Active Minds Speakers Bureau – Active Minds Blog Changing the conversation about mental health Wed, 21 Dec 2016 21:09:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day Tue, 15 Nov 2016 13:00:29 +0000 Kevin Briggs is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring him to your campus or organization to speak about mental health.

November 19th is “International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.”  This day is an opportunity celebrated around the world for people affected by suicide loss to gather at local events to find and provide comfort and gain understanding as they share their stories of their loved ones.  I once read that each suicide has what is referred to as a “direct affect” on six people.  This means that at least six people were affected enough to cause them to alter their daily life patterns.  I believe this number is low.  Of course, many, many more people are saddened by the loss.

In his book “Deaths of Man,” E. Schneidman wrote,

“The largest public health problem is neither the prevention of suicide nor the management of suicide attempts but the alleviation of the effects of stress in the survivors whose lives are forever altered.”

Some of you may know this already…my paternal Grandfather lost his life to suicide.  I was not born when this occurred, but his actions prevented me from ever getting to know him, and him, me.  Who knows, we may have been best friends.

Those of us who are suicide loss survivors are no doubt forced into an association that we wish we were never placed in, and really, didn’t even know existed in the first place.  It’s well known that most people who take their life suffer from a diagnosable mental illness.  Even though suicide has been on the rise since 1999, I truly believe that due to our better understanding of mental illness and the continual destigmatization surrounding it, suicide rates will go down.  There are many organizations supporting those who are contemplating suicide, as well as suicide loss survivors.  There are crisis chat lines, crisis texting help and even “apps” for assistance.  Organizations like Active Minds, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and others openly discuss suicide prevention and have information readily available for suicide loss survivors.


Being that I never met my Grandfather, I will say I don’t suffer the anguish as a parent does who has lost a child, or someone who has lost a good friend or another family member that they have a deep bond with.  During my career with the California Highway Patrol I encountered hundreds of people contemplating suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB).  Most “negotiations” were successful.  But there are also those encounters with people with whom I was not able to help and they did in fact, perish.  These encounters have significantly affected me, pushing my desire to help others to the forefront.

kevin-briggs-suicide-blog-social-mediaIn my discussions with family members from those lost on the GGB and many, many others in my travels speaking about suicide prevention and crisis intervention, I see time and time again the pain left from loss. Some people say this is a ripple effect from the suicide.  I can tell you the devastation is bigger than a ripple.  It is a tsunami, a hurricane that strikes hard and leaves in its wake sadness, grief, unanswered questions and even guilt.  Those left behind wonder what they could have done to prevent the tragedy.  Please believe me when I tell you the action of the family member or friend was not your fault.  The act of suicide is a personal one, not selfish, and in almost every case, not intended to cause pain or anguish to anyone.  The common purpose of why a person dies by suicide generally, is to seek a solution to the intolerable psychological pain they are in. Their crisis management skills have been exhausted and they feel hopeless about their situation.

What can those of us do that are left behind, the suicide loss survivors?  Do our best to live a life of happiness, continual growth and service to your community.  This is what those who have lost their life would wish for you, I’m sure.

I urge everyone to take some time on November 19 to recognize not only suicide loss survivors, but all who have lost their life to suicide.  There are a number of events taking place worldwide.  I’ve listed a few websites below for additional information.

God bless and keep each other safe,


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

National Alliance on Mental Illness:

Survivors of Suicide Loss:

Three Pieces of Advice for Transitioning Veterans Thu, 10 Nov 2016 13:00:34 +0000 Bryan Adams is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring him to your campus or organization to speak about mental health.


Through the drones of machinery and roaring turbines, a calm voice came over the loudspeaker of the C-141 troop transport plane, “please prepare for landing.” I had been in Iraq for over a year on what seemed like a dark and twisted Groundhog Day. Stepping off of the plane in Germany was a surreal experience. The lush green hills and puffy white clouds draped against the blue sky were a far cry from the deserts of Iraq. I had never felt so relieved in my life.

After being wounded during an ambush, I came closer than I had ever imagined to dying. My life as an Infantryman in Iraq was a mix of long hours and overwhelming boredom, peppered with brief moments of pure terror, racing adrenaline, and extreme focus.  Conversations with friends ran the gamut of pop culture, politics, sports, music, and goals. There was a lot of time to think about home, about family and friends, and about what I wanted to do when I got out of the military.

