I’m a Survivor

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Written by Katie Walls, of Active Minds at Elmhurst College.

My name is Katie Walls and I am a Survivor.

When I woke up the morning after my suicide attempt, I decided that I needed help beyond the therapy that I was already receiving, so I made the decision to go to a residential treatment center. After completing residential treatment, I felt slightly better, yet still struggled. I continued to struggle until I found my home at Elmhurst College’s chapter of Active Minds.

I had no knowledge of what Active Minds was. All I knew was it is a club that talks about mental health disorders on campus. In the course of a couple of months I went from attending my first meeting, to taking charge of prizes and giveaways for our PostSecretU event, to president of the chapter. Continue Reading

Now What?

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It sounds counterintuitive, but on March 28, 2012, the hot and rigid properties of asphalt made up the most forgiving surface of my life. I had attempted suicide, but I had survived and was posed with the toughest question of my life: now what?

I suppose I should back up. I had been depressed for much longer than I knew what depression was. Even in third grade I can remember getting down on myself for not doing as well in school as I thought I should. My perfectionism followed me throughout my childhood casting a shadow of disappointment on my accomplishments. Continue Reading

From the Active Minds Speakers Bureau: Five Reasons to Consider Volunteering for a Crisis Hotline

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Frank Warren is the creator of PostSecret and a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring Frank to your campus to speak about mental health. 

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1. It will help you become more compassionate.
“Before you can volunteer, the centers work with you on a couple of things. They encourage you to be as nonjudgmental as possible. They encourage you to allow the caller to share, to talk about anything at all. They help you develop a voice of compassion and empathy.”

2. You’ll meet some of the best people around.
“You’ll never meet more generous, hopeful, giving people than the other volunteers on a suicide hotline.”

hopeline3. You might find that in helping others, you’re also helping yourself.
“I think the work I did as a suicide prevention volunteer, listening to people’s deepest secrets at 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 A.M., helped me just as much as it did them. I was suffering from some of the feelings I see on postcards every week. One way out for me was volunteering for a suicide hotline. It was a lifeline for me in many ways.”

4. It teaches you that your weaknesses can be transformed into strengths.
“I got a postcard two days ago that said something to the effect of “Therapists who’ve been broken are the best people to help and heal others.” It’s like Hemingway said – “We are all broken – that’s how the light gets in.” I’d much rather seek help from someone who could identify my struggles and found their way out than someone who couldn’t relate.”

5. Sharing secrets makes both the teller and the listener stronger.
“People share secrets about things like addiction, an eating disorder, self harm. When they finish, we see that experience doesn’t have to be a negative. It can be a positive, a story of healing that you’re able to share for others and let them know they’re not alone.”

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Crisis Text Line is the free, nationwide, 24/7 text line for people in crisis. Volunteer Crisis Counselors are superheroes with laptops instead of capes, and you can apply to volunteer for them here. If you or your friend is in an IMMEDIATE CRISIS call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line. Both are available 24/7.

What We Say Matters

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Written by Megan Larson, Active Minds Student Advisory Committee and Active Minds at UCLA member.

I’m here. I’m breathing. I’m alive. This surprises me sometimes. Then I remember how lucky I am for this second chance.

When I attempted suicide I felt there was no hope left. I couldn’t imagine another day, another hour, even another minute of enduring the pain I was in. I was tired of fighting and I gave into the darkness I fought so hard to keep at bay daily.

I wish someone had been there to ask me the hard questions. I needed someone to ask me those specific and targeted questions: was I having thoughts of hurting myself; did I have a plan; and did I have the means to carry out that plan? I needed someone to be a bright light for me, someone to reach across the darkness of my depression that had left me numb to all emotion. Continue Reading

The Only Way Out is In

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This post was written by Dr. Colleen Coffey, a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau.

I think that mental health issues exist on a spectrum. I mean this, of course, in the context of the range of issues we all face and the spectrum of severity of diagnoses I also mean this as it relates to how issues appear within us.

