Episode 32: Let's Talk About Depression and Suicide
Suicide is something most folks just don’t bring up... Yet, the problem is palpable. Statistically, someone completes an attempt every 40 seconds.
The good news is that suicide is 100% preventable and that you don't need to be a professional to help. You just need resources.
And that brings us to the story of Jonny & Carl - two friends who joined forces to do everything in their power to combat suicide and destigmatize depression and mental health in their community. They teach us how being an agent of healing is easier than you think.
Ellie Pike: [00:00:00] Hi, there. Two things before jumping in to today's episode. First, I want to acknowledge the context that we're all existing in right now. Today's story is on depression and suicide prevention. Mental health conditions can create a toxic mixture when combined with a looming pandemic and mass isolation. Please use your voice to reach out if you are in need of help. [00:00:30] You can call 877-411-9578 to talk to a licensed therapist for free.
They can point you towards life-saving resources, both in person and virtually. Again, that's 877-411-9578. Second, on a lighter note, you may have noticed you're seeing more of us in your podcast feed, that's because the sponsors of our show, Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Behavioral Health Centers [00:01:00] see the additional need for community resources and are supporting our idea of an impromptu mini-series called Corin times.
It's the show about the big worlds we inhabit and our suddenly smaller daily lives. They're short, playful, informative, and unique. The first episode is out already. Look for it in our feed. [00:01:30]
Just remember, it's okay not to be okay. Suicide is something most folks just don't bring up. It's taboo. It's uncomfortable. It's tragic. Yet, listen to these numbers. [00:02:00] There are over 800,000 suicide completions globally every year with more than 40,000 of those being in the United States, that equates to someone completing suicide every 40 seconds.
Both the worst and the best part is that suicide is 100% preventable, roughly 45 million Americans, almost 20% are currently experiencing a mental illness and more than half of those, that's 10% [00:02:30] of our entire country receive no treatment. With so much need and so few people receiving help, how can we be part of the solution? Meet Jonny and Carl.
Jonny: My name is Jonny Boucher and I'm the founder and CEO of Hope for the Day.
Carl: My name is Carl Evans. I'm the chief operating officer for Hope for the Day.
Ellie: Hope for the Day is a nonprofit movement, empowering conversation on proactive suicide [00:03:00] prevention and mental health education. Today's podcast features the story of these two friends, how they joined forces and how doing something to prevent suicide is surprisingly easier than you think, even when you're not an expert. You're listening to Mental Note podcast. I'm Ellie Pike. Jonny grew up in the sort childhood you might've seen on TV, in the suburbs of Chicago and part of a music scene that process teen [00:03:30] angst and emotion through high energy shows.
Jonny: I started going to some local punk rock shows in the city of Chicago. I had a lot of friends who maybe weren't able to go to the city. What I try to do is put on punk rock shows in our neck of the woods in Lake county to eventually draw some more people into go to the shows in the city with me, but also give our friends a safe space [00:04:00] to go and enjoy and hang out while we were all growing up and trying to figure out what life was really all about.
As I grew up and I started putting on more and more shows, I decided that I wanted to take this on very seriously. When I started going to college, I had decided to try to make a big jump into some more commercial music, not just punk rock and hardcore and metal bands. I was looking for things that actually help pay the bills too. I worked predominantly [00:04:30] in the Cushion and Adult Contemporary markets.
The environment always was very cutthroat and you hear that all the time from the entertainment industry and it's because everyone's trying to make money, there's only so much of a pie to go around. On top of that, we are in the business of, the show must go on and it just creates this very volatile environment, which doesn't really allow people to always thrive in. One of the things that we didn't [00:05:00] ever talk about was the mental health impact and then which led to, 2010, my boss, Mike Scanlon, he was not just my boss.
He was my mentor. He was someone who I strive to be, but also the harsh reality of understanding, a lot of the sacrifice and complications that were in his life that he didn't want to talk about, ultimately led to him having a very, very heavy, relationship with alcohol and cocaine. Eventually, it got to the [00:05:30] point where he felt the only thing he could do was take his own life and leave this world very short in the timeline he should have been here for. It shook me to my core. I often say that Mike was, and is my Robin Williams.