The first few months back in the United States I was riding an almost euphoric emotional high, spending time with family and friends and enjoying the freedoms our country has to offer. For me, trying to settle back in to civilian life was the priority. Eventually the newness of it all faded away and I was left with the realization that I had no real plan. I was 21 years old and had spent three of my formative early adult years in a highly structured environment where “right place, right time, and right uniform” was the overarching mantra to the lower enlisted soldier. Having choices and excessive free time were a welcomed, yet unfamiliar luxury.

I became consumed with anxious thoughts that kept me awake at night. Depression crept in as the reality of what I had lived through began to fully sink it. The guilt of surviving, while other soldiers who were stronger, faster, and more proficient did not, was hard to digest. Frustration permeated my daily life as the larger questions loomed over almost every moment of my existence.

Admitting that I needed help was one of the toughest realizations I came to in my life. Stigmas are a very real barrier to mental health treatment. From my personal experience, they are even more pronounced in the military, where not being able to pull your weight can lead to mission failure or getting someone killed.  Through supportive friends, family, and caregivers I accepted the realization that I wasn’t able to do it on my own and I sought treatment for what was eventually diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

bryan-adams-am-conference-2010After years of focus, time, and hard work I was able to fully appreciate and respect the importance of mental health. I felt the need to educate others, to change the conversation about mental health. That is what lead me to Active Minds— their mission is to eliminate stigmas on college campuses.

I found myself working to raise awareness for mental health treatment through speaking engagements and publications; my current duties also include working in veteran’s services at Rutgers University, where I have learned a lot about the re-integration process and mental health.  I do not however, consider myself an expert; I feel that I am more of an observer and fellow traveler on the journey. I want to share some of the practices which I have seen as very effective not only to my personal situation but many returning veterans.

Below you will find three recommendations I have for you to keep in mind if you are a transitioning veteran or working with transitioning veterans.

  1. Have a plan:
  • Develop a concrete plan of action several months before leaving the service. Smaller goals      are an easy way to measure progress and build confidence.
  • If you plan on attending college after leaving the military it is a good idea to start researching schools up to a year in advance as many have early admissions deadlines. Learn about their rankings, majors, accolades, and veteran programs. Start contacting them with any questions you may have; there is no such thing as a dumb question.
  • If you are looking to start working immediately afterwards, take advantage of the career and professional development resources available to you as a veteran. Veteran friendly companies, job fairs, and job placement companies for veterans are all great resources. A simple internet search can yield local and federal hiring events that could connect you with Human Resource professionals and hiring managers.

Much like in the military, you should dress for success. Make sure you prepare for your interviews by practicing with others. Do research on the company, its goals, and major initiatives. Tailor your resume to the specific company you are applying for and utilize resources available to translate your training and experience into civilian terminology.

  1. Take Care of Yourself: Maintaining a healthy mind and body will make your ability to deal with stress, change, and adversity more manageable. It has been shown that as many as one in four adults have some form of diagnosable mental health disorder. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a variety of treatments and psychiatric services which can be tailored to your individual needs. You can also file for disability claims for any injuries or illnesses you believe you may have developed as a result of your service. You may be eligible to receive financial compensation as a result. If you are going to file a disability claim I recommended seeking assistance from a specialized claims officer or veteran’s service organization. If you have private insurance you can utilize providers within your network who may have specializations in working with veterans.

There are many other holistic approaches which you can take advantage of as a returning veteran. Mindfulness practices, meditation, yoga, outdoor recreation, regular exercise regimens, and group activities which promote healthy coping mechanisms have all been proven beneficial. A service animal can also act as a day-to-day support mechanism to help you navigate through life. Seeking treatment should never be viewed as weakness; it takes a strong person to take the tough steps necessary in recovery.

  1. Continue to Serve: As veterans we are used to having a mission and serving the country for the greater good. This sense of service runs strong in us all and it is important that we continue to fulfill this need. Community service and helping others is one of the highest forms of self-actualization one can achieve. There are many opportunities for veterans to give back to their communities and country. We can use our skills, knowledge, and experience to improve the lives of others who are less fortunate.
From the Active Minds Speakers Bureau: Five Reasons to Consider Volunteering for a Crisis Hotline Sat, 24 Sep 2016 12:00:39 +0000 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. 


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.”


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.

