Social Media & Suicide Prevention

Last year I wrote about an update to Facebook and Instagram that was aimed to help connect people who were suicidal to professionals at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Now, a little over a year later, Facebook has taken this a step further and stated that they’ll use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to flag posts that could be concerning and connect those to a human who can then contact mental health professionals and local responders.

“This is about shaving off minutes at every single step of the process, especially in Facebook Live,” says VP of product management Guy Rosen. Over the past month of testing, Facebook has initiated more than 100 “wellness checks” with first-responders visiting affected users. “There have been cases where the first-responder has arrived and the person is still broadcasting.” – TechCrunch

This update comes at a time when there are over 2 billion monthly Facebook users, nearly 5 billion YouTube videos are watched every day and 200 million people check Instagram on a daily basis. Whether you think social media is the greatest thing in the world or you can’t stand it, the truth is that most people in the world use at least one form of social media and this update is a step in the right direction for suicide prevention.

facebook-live-suicide-prevention

 

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International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day

When I first heard of this day six years ago, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the name. Survivor Day? It made me sound like some sort of hero or lucky person, neither of which I would ever label myself. Unlucky and heartbroken? Yes. But then I thought about what I did in the days and years following Luke’s death and, aside from breathing, surviving is really all I did. I had a sick mom and friends and family who relied on me to do so, so it really didn’t feel like I had a choice.

Six years later, I choose to not focus on myself or what I went through. I think of Luke’s family, and Luke, and my heart breaks for them. And I try to educate others on things to look for in someone who could be suicidal. Of course, the signs may or may not always be there, and you may not be able to stop it but education is one thing I’ve tried to do these past six years and it’s something I plan to continue. So today, I ask you to give this a read and know what signs to look for so that you, and others, will never have to wear the label of suicide survivor.

Survivor Day

Preparation for Tomorrow

You may or may not know that November 18th is Survivor Day. Don’t know what that is? The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention details it here. The short version? It’s a day of remembrance and support for the people who have suffered the death of a loved one due to suicide.

There are many things I would have done differently in the days and months after Luke’s death and there were many things I wished others would have done differently as well. I can’t tell you how many uncomfortable, and outright inappropriate questions, I was asked in the days after his death.

As I was reading about events for Survivor Day, this article popped up and it couldn’t be more spot on. As you’re preparing to attend these events, see posts tomorrow or just grow your knowledge in general, read this.  It details what to say, and what not to say, when speaking to suicide survivors:

  • Don’t ask details about the death.

  • Don’t pretend everything is normal or that nothing happened.

  • Share positive memories of the deceased.

Read the full article here for more and learn how to best support survivors tomorrow and every day.

#LivingWithMentalIllnessIs

I still get taken aback when I hear, or see, people talking openly about mental health. I know this isn’t something that should surprise me, I want it to be more commonplace, but unfortunately we’re not there yet as a society. Twice this morning I was surprised to hear the media was actually shedding light on the subject; the first was this morning on the Today Show as they were going over suicide statistics for men. The second was when I logged on to Twitter to see #LivingWithMentalIllnessIs was a trending topic.

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Of course, I found myself scrolling through hundreds of Tweets, just to get some insight into these people’s world.

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It took a lot for these people to bare their souls, and a part of their story, to the world via social media. Inevitably, there were people making light of the hashtag or turning political, but for the people who were truly there to give insight into their struggle with mental illness, I was so proud of them. I wanted to reach out and hug every one of them and tell them that I was there if they needed me. Obviously, that would be a bit creepy, so instead, I sat there Liking Tweet after Tweet, trying to let these people know that, in a world that doesn’t want to talk about mental health, they were seen and they were heard.

If you have a minute, or an hour, I’d encourage you to go out and take a look at what hundreds of people are saying it’s like for them to live with mental illness so you, too, can gain some insight.

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The start of a new week can be refreshing and exhausting. How do you like to spend your Sundays? I know lots of people, especially this time of year, like to fill theirs with brunch or social events to watch football. Me? I like to run errands, maybe do something fun, but I cherish my Sunday nights at home. Tonight, the Sunday Scaries and Daylight Savings Time are enough to have me exhausted so instead of writing much tonight, I’ll leave you with this song from Logic. You’ve likely heard it, but the title of the song happens to be the number to the Suicide Prevention Hotline. If you or someone you know needs an outlet, give this song a listen and the number a call.

