice in the past two years.

Currently, professionals believe that only one in five adolescents suffering from depression receive treatment. Those numbers must improve. And the best way for that to happen is for all of us to help bust the stigma and talk about it more. Please also look at our Teen Depression Guide at Make It Better.

 

 

Internet’s Own Boy – Aaron Swartz Story Inspires, Informs & Promotes Conversation.


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Every day Aaron asked himself, ‘what is the most important thing in the world that I could be working on right now?’ … Although we’re completely shattered by this experience, we want to further Aaron’s work too and see something positive come out of this.Robert Swartz, Aaron Swartz’ father

Even if you don’t know who Highland Park’s Aaron Swartz is – or rather was – you or your children know some of his visionary web inventions. They include the RSS feed and the online news site Reddit. Swartz was a genius.  He was driven to use the web to make the world a better place for as many people as possible.  And this is what led to his death.

On January 11, 2013, at age 26, Swartz committed suicide in response to a wrongful federal felony prosecution based on his downloading documents through the MIT library system, which he was entitled to do.  As Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, CoCreator of the World Wide Web, eulogized at Swartz’s funeral, the world lost one of its most promising minds.

Everyone should see the powerful documentary about Schwartz’s life – “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.”  But it will particularly inform parents of gifted children looking for role models, anyone hoping to better understand the power and inherent possibilities of the digital world, and citizens confused by “keep the internet free” rhetoric.Aaron Swartz The Internet's Own Boy

By the time he was 12, Schwartz had created the first web version of Wikipedia.  As a teen, he worked alongside adults when he helped create the RSS feed and Reddit.

Note:  if you don’t yet know Reddit.com, you should.  Every significant, savvy American luminary participates in it’s’ AMA –“Ask Me Anything” – opportunities, including President Barack Obama. Your kids are more likely to get their news from Reddit than from any of the sources you prefer.

Schwartz was the oldest of three very bright boys, who all attended North Shore Country Day School. As the documentary carefully depicts, Schwartz’s parents lovingly nurtured him and his extraordinary gifts, allowing him to leave high school early to attend Stanford.

Stanford UniversitySchwartz also left Stanford early because he had already made a bucket-load of money through the sale of Reddit. Thereafter, Harvard and MIT welcomed Schwartz into their programs too.  Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessing credits Swartz with inspiring him to change his famously successful professional path, just as the teen affected so many others to do too.

Despite MIT’s culture of pushing traditional boundaries and open web access, Swartz was charged with multiple felonies and hounded by US prosecutors for downloading documents through the school. His intent was never to profit from the activity; rather Swartz hoped to make a valuable point for the rest of the world.

Even as Swartz fought the wrongful charges, he led the surprisingly successful movement to stop enactment of “SOPA(Stop Online Piracy Act) and other laws that would limit access to the internet and valuable information.  He continued to lead with his heart every day.  But his battle with the criminal justice system overcame him.

Everyone who grasps the transformational possibilities of the internet – like Berners Lee and Lessing – mourns Swartz’s death.  The rest of us need to better understand the issues which led him to kill himself too.  Parents who watch this documentary will have additional tools to connect with and help their own children too.

I will soon be interviewing Swartz’s father, Robert.  Of course I want to help a parent trying to carry on his child’s dream of making the world a better place!  Do you have any questions that you would like me to ask him too?

Please also submit your email here to receive our Better Letter, a twice-weekly newsletter covering the highlights of Make It Better Media.

 

When You Step Into The Life You Were Meant To Live, It’s Wonderful!

“When you step into the life you were meant to live, it’s wonderful!” – Mariel Hemingway 

Mariel Hemingway knows about crazy–and depression, addiction, and suicide. Her supermodel sister and legendary writer grandfather suffered through all of this.

Mariel has chosen a healthier route through life, and found that course lead to a more fulfilling life too. Read more here.

Running From Crazy, Amplifying The Good

Mariel Hemingway knows crazy. Her family famously has been battling depression, addiction and mental illness for decades – including suicides by her legendary grandfather, Ernest, and model sister, Margaux.

Determined to better understand and stop that family tradition – and hopefully shield her two daughters – Hemingway found that honest introspection and healthy lifestyle choices smashed her own psychological demons and depression. An Oprah-produced documentary about this, Running From Crazy, will hit theatres soon.

Hemingway’s eager to help others too. She recommends 10 easy steps to live a healthier, happier life in her about to be released book and game app “Running With Nature.”

Mariel Hemingway, Mindy Fauntleroy and me, in the family room at Midwest Palliative Center’s Marchak Pavilion

Me, a Midwest Palliative David Tingue, Mindy, and Karen Marchak at the Care Affair, Midwest Palliative’s gala last Saturday night (chaired by Mindy and honoring Karen)

Diane Falanga, Designs 4 Dignity President, and Mariel at last night’s gala

Lives Made Better – 92,901 and counting.

Please Click To Help The Balanced Mind Foundation

My friend Susan Resko credits the Balanced Mind Foundation for saving her son’s life, after he became inexplicable and profoundly depressed as only a 5 year old.

Every month, she hears from parents who tell her that they wished they had heard about The Balanced Mind Foundation before they had lost their child to suicide. Please help the Foundation earn a Chase Community Giving grant of up to $250,000 – in hopes of saving more lives – by voting below:

http://www.bit.ly/chasingbalance.

Thank you!