12 Ways to Promote Mental Health Awareness on Your Campus Thu, 08 Sep 2016 13:00:22 +0000 Speakers_Bureau_Logo_Website

Now’s a great time to look ahead and plan your programs through the end of Fall semester and beyond; if you’re looking for a way to promote your Active Minds chapter on your campus, and raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention, consider hosting an event around one of the mental health awareness campaigns coming up!  Let Active Minds Speakers Bureau provide a presenter on one of the topics being highlighted, and remember– when you book an AMSB speaker, your chapter will receive programming credits toward your annual fundraising goal!

It’s not too late to organize an event around National Depression Screening Day®, Oct. 6 or World Mental Health Day, Oct. 10; Mental Illness Awareness Week takes place Oct. 2-8; all of the Active Minds speakers talk candidly about the impact of mental health disorders on their lives, and the process of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. 

The entire month of October recognizes ADHD Awareness, a topic Pablo Campos addresses candidly; and Bullying Prevention Month takes place in October, too. Danee Sergeant, Kai Roberts, Stacy Pershall and Colleen Coffey offer their unique perspectives on what it’s like to be the target of this behavior and its effects.

In November, we observe International Survivors of Suicide Day on Nov. 16; Stacy Pershall, Jordan Burnham, Pablo Campos, David Romano and Meg Hutchinson share their stories of living a full life after a suicide attempt.


February 27-March 5 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week; Stacy Pershall, Maggie Bertram and Colleen Coffey share their personal stories about their own struggles with eating disorders.

March is Self-harm Awareness Month; Juliana Kerrest, David Romano, Pablo Campos and Jordan Burnham share their stories of depression, emotional pain and self-injury, shining a light on why it happens and how they are recovering.

April is National Minority Health Month, and that includes mental health; Jordan Burnham, Kai, Roberts, Danee Sergeant, Janelle Montano and Pablo Campos share their lived experience with mental health disorders as members of minority cultures.  April is also Stress Awareness Month—and who DOESN’T feel stress from time to time?  Each of the Active Minds speakers has a unique story and message about how stress affects us and how to overcome it.  Alcohol Awareness Month is observed in April, too; Bryan Adams, Danee Sergeant, Janelle Montano, Jordan Burnham and Pablo Campos talk about their use and abuse of alcohol (and other substances) as part of their disorders.

eb558f8a60d067c86f8b4d3786a76236a9a33468_original May is Mental Health Month (May 7-13 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week); May 16-22 is National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week. The Active Minds speakers are available to come to your campus and talk about anxiety, depression, suicide prevention, PTSD, substance use and abuse, and more.

Whatever your focus is, and whenever your event will take place, let us help you educate your campus, promote mental wellness and earn program credits!  Contact the Active Minds Speakers Bureau at or at 202-332-9595 x102 TODAY!

Be Yourself. It’s Your Most Powerful Tool. Mon, 01 Aug 2016 12:25:39 +0000 Collen is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring her to your campus to speak about mental health. 

My family recently took a trip to Disney World. My little boy, Paul, had a heart transplant last year and this was his Make a Wish Trip.

The Orlando airport departure area experience is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Security is a nightmare and after a flagged bag and an almost missed flight, my family finally made it to flight 992.

I am sitting with two kids, Paul (4) and Georgia (2). As we take off, the flight attendants play a song from top gun and we sing it. We try to play go fish. We talk about how planes work and when snacks will arrive. We read books and sing some more.

I’m doing the best I can to entertain my tired and hungry children when this woman in the row in front of me stands up, turns around, glares at me and says “I appreciate what you’re doing with your children but you are just very loud.”

“Excuse me?” I say.This can’t be real. 

“I have no problem with your children but you are just too loud.”

Yep, that’s what she said. 

“So you’re saying you just have an issue with my existence in general? You don’t like my voice?”

“Yes, you’re just too loud.” She sits down.

Now what? Did this lady really just say that to me in front of my kids? Who made her the noise police?  Ok, I’m gonna fight her. No that’s not right – I’ll get kicked off the plane. I’ll say sorry- no I’m not sorry not even a little. Ignore it- can’t- won’t- never. Insult her flabby arms. No wait that’s not nice. Give her my resume.-No- that’s weird- won’t work.

Talk to her her about kindness. Tell her our story. Sucker punch her. Start crying.

Pointless. Not germane to our present situation.  Mean. Potentially inappropriate.