Goodnight, all.

 

Giving Thanks Part 1

November is a time to reflect on the past year and all that you’re thankful for so I figured that it was time to give a formal thank you to people in my life who have been my support system through all the good and bad times in my life. So I plan to dedicate a handful of posts this month to those people who’ve helped me get this far in life.

And I couldn’t think of a better group of people to start out with than my sisters. Anyone who knows me knows that I am so proud of each of them; I often tell people that I brag about my sisters the way most people brag about their children. A teacher, a scientist, a sign language interpreter…what’s not to be proud of?! Though I’m the youngest of all of us Johnson girls, I’ve gone through my fair share of roles with each of them, as we all have at some point, and it’s helped our relationship grow.

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1146456_10200981734403583_1900677423_nI’ll never forget when my friend Kjrsten died when I was 14. I can recall so many things about that night; I was at play practice with my sister, Danielle, when I got the call. We walked outside and it was dark and rainy. She drove me home in our old yellow beater car and sat with me in silence and in the dark as I cried and tried to make sense of it all.
215030_1749348531529_3260083_n                                                                                                                  When my friend Erika was in a car accident just 2 years later, my sister Alicia picked me up at school so I could go visit her and sat in the waiting room with me for hours as I learned that Erika wasn’t going to make it.

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The day I found out that Luke committed suicide, my oldest sister, Anna, came over to my parents house just to sit and ensured that I knew she was there and was always a short drive or phone call away.

 

 

At 3 of the most pivotal moments in my life, my sisters were there with open arms.

Sisters 2

When my mom was in the hospital we spent every waking moment together, decorating my mom’s house for Christmas when we thought she was going to survive, curled up on hospital benches using coats as blankets trying to catch an hour of sleep, making sure the others were eating. We cried, held each other, and occasionally laughed when we felt uncomfortable (sorry, mom).

After my mom died seeing my sisters hurt and struggle through the aftermath was one of the hardest things for me. Losing my mom broke all of us, but I had experience losing people close to me, my sisters hadn’t – though, losing your mom is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I wanted to be there for my sisters the way they had been there for me at some of the hardest points in my life. We struggled through it and had good days and very, very bad days, we still do, but this also opened up new conversations for us to have with one another. Up until that point, when anything mental health related was talked about it, it was typically aimed in my direction. However, after our mom died, we all went through different emotions and situations and it was nice to know that we always had a safe space to talk about these things.

My sisters are my world and I know that I wouldn’t have made it this far in life, or be the woman I am today, without each of them.

So to Anna, Alicia & Danielle, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve helped me through some of the darkest days in my life and were always forgiving, understanding & patient with me as I managed through them. I promise to always do the same for you.

Sisters

The Face of Depression

I’ve spoke of this many times before but feel the need to reiterate it now: depression isn’t always hiding under the covers, frowning or crying all the time. You may be sitting at work next to someone now who is fighting depression or you may pass someone on the street who offers you a smile, all the while fighting their own demons and wondering how they’ll make it through the day.

It’s not secret that I’ve had my own off-and-on battle with depression, I think it’s something I’ll always have to deal with. That’s partially why I haven’t written lately…I wasn’t really sure what to say. So many things have happened around me in the past 6 months that relate to mental health and suicide and I just couldn’t bring myself to write. Until now. I saw this video Chester Bennington’s wife posted on Facebook months after her husband died and I knew I had to share it. Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t, but it’s a good reminder that depression doesn’t isn’t all tears and staying in bed, some people are better at hiding it than others. So use this as a reminder to hug your friends & family and always be open to lend a shoulder or a listening ear to someone who may need it.

Keeping Your Memory Alive

As I drove home from work last night I tried to remember where I was 6 years ago. Thanks to apps like TimeHop & Facebook’s On This Day, I have a slight memory of where I was and what I was doing. I couldn’t tell you much about my mindset on July 6, 2011 but I can tell you this:

I was recently 21, working a summer job at a radio station, which included working a summer event series called Nitefall on the River with this guy named Adam who, on this particular night, walked with me up to the steps of the state capitol and we talked about life, dreams & goals. From there, my mind is a little blank.

It didn’t need to soak up all of the events of the day or the week, the emotions I was feeling or anything else because I had no idea that, in hours, my entire life would be turned upside down.