The person that I thought had it all and sadly behind the range Rover, the money, the nice condo, the Chicago Tribune wrote about when he purchased it, boosting him as a very man and entertainment and whatnot. [00:06:00] Ultimately, it all drove him to a very dark place where he was putting on his face the whole time and wasn't able to ask anyone for help because he was also trying to always just keep a smile on his face. Ultimately, people like Mike didn't talk about it and sadly, that's why he's no longer here.
Ellie: I am so sorry. That is such a tragic story and it was so preventable in my mind. [00:06:30] If he could have talked about it, if he-- As tragic as Mike's suicide was for Jonny, his passing was an all too familiar experience.
Jonny: Mike was number 9 on a list of the16 people now. It includes my aunt, my uncle on my mom's side, as well as several friends and community members that come from all different types of backgrounds. The one thing that they all had in common is that they didn't want to talk about it.
Ellie: Fed up [00:07:00] with this deeply disturbing pattern all around him, he decided to act using whatever resources he could, but before Jonny could really get momentum in his fight against suicide, he needed help. Someone who knew the ins and outs of how to run a nonprofit and also someone who knew how devastating suicide can be. Carl grew up in the town right next to Jonny. In fact, they'd even met in high school, but their childhoods were extremely different [00:07:30]
Carl: I grew up in a suburb just adjacent to Jonny in a little Mayberry called Lincolnshire. There was a little bit of a tumultuous background, so because I had both working parents, we were latchkey kids. I'm the youngest of a large family. We had babysitters and after school clubs and things like that. I had experienced some repetitive abuse from one of our trusted [00:08:00] babysitters, between the formative years of kindergarten, around four or five to, I believe at the latest, I was about nine years old.
That sort of mixed into, I was basically the only Brownface in my school. There was a lot of social isolation. I was pooface, things like that. I never really felt strongly connected to my peers from as early as I can remember in formative or elementary school. [00:08:30]
Ellie: It wasn't long before symptoms of instability began to appear.
Carl: By the time I was in fifth and sixth grade, I had started having reoccurring nightmares, deep sensations of anxiety, all that stuff that I didn't have words for or know, but I did know enough to keep it deeply hidden. [00:09:00] I started to get it into my head that because of what was happening to me was perpetrated by a female, I really shouldn't as a guy or male, I really shouldn't feel bad for what was happening, what had happened. That evolved the trauma into a real building self-hatred. In junior high, I would eventually attempt to take my own life [00:09:30] a number of times.
June 24th, 1989 was the last time I attempted to actively take my own life. Why I mark out June 24th is that I found a pretty accessible path to drugs and I didn't have the words for self-medication or [00:10:00] coping mechanisms, that wasn't a thing in my consciousness but I did know that like when I went to bed stoned or drunk, I didn't have nightmares anymore. When I was walking around blasted those invasive thoughts and anger, the volume was turned down.
Ellie: Carl, when you think back to who you were back in 1980s up to 1989 going through so much turmoil, [00:10:30] dealing with the shame that you felt for even struggling as a boy who had been abused. I am curious how you have really grown to be where you are now, where you do have a more positive self-talk, but you also have more hope.
Carl: My parents encouraged me to get involved in this youth group stuff that would "help" your transcripts because I was not a stellar student. In my sophomore year of high school, these youth [00:11:00] groups went on-- You start doing little service trips and mission things and we worked at a soup kitchen. When I was at these youth groups, it was the only place that I was actually basically sober. It was the first time I'd ever felt really, really good sober about myself and about the world.
That planted the seed that after high school, I looked for any opportunity where I could get close to helping and supporting other people. [00:11:30] That took on a lot of different sectors in the social service world, in which anywhere I could be anything from like a volunteer to being paid, to sit at a desk of a community center, connected me to what fulfilled me.
The beginning for me getting to a healthier place, started with a conversation. In [00:12:00] the summer of 2006, I connected with someone who was talking to me about how they started seeing a therapist and they had experienced some eating disorder type things and they had started to realize that it was linked to their verbal abuses from their mother. That opened this door in my mind because I legit did not connect my early abuse with my present mental health state.