Own it. Yep that’s the way. Own it… 

“Kids.” I say. “We are going to be super LOUD now just for the lady in front of us!” They giggle. Yep this was the way to go.

I continued to jab her the rest of the flight. We went to the bathroom. On our way back I say “Georgia let’s give a big LOUD hello to this row!!”,

“Paul make sure you read this one extra LOUD.” “Yes you can play with that tray that’s right behind her seat!”

Here’s the thing-you never know what people are going through. Maybe I’m LOUD because I’m hard of hearing and my ears were plugged on the plane.  Maybe I talk LOUDly because part of my livelihood involves using my LOUD voice. Maybe because I learned to read to my babies over the LOUD noises of a hospital room.

Maybe I’m just so happy to be alive that I just choose to do things like play in the rain, get really dirty with my kids, rock my cellulite, wear overalls and pig tails if the spirit moves me, pray for people that I don’t know, celebrate diversity, climb trees, and talk really LOUDly without realizing it. Maybe I’m just made that way.

Here’s the thing-you never know what people are going through.

Maybe she never had kids. Maybe she couldn’t and really wanted them and my enthusiastic display of motherhood was hurtful to her soul. Maybe she didn’t have a mom or just lost her mom or didn’t have a mom that really mothered her. Maybe she suffers from migraines and my voice was making it worse. Maybe she hadn’t pooped in four days and was just taking it out on me. Maybe she’s just plain ole’ mean. Or maybe she really thought she was helping me become a better human.

So what does this have to do with mental health? Quite a lot, actually. Mental wellness is about owning those things that are just “us” in spite of what others believe or perceive. Emotional wellness is about knowing how to have perspective on really challenging interactions. We have to remind ourselves often that so much of how other people interact with us is about them-it’s not about us. In other words, people’s inability to love and appreciate you for you is not your fault at all.

Each and every single moment we have the opportunity to show the world the light of our souls. Authentic light comes from within and it comes from without.

My light may be LOUD but it’s mine. It comes from years of being bullied and popular, rich and poor, the worst student and the best, loved and reviled, and living abnormal circumstances in a normal world. I’m proud of my joy- LOUD and proud. I hope noise police lady has a light too- one that shines brighter than the sun that I just didn’t get to see on flight 992.

If YOU can keep doing YOU- fiercely and wonderfully, whatever that looks like I bet a lot will fall into place. What is your light? Think about it. Even if it’s buried way deep down- it was there once and you will find it again. I lived so much life blunting my personality so others could feel better and quite frankly it was exhausting. Keep doing you- the emotional wellness that comes from doing just that is so incredibly powerful.

Mental Health News Round-Up: July 22 Fri, 22 Jul 2016 12:59:46 +0000 frankwarrenFrank Warren Holds the Key to Public Speaking Genius
Frank Warrens, the creator of PostSecret and a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau, is considered one of the best public speakers thanks to one thing: charisma. Janice Tomich, a professional speaking coach, says that Frank’s TED Talk “Half a Million Secrets,” is the perfect example: Frank successfully connects with his audience through humor, engagement, and taking pauses to let his messages sink in.
Bring Frank Warren to your campus to speak about mental health. 
Study: Influence of Genetics on Mental Health Depends on Environment
Researchers recently found that genetics can be linked to mental illness. Certain genes don’t cause mental illness, but they can increase a person’s sensitivity to environmental stressors.

The House Just Passed the Most Important Mental Health Bill in Decades
The House just passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which seeks to increase hospital beds for mental health patients, establish grants, and implement a committee to focus on serious mental illness. This bill hopes to end the stigma and encourage millions of Americans to seek mental health care.
Tackling Workers’ Mental Health, One Text at a Time
According to University of Michigan Depression Center, untreated mental health has lead to a loss of $44 billion in workplace productivity. Employers are encouraging workers to seek mental health treatment right at their fingertips, through their smartphones. New mobile apps are emerging to help people easy access to treatment through text and video chats with therapists.
Ali Krieger’s Strategy For Taking Setbacks In Stride
U.S. women’s soccer team defender Ali Krieger shares her story of how she overcame the “athlete” stigma to seek mental health care. After her knee injury, she didn’t fall into depression; rather, she fought disappointment in the same way she would with any other mental illness. In addition, psychiatrist, Dr. Dayna LePattell gives tips to coping with disappointment in four different ways.
Meet Our Newest National Staff Member, Hayley Harnicher Mon, 18 Jul 2016 12:47:03 +0000 welcome blog pictureWe’re so excited to introduce our blog readers to our newest national staff member: Hayley Harnicher, coordinator of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau! You might remember Hayley as a road staffer from last spring’s Send Silence Packing tour. She was also a chapter leader and the University of Rochester, served on the national Student Advisory Committee and interned in the national office a few summers ago. Basically, she’s been with Active Minds for forever and we’re so excited to officially have her on the team!