Six years ago I was broken. My world had stopped spinning and I couldn’t focus on anything in front of me. I wrote last year about how I could still feel everything from that day six years ago; that’s still true today. And, thanks to technology, the messages I sent out six years ago still have the ability to transport me to my broken, 21 year old self who wasn’t sure she could make it through the day.

I reluctantly looked at my apps this morning and saw messages like this:

timeHop

Technology can be a beautiful and terrible thing.

I wasn’t sure if I should write this year. As many of you know, I recently got engaged. And, as the rest of you know, much of this blog is about the life lessons or heartbreak I’ve endured since my boyfriend killed himself six years ago. For many people, those are conflicting. Shouldn’t I have moved on by now? Should I no longer feel heartache for someone I truly loved? I’m sure you all have your opinions. Luckily, I have mine too.

Shortly after Luke died, I got a tattoo of his initials on my foot and, though his mom knew how much I loved him, she warned me that someday I’d move on and it might be tough to explain that to the new man in my life. But I didn’t care, and I don’t care, and I’m lucky enough to be in a relationship where my past is respected and understood.

These blog posts are therapeutic to me and are the best way I can keep Luke’s memory alive. Though years have passed and I’ve opened myself up to loving and being loved, it doesn’t mean that I can’t mourn a love I lost; a best friend who left this Earth long before I ever wanted him to.

I wrote earlier that six years ago I was broken. The year following that, I was just as broken, if not more. I’m not standing before you six years later telling you that I have it all together because I don’t. If we’re being honest, I had a breakdown on Monday night and another one last night. I’m not perfect, I hurt and mourn for people who are long gone and a big portion of me thinks that parts of me will always be broken but it’s that brokenness that reminds me of how much, and who, I’ve had to love in this life.

Luke

 

My Reasons Why

I’m very much like Clay when it comes to this series and Hannah’s tapes. For me, this wasn’t a show to binge. I had to take it in small pieces, sometimes shutting it off only minutes into an episode.

It took me two weeks to get through, but tonight, I finished 13 Reasons Why. I didn’t watch it for entertainment and I can’t say I enjoyed it but I needed to know how the show was going to handle mental health and suicide.

I will begin with this: Be warned, the show can definitely be a trigger.

Whether you’ve directly struggled with issues related to mental health and/or suicidal thoughts or you’ve been lucky enough that you haven’t, this show will have your mind racing. And maybe that’s what it’s supposed to do.

I’ve talked with many people who’ve watched the show. And I’ve saved dozens of articles that appear to paint this show in a negative light…but I haven’t read them yet. I intend to, but first, I wanted to watch the series and wrap my own mind around it.

As a person who has been through many of the same experiences as Hannah Baker, this show was tough to watch. And I think that is definitely one of the points this show was trying to make. Suicide is incredibly painful to watch. Depression is hard to sit back and watch without being able to do anything. Rape and sexual assault is unbearable to watch. But that’s the point, right? In Beyond the Reasons after the show they described why they chose to show the suicide and the rape. Both had my stomach in knots and I had to turn away during both. Then, upon realizing what I was doing, I forced myself to turn back to the screen and watch because it’s turning away from those experiences , blocking them out, that’s part of the problem.

Do I agree with everything the show depicted? No. Do I think it was necessary to show the act of suicide? No. Do I think it’s okay that Hannah chose to tell these people they’re the reason she died? No. But since this show came out, I’ve heard more people openly talk about suicide than I ever have in my life.

And that should be the point.

This show isn’t perfect. But neither are we. I’m not saying my opinion is the only opinion and I’m definitely not saying it’s right but this is my take on the series.

It’s opening up conversations.

There’s a high school near where I live that preventatively sent out a note regarding the show. Take that in for a moment. A school chose to speak out about suicide and make the topic top of mind for their students and parents before an act even occurred. If that’s the only good thing that comes out of this show, then I think it’s a win. But it’s not the only occurrence. Whether good or bad, people across the country are openly talking about this show, rape & suicide.

Don’t shy away from the ugliness.

13 Reasons Why covered so many taboo topics. Many of the kids in the show didn’t feel comfortable talking about these topics – rape, suicide, slut shaming – and that really bothered me. I found myself turning episodes off during the middle of them because I was so frustrated that they wouldn’t just talk about what was happening. I quickly realized I wasn’t frustrated with the show but with people in general. This happens every day. I know what it’s like to say the word “suicide” and immediately have people blush or even physically cringe, but we have to force ourselves to open up and talk about the difficult things in life because we never know when the person on the other end of the conversation may need that opportunity to open up.