Mental health to me was schizophrenia [00:12:30] and that kind of thing. I was very firmly rooted that whatever I was going through was a willpower thing, which in my mind, willpower had nothing to do with mental health. It was a paradigm shift in how I thought about myself and that's what changed everything. It wasn't just one physical conversation, but that ongoing conversation is what really changed my life.
Ellie: That's incredible and I think it takes a lot of courage because you were living with so much shame and so much [00:13:00] silence for so long and to be able to see it make a big difference, obviously has colored the way that you have moved forward in your life. Now both of you have done such an incredible job of breaking the silence, breaking the stigma and starting to talk about mental health. If it's okay, if we hop into Hope for the Day, but also just how to educate our listeners about how to talk about mental health and suicide.
Carl: Yes. [00:13:30]
Ellie: This is where two young men on separate paths to heal the hurt that define their early lives met and grew together. Carl's reputation for helping others caught Jonny's imagination. He'd recently launched Hope for the Day but was struggling on how to turn it into an organization that could sustain itself. In the big scheme of treatment, neither of them were mental health or medical professionals, but they had a lot of life experience and decided their stories were the best [00:14:00] place to build from.
Jonny: One thing that punk rock music really empowered me was to speak up about the things that we don't like talking about in society. At the end of the day, we all have things that do block us from having these harsh conversations. Our approach is very nontraditional and we strategically build partnerships with certain companies in certain communities. We're heavily invested in now working in the music and entertainment industry.
We have a great partnership with Live Nation because we [00:14:30] know that that was communities, may not want to talk about it, more than likely don't want to talk about it, but it's an easier pathway, but through something that people enjoy. Whether it's food, beverage, music, exercise, what have you. We tap into these platforms and we work in tandem with partners to best break that silence and come together in a real creative way to let people know it's okay not to be okay,
Ellie: Jonny, I really like what you guys have created. I think why I like it is because [00:15:00] you're not clinicians. You don't have to be an expert to help someone. I want to go back to something that you said, I liked that you train people in asking what not why. I was wondering if you could give an example of that so we could flesh it out a little. I think there is a big difference and I'd like to hear a little bit more about that.
Jonny: Absolutely. Carl and I could actually role play here. I think it'd be fun. Carl, let's go away, you'll ask me a what or why, and I'll be [00:15:30] the one that's needing it. Carl, I'm having a bad day.
Jonny: Because life sucks.
Ellie: Now, say it again.
Jonny: Carl, I'm having a bad day, man.
Ellie: What makes you say that?
Jonny: I don't know. I've just been feeling, I can't really put a pin on it. Lately, I've been feeling kind of down and I'm sleeping-- I don't know if I'm sleeping a lot or a little, I don't know, something's going on, [00:16:00] but I want to talk about it. I need help understanding what it is.
Ellie: That was incredible. I could tell the difference.
Carl: The point of a what and why differentiation is that someone asks you a question and remembering that even when you're having a conversation, even if the person who's talking to you believes you're supportive, signal is so powerful that somebody can shut down at the smallest thing. The idea is to want to remove any potential obstacles. Someone tells you [00:16:30] something. When you ask a why question, it has the potential to make someone feel like they have to justify it because that's mechanically how you have to respond.
It's like a philosophical response. John says he has a bad day and I say why, and he's got to qualify his bad day in the Pantheon of all bad days. When you ask someone a what or a how, it's really just changing the mechanics of the response.
Jonny: The glory of it is that if you know the person who's reaching [00:17:00] out to you and they already feel comfortable with talking about that and you give them more comfort in that space, you're also able to tap into your own knowledge and go, "I know that this person usually loves going to the gym. When was the last time you went to the gym?" You can really start to sound things out. You can give people the ability to articulate their feelings instead of judge them for having those feelings in the first place.