The best analogy I can think of when it comes to mental health issues is a Russian nesting doll. A little doll, inside of a medium sized doll, inside of a larger doll that presents to the world. Usually, the larger doll is me–the best version of healthy, happy me. The little doll is anxiety and depression–it’s always there but kind of little in comparison to the rest of me.

Most days I feel great and my quality of life is pretty awesome.

Some days I still struggle.

Continue Reading

Can You Spare a Moment?

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Written by Kevin Briggs, Affinity Speaker with the Active Minds Speakers Bureau and “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

It has been two and a half years since I retired from the California Highway Patrol. Almost all of my professional career has been in government service. When I retired in November 2013 to start Pivotal Points, I really had no idea how to proceed, but I did find out that the following items were a must: business license, web page, meetings with my tax professional, listening to my mentors. Quite overwhelming I would have to say.

I have learned so much since retirement, and have presented around most of the United States, and also in Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany. Presenting on the subject of suicide prevention and intervention has been an awesome and humbling experience for me, and to be honest…a hell of a lot of work.

When it comes to mental health, the question I am asked the frequently is: “How can I help someone who may be suicidal?”  This is a key question that we need to continue to collectively think about.

We should and must continue to educate our societies, families, friends, and loved ones to recognize warning signs that someone has lost so much hope they are do not want to live. Let me share this with you, in 2014 we lost over 42,000 people to suicide–just in the United States. Nearly one in five people suffer from mental illness each year. There are very few people who have not been affected in one way or another by suicide.

Could we have helped those folks?  Possibly.

I have heard time and time again, “I saw the signs,” “They talked about it, but I never thought they would go through with it,” or “I thought someone else would have talked to them.” When you really stop and think about it, writing or speaking about suicide is a cry for help.

So what can we do?

For starters, if you even think someone is suffering, sit down with the individual. Let them know what you’ve seen or heard that makes you think they are suffering or in distress. Remember, listening is the key to understanding.

I have had psychiatrists tell me they wish more peers in their occupation would really listen to their clients. They hear symptoms and prescribe medication. The person comes back in a month and if they feel even slightly better, then the medication is doing its job.

My personal and ongoing treatment with my psychiatrist and counselor have been very good. Both listen intently and together we work out a plan for my continued success.

So back to the question, “What can we do?” In my experience, those who have been suicidal feel very alone, in pain, and think they are a burden to their families. To sit down with that person, tell them how important they are in your life, that their life has value, and you’ll be there for them, is a great start.

In my contacts with several hundred people contemplating suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, loneliness was a main contributing factor. Whether it stemmed from a broken heart, abuse/neglect, aging, social media or feeling rejected by others, social isolation can cause very serious health effects. Chronic loneliness can affect your heart, brain, life expectancy, and as a matter of fact, it is a major contributing factor to depression and alcoholism.

How difficult would it be for you to take a bit of time from your day to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with someone you think may be suffering? What if it was you on the other side?  You probably won’t be able to solve their problems/concerns, but just taking a bit of time to be there, to listen to understand, and to say, “I’m here for you whenever you need me,” may be just what the person needs, and you may have just saved a life.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.

KOGNITO CHALLENGE UPDATE: SAVE LIVES AND RAISE FUNDS FOR MENTAL HEALTH

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We’re two weeks into the Fall 2016 Kognito Challenge, and we are already seeing amazing results!

Overall, 65 schools have reached more than 600 students via Kognito’s At Risk for College Students mental health simulation, which is free to all schools with Active Minds chapters through October 7. The online, interactive experience teaches participants how to identify and assist students in distress.

This is the second Kognito Challenge. Collectively, Active Minds chapters have engaged more than 4,000 participants since the first Kognito Challenge in spring 2016.

As of the time this post was written, Austin Peay State University, Saint Cloud State University, and Stockton University, have completed and are leading the Challenge, each training more than 55 students, faculty, and staff. The first 40 chapters to engage at least 50 students and 1 faculty or staff member to complete the full simulation will receive $250 credit toward their national fundraising goal for mental health awareness and the Active Minds movement.