Don’t stop trying. Don’t stop reaching out.

When I finished the series I was left with a lot of questions. Why the guns? Why the second suicide attempt? Why did they show certain things? Why didn’t they have suicide messages and hotline numbers attached to every episode? Why didn’t they choose to create a character who reached out and got help? I think, to some point, I still have some of these questions but I understood a lot more when I watched the after show, Beyond the Reasons.

In the after show, the actor who played Clay mentioned why he understood that some kids don’t reach out, “What do I say? What are they going to say? They’re not going to understand.” That eased some of the anger this show left me with. Whether it’s a teenager or another adult in your life, I can’t stress how important it is to make the people in your life aware of the fact that you’re there, day or night, to talk. Or just to listen. Sometimes as humans, we don’t have the words to describe what we’re feeling or maybe we’re scared the other person won’t understand it. But you know what? That’s okay. The other person doesn’t have to understand what you’re going through or why you made a certain decision. They just need to be there.

But, even so, you can try your hardest to be aware and make yourself available to those around you and you could still miss it. I write that sentence from experience. I’ve been made aware of it, looked for it and still missed it. Sometimes you can stare a suicidal person in the face and have no idea what’s going on in their mind.

That’s why it’s important to reach out. It’s not a one and done kind of conversation. Please, I beg of you, continuously reach out to those in your life.

You matter to me.

Make yourself available to the people in your life on a regular basis and continue reiterating that fact to them. Tell people you love them every chance you can.

Have the difficult conversations.

Don’t miss an opportunity to reach out, to ask questions. Don’t miss the opportunity to recognize when someone is in crisis.

“How am I supposed to live with that?”

“Any way you can.”

– 13 Reasons Why

Watch the show, don’t watch the show. It doesn’t matter to me. But do me a favor? Talk about suicide. And depression. Have conversations about mental health. Take an uncomfortable topic and help take the stigma out of it. Don’t minimize other people’s situations. Make yourself available. Look for signs, but know that you may not always see them.

Tell people they matter to you because, believe me, you’ll wish you could when they’re gone.

13 reasons why

 

Five Years

Five years. 1,825 nights. Days, months, and years that I stumbled through this world wondering what I was doing without you.

Have you ever lost something you loved? Maybe it was your comfort blanket when you were little, an important essay in college or maybe, you’re like me, and you’ve lost someone you’ve loved.

I typically hate using the word “lost” for someone dying, but for a long time, that’s how I felt about Luke. I felt like I had this amazing person and I was just wandering through this life trying to find him again. It took me three years to realize that wasn’t going to happen. And when that realization set it, in hurt like hell. If I’m being honest, it still does.

After my mom died, I would wake up each day and repeat this thought to myself before I even let myself sit upright, “Your mom is dead. She will never come back.” And for a long time after Luke died, I had to remind myself that he was gone as well. The realization of it setting in later in the day was enough to cripple me.

I don’t have to remind myself of either of these things anymore. I’m aware these two important people are no longer in my life but it never fails that on important days -anniversaries, birthdays, holidays – my mind will wander back to the days that I lost these two.

I was on my way to work today as my mind began to drift and I could feel the heat of the asphalt under my knees and it was like I was back in that parking lot five years ago as I heard the words from Cheryl that Luke was dead. I can remember my world spinning and feeling sick to my stomach. I remember grabbing the rail in the parking lot as I called my mom to tell her the news knowing that, without something to steady me, I would fall back to my knees again. I can remember the numbness that continued for weeks, months, and years after Luke died. After the numbness subsided, the pain set in, and I can still feel that today. But for the life of me, I cannot remember the last words I said to him.

Did I tell him I loved him? Did I remind him how much he meant to me? I want to believe I did, knowing that it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

Technology reminded me that 5 years and 1 day ago I posted the lyrics to Sunrays and Saturdays on my Facebook page. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had aimed that message at Luke, back then, that’s what I did. And it’s a very fitting song.

“Open the window/ Let the sunset in/If only for the last time/Let me see you smile again.”

I’m all too guilty of saying the wrong things at the wrong times, or just saying hurtful things in general, it’s something that I’m working on. But, if you’re reading this, please heed this advice and always tell the people you care most about that you love them. You never know when, or if, you’ll get another chance to do so.

BL