Ellie: I think a very simple validating response is [00:17:30] always helpful. "Man, that sounds really hard. I can only imagine." Just allowing someone to feel validated, I think can really allow them to feel safe enough to keep talking. If any of our listeners here are like, "Gosh, this would be so awesome. I'd love to be trained on how to just recognize any mental health issues someone's having and also know how to have conversations better. How would they access the resources that you guys have created through Hope For The Day?
Carl: Right now, [00:18:00] we have resources that you can download from our [email protected] that does walkthroughs, very quick, sort of birds-eye view walkthroughs on how to start the conversation or be supportive. Another big thing that as we as an organization continue to grow is offering dynamic ways to present our hands-on education, our one-hour presentations in our workshops. [00:18:30] We hope to grow our surrogacy packages so that we can get more people out there in the field.
Right in the immediate, in the greater Chicago land area and we are on the road to these presentations, that our website is one of the best places to start learning how to in part of that conversation. Then we hope that we'll have the ability to open door through our agents of impact program for people to get involved, to learn how they can become [00:19:00] the ones who bring this conversation into their communities.
Ellie: Thank you. That's really helpful. We will link to hftd.org in our show notes and on our website, mentalnotepodcast.com. I did want people to know how to access your resources because they're incredible and so easy to use. Last thing, there's so many things I could ask you about and keep talking to you, but what are some of the resources you provide if someone is in crisis? I there [00:19:30] a hotline that you recommend or a specific website just to learn more, anything that you go to frequently that you offer people?
Carl: Because we're nonclinical, our job is to be the bridge. Our first front line is to use the tried and true resources that have been committed. The national lifeline, the Trevor Project type lifeline, the Veterans Lifeline. These things are on our resources that we [unintelligible 00:19:57] at live events. [00:20:00] They're plastered across our website because as a first response, that's the most critical. When people hit us up in DMs, the intensity doesn't have that immediate like this very second sort of thing.
What we do is we really leverage our partnerships with groups like NAMI and AFSP, who we can provide direction to connect them with resources. NAMI has a helpline. That's not the 24-hour lifeline, it's a helpline that helps people [00:20:30] navigate, "Hey, what's the difference between a psychologist and a therapist? I know I need something, but I need a little bit further demystification. That's where we're at our strongest when we can be a bridge to resources that give people not just one direction, but a number of different directions to really tailor it to their own personal needs.
Ellie: Thank you for doing that. I think that's such an important role. I think by you not being clinicians, [00:21:00] it probably even makes the conversation even more approachable where anyone can ask a question that they might think is dumb because it's not dumb and you can really help answer those questions and point them in the right direction.
Jonny: We know that we thrive together when we work together and that's why we're looking to build more and more tables and have more seats at it because we all got to do our job to get through this together.
Carl: I think I would just throw a shout out to anyone who's going through any sort of experience, regardless of whether it's [00:21:30] from a genetic basis or some trauma that the most important thing to do is to remember it's okay not to be okay because that's the beginning of finding what it's going to take for you to find a better fulfilling life. Thank you for this opportunity for us to share our work and our story.
Ellie: There are a lot of resources out there to help you if you're feeling at risk to yourself, or if you need to [00:22:00] have conversations about suicide in your community. I'm about to connect you with some helpful numbers, so maybe grab a pen or pencil to take them down. Also, there's lots of training and tips at Hope For The Day's website, H-F-T-D.org. Here are those numbers. For the crisis text line, text the word home, H-O-M-E to 741741 any time of the day to connect with a crisis counselor.
To speak with someone, try the national suicide prevention [00:22:30] lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. Once again, the text line is 741741. Just text home, H-O-M-E. To speak to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, call (800) 273-8255. We'll also have a more exhaustive list on our website, mentalnotepodcast.com. Thanks for listening to Mental Note podcast.
Our show is brought to you by Eating [00:23:00] Recovery Center and Pathlight Behavioral Health Centers, as well as Hope For The Day. You can reach a trained therapist to see if treatment is right for you by calling (877) 411-9578. Learn more about the people we interview @mentalnotepodcast.com. We'd also love it if you left us a review on iTunes, it helps others find our show. Mental Note is produced and hosted by me, Ellie Pike, directed and edited by Sam Pike. Till next time. [00:23:30]
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