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James Donaldson on Mental Health – The Importance of Mental Health Literacy, Reducing Stigma

James Donaldson notes:

Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.

Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.

Having gone through a recent bout of depression and suicidal thoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle

 The attitudes around mental health are changing and experts say it’s time for older generations to catch up.

“We’re definitely noticing attitudes changing towards talking about mental health,” says David Westbrook, chief operating officer for Lines for Life.

It’s happening slowly, though; but the stigma that’s kept people from comfortably talking about mental health is eroding. “Stigma plays a big role in us getting better at this,” Westbrook says.

At mental health support groups Lines for Life and Youthline, they’re noticing the changes.

Famous people are going public with their mental health challenges and our kids are clearly more comfortable than previous generations in talking about it.

“Kids will say to us, ‘We get classes in sex trafficking and human trafficking and this kind of health and that kind of health, why isn’t anyone talking to us about suicide?’” Westbrook says.

The fact is adults are scared to talk about suicide with their kids. There’s this perception that doing so could be dangerous. And many aren’t ready for the answer.

But the truth is not talking about it is more dangerous. As Galli Murray, Clackamas County’s suicide prevention coordinator explains, we need to understand that mental health is a big part of our overall health.

She said while suicide rates have remained mostly unchanged over the last two decades, rates of stroke, HIV and AIDS have gone down.

“I mean they haven’t gone down just out of luck,” Murray said