Read on to learn more about Hayley and her new role with the Speakers Bureau:

So, Hayley. Tell us a little about yourself.

Well, where should I start.One thing to know about me, is that I never quite know how to answer the question, “Where are you from?” because I can answer that question in quite a few ways. Having lived in Salt Lake City, UT and Houston, TX before going to Rochester, NY for college, I can’t wait to see what’s next for me here in DC. I am a triplet, with my brother and sister being my only siblings; we were more than enough for my parents! Because of all the places I’ve lived, I have developed a deep love of travel–both to visit the old, but also to explore the new.

My love for travel was recently combined with Active Minds when I embarked on one of my dream jobs as a Spring 2016 Send Silence Packing road staffer and got the opportunity to explore so many places I had never been before. (You should apply to be Fall 2016 Send Silence Packing Contract Staff here! Shameless plug, I know).

What are your guilty pleasure TV shows?

These tend to change regularly, since I’m much more likely to binge a season or two of a show, as opposed to keeping up with it week-to-week. To name a few though, I love Blue Bloods, The Fosters, and Young and Hungry. You can count on me watching Grey’s Anatomy until the very end, through all of its sometimes far-fetched ups and downs. I’ve also been known to go back and watch the classics, such as Gilmore Girls, Boy Meets World, and Friends. Friends will never fail to make me laugh, even if I could probably recite it at this point.

What’s your favorite season? (season of the year, not season of your favorite guilty pleasure show)

I’ve grown to love the transitional seasons of Fall and Spring. I love being outdoors, and these are the perfect seasons to explore and enjoy the scenery. I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of spending most recent summers in very hot places (think Texas, Florida, and DC), and winters in well..Rochester, NY.. which can be brutal. I wouldn’t change a thing, but these experiences have definitely shown me how to appreciate the Fall and Spring seasons!

If you could have a vacation home anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I have always been fascinated by the beauty and culture of Australia, so my hope is to make it out there one day. With the time differences and the jetlag, they might have to be some pretty extended vacations, but there’s nothing wrong with that!

It’s Saturday. What are you most likely to be doing?

Coming from previous jobs in service and hospitality, I’m grateful that I’m not answering this question with “probably at work.” With that being said, I’ll probably be spending the upcoming Saturdays exploring this beautiful new city, and taking everything in. I’m also not opposed to spending my Saturdays in on Netflix or catching up on sleep–especially while I get used to my commute!

What are you most excited about when it comes to working at Active Minds?

I’m incredibly excited to get to work with and learn from the staff and each member of the Speakers Bureau. The speakers chosen to be on the bureau are easily some of the most courageous and inspiring individuals out there, and I have already learned so much from the stories I have heard so far. It’s such a privilege to work with each of them, and I can’t wait to get to know everyone better.

From the Active Minds Speakers Bureau: Be Who You Needed Wed, 06 Jul 2016 12:34:47 +0000 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. 

Picture 1

I posted this image on the PostSecret Facebook page last week and it reached nearly 5,000,000 people.

I don’t know the specific reasons why so many people chose to share this simple message. Maybe as an adult, someone still feels the shards from a broken past. Or maybe some find solace in the idea that no matter how meaningless life can feel sometimes, we can always find purpose in reducing suffering. Perhaps a young person read this and clung on to the hope that the pain they are working through today could be the source of a gift that later in life offers help and healing to others.

I have one of my secrets in all six of the PostSecret books. In the second book, My Secret, this one is mine.

Picture 2

When I was younger I felt like I was going insane.

One of the stories I tell about this at PostSecret Live events is how my parents’ divorce led to a lot of stress and even violence in my home. One night, I ran from my mother, hid in my room and locked the door.  My mother retrieved our floor mop that had a metal rinser attached to the head and used it to break through one of the panels in my door so she could reach in, unlock the knob, and come after me. When she entered my room, I had already left through the window.

I had escaped but the worst part was still to come.