There’s still plenty of time to join in and compete to win! Here are a few creative approaches chapter members have taken to encourage participation:

Take pictures of students completing the simulation.

Pictures are worth 1,000 words. Take pictures of people completing the challenge and post on social media.

Promote the Challenge on social media.

Build an army one step at a time. Gather a team of a few people to help you spread the word. Or, ask one person to tell a friend, to tell a friend, to tell a friend. Active Minds at Austin Peay State University, University of Texas at San Antonio, and others have tapped into their social media networks to spread the word via social media for the Challenge.3

Use school resources.

Several schools have sent the Kognito simulation link to their campus listservs, inviting all students, staff, and faculty to complete the course. Talk to your school newspaper, radio station, social media team and announcers at sporting events about helping you promote the challenge.

Give out free food or candy in exchange.

In the past, some chapters have re-branded their Kognito Challenge (such as a “Game Simulation Marathon”) and distributed candy in a central area on campus as a way to draw students to their table and ask them to complete the simulation.

Incentivize with gift cards.

Several chapters are raffling off gift cards to participants. Participating chapters receive weekly user reports from Kognito, which can be used to randomly select prize winners.

Integrate the simulation into fall RA training or first-year experience/orientation.

Several schools have been working on incorporating the Kognito simulation into RA training and/or first-year experience/orientation. To count for the competition, each individual needs to complete the course, so it is recommended that they/orientation bring their own laptops to the training or attend part of the course in a computer lab.

Team up with professors to provide extra credit.

Professors in departments of psychology, social work, public health, and others may be interested in offering course credit to students who complete the simulation.

Incorporate it into your student org fair and other programming.

Last year, the University of Pittsburgh allowed participation in the Kognito Challenge to qualify students to be acknowledged as completing the chapter’s upcoming campus-wide mental health unity pledge.

There’s still plenty of time to get involved and train your peers to help students in distress! If you haven’t started yet, take the course today at www.activeminds.org/kognito and share it with students on campus before the free course expires on October 7!

Team up with your school’s marketing club.

find out if your campus marketing club would take on promoting the Challenge as a project.

Set weekly goals.

Set small, realistic weekly goals that will put you over the finish line. All you need are a few participants each week.

Organize a dorm night.

Organize a dorm night. Talk to RAs to help you schedule a few 30 minutes time-slots when people take the simulation in their room. Give out refreshments.

Contact the Chapters Team at chapters@activeminds.org for support.

My Cat, the Lifesaver

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IMG_1080 (1) I’m only a little embarrassed to say that I think my cat may have been partially responsible for saving my life.

I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder for a long time–almost ten years now that I look back on it–but I’ve always been able to find my way back with some time, effort, and a lot of therapy. But last summer I fell into a depressive episode that was deeper, longer, and more debilitating than anything I’d ever experienced

For the first time my mood wasn’t the only thing affected by my mental illness. My body hurt, all the time, constantly. I was either sleeping for 14 hours a day or less than four. I’d go two weeks eating almost nothing and another two weeks eating almost anything. I could barely move but worse than any of that, I could barely think.

I’ve always felt smart, and I’ve liked using my brain. My job demands that as my primary function, but suddenly I found myself floundering. I was forgetting common words; losing them halfway through a sentence I’d already started. I developed a stutter and couldn’t think through tasks or projects, immediately overwhelmed by everything. I would write emails with the same care and attention that I normally would but people would write back saying I wasn’t making sense, that the sentences didn’t mean anything when put together.

I’d fallen into old habits of self-harm, and I was struggling with constant thoughts of suicide. And if I managed to drag myself into work on any given day, I’d be faced with coming home utterly exhausted to a lonely apartment in a new city, far from my friends and family.

I did a decent job keeping up the façade of being depressed but functioning…or at least that’s the only explanation that I can think of for why my friends decided it was time to redouble their push for me to adopt a cat.

Continue Reading

We’re Partnering With The Mighty

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themightyWe’re thrilled to announce a new partnership that will bring Active Minds’ resources in front of The Mighty’s wide-reaching readership. Active Minds will now have a growing home page on The Mighty and appear on many stories on the site, allowing us to get many more people involved with our organization.

The Mighty is a story-based health community focused on improving the lives of people facing disease, disorder, mental illness and disability. More than half of Americans are facing serious health conditions or medical issues. They want more than information. They want to be inspired. The Mighty publishes real stories about real people facing real challenges.

We’re dedicated to helping college students connect to promote mental health and end the stigma around it. With this partnership, we’ll be able to help even more people.

We Can Cope with That

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by An Anonymous Contributor

You know when you’re at the grocery store and the line is kind of long, or someone is moving kind of slow and you’re just looking around at the candy? Do you ever get that split second, impulsive, almost unconscious though of “I could steal this”?

Probably in that same instant you laugh to yourself about how silly that would be; that you don’t even want the candy bar you’re looking at; and then the cashier calls you up, you smile, and you move on with your day.

It isn’t perfect, but this is the closest analogy I have to describe what intrusive, passive, suicidal thoughts look like to me.

I’m pretty sure I have most of the diagnoses in the book (by book, I’m actually referring to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM): Major Depression, ADHD, Generalized Anxiety (or maybe an atypical OCD, we’re not quite sure yet), and most recently Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

I’d suspected that I’d had BPD since I was a junior in high school; a budding Psych major reading the DSM in the library on my lunch periods. When I stumbled on BPD I knew pretty instantly that things fit but I was also terrified. I read about how treatment was limited, and how most people experienced multiple suicide attempts and hospitalizations.

Most people who know me know that I live a life fairly opposite of the standard Cluster B personality short hand of “erratic, dramatic, and over-emotional.” But when depression hit again and my self-loathing was deep, my suicidal thoughts scarier than they ever had been, my self-harm less predictable and more severe, I asked my therapist directly if he thought I had BPD. And, though he hesitated, later explaining that he worried about weighing me down with the stigma that comes with the diagnosis, he said he did.

Though I’ve never attempted suicide, I have been plagued by intrusive, persistent, suicidal thoughts. Just like the voice in the back of your head at the grocery store telling you that you could steal that Snickers if you really wanted to; I have a voice in the back of my head telling me that I could kill myself if really wanted to–if the circumstances lined up correctly, if all my hope really was gone.

People were worried about me and checking in with me often. My family and friends were sometimes overwhelmed by how little they could do to help me; how powerless they felt in the face of something they couldn’t see or understand. I felt like I was slowly suffocating but my own brain was the one who wasn’t letting my lungs work.

My brain was the one keeping me awake every night telling me how much of a burden I was on the people who cared about me even though that care that they showed every day was a sign of how much they wanted me to stay alive and get back to being myself.

I still have a lot of trouble realizing that I can’t always trust my brain to be telling me the truth.

But the one strategy that’s stuck, that’s helped me get used to the thought that my brain is an unreliable narrator, is the podcast “Welcome to Night Vale.” It’s a fictional series about a small desert town’s community radio station where strange things happen. These include: Tuesdays occasionally being canceled due to scheduling errors, dogs not being allowed in the dog park because it is the home to strange, hooded figures, and civilizations of tiny people living below the alleys of the neighborhood bowling alley.

All of these events are reported in ominous, dark tones but, at the end of the day, the town lives on and the people realize that it’s not worth being afraid of all the things that they see, hear, and experience. They can live on, even with the strange, sometimes scary occurrences. I’m not great at it, but I’ve come to see my mind as Night Vale and its radio host, Cecil.

So, when my brain tries to tell me that everything is hopeless and when it won’t leave me alone, I try to smile and laugh at yet another story being spun and remember what Cecil said at the end of one episode: “And while the future is fast coming for you, it always flinches first and settles in as the gentle present. This now, this us, we can cope with that.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.