It had been snowing that night and I didn’t have time to get my shoes. So with my mothers’ head through the open window watching, I ran down the street to my friend’s house with my shoeless feet. When I arrived, I was thankful not to see his parents’ car in the driveway. He let me in and asked me why I was shivering out in the cold snowy night without shoes.  I have forgotten what my reply was but I can still feel the shame I felt then when I told a lie to hide my secret.

Every time I share that story I feel like I get a little more ownership of that painful part of my past. That sense of becoming unbound from our secrets is something I have heard from the PostSecret community too. One email I received from a girl who, like me, had a broken bedroom door said:

Hearing other stories about people who had an abusive parent like mine doesn’t depress me because all this time I thought I was the only one.  And just knowing there are other kids out there who share my story, it doesn’t make my secret go away, but it does make my burden feel just a little bit lighter.


Reading over a million secrets and sharing our stories over a decade has been very revealing. Perhaps the three revelations that I have learned about our secrets are these:

It’s an illusion that we are alone with our secrets.

We decide if our secrets will be gifts we can share or ghosts that haunt us.

And lastly,

Picture 3

Borderline Personality Disorder Month: Practicing Compassion Mon, 02 May 2016 12:41:53 +0000 Stacy is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring her to your campus to speak about mental health.

PrinceMemeOf all the quotes I’ve seen in the wake of Prince’s death — and I’m a Prince fan to the core — this is the most beautiful and resonant to me: “Compassion is an action word with no boundaries.”

I spent a lot of years having very little compassion for other people, because I had none for myself. This is the aspect of Borderline Personality Disorder that causes the greatest stigma; it’s what causes others to view us as willfully manipulative and cruel.

But what was really happening is that I was severely mentally ill and without proper help for a long, long time. When I was finally diagnosed with BPD and found Dialectical Behavior Therapy — which is basically CBT meets Zen Buddhism — I started to learn what it means to be connected to other people. That connection is the basis of compassion.

And I believe now — I KNOW now, because by practicing it, I help save lives — that compassion is radical activism. There is nothing more terrifying, raw, and profound than looking into the eyes of another being and realizing that their pain, their suffering, their fear, their joy, and their dreams are yours too.

That realization, and the compassion of the people who saw the good in me when I couldn’t, is the one and only reason I’m not dead.

So hell yeah, compassion is an action word. Because to keep from shutting yourself off and approaching the world from a place of anger and fear — and one of the things I learned in DBT is that anger is just a secondary emotion to fear — is the hardest, scariest thing you will ever do.

You have to work really, really hard at love to overcome fear. It’s the one and only way. And just as there’s no anger without fear, there’s no love without compassion.

All is connected. All are one. Compassion for yourself is compassion for others. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. I love you.

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From the Speakers Bureau: Caring Words and a Listening Ear Wed, 20 Apr 2016 13:53:49 +0000 dave_romanoAt this time last year I was coasting by bicycle across Kansas during the inaugural Bike Across America for Mental Health. Looking back on that trip brings about bittersweet feelings, as it was one of the most rewarding and difficult endeavors of my life. I knew that going into the epic journey from sea to shining sea was going to be grueling. What I failed to foresee was the road that followed.

In the fall of 2015 I had just completed the over 3,200 mile long trip and was heading off to graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle. I saw this opportunity as a rebirth, a time to start over, and with that came the all too common thought that my mental health was under control; that I no longer required the self-care or support to which I had grown accustomed.

Everything first began to fall apart in September when my grandpa passed away. My grief along with my mental health negligence and the loneliness of a new city drove me further and further into isolation and depression. To cope with the despair I began to drink heavily, each day running further from sobriety and inevitably the reality of my pain.

After weeks of struggling in silence I finally found the courage to reach out to a professor, a woman that preached self-care and always finished class offering a listening ear if anyone needed to talk and that’s exactly what she did. She sat listening, compassionately, as I vented with tears in my eyes. We finished that talk by making a safety and self care plan. That conversation was all I needed; by simply listening she gave me hope that everything was going to be okay.

When I look back on this past year there is one lesson that continually presented itself, which is that it is okay to not be okay. It is a saying that I struggle to accept but thankfully I have had amazing people in my life, like my professor, that have reminded me of those words by simply showing they care.

Caring words and a listening ear are all it takes to change someone’s life. I know my professor did that for me, and today life continues to offer its challenges but that’s okay, because I know it’s always going to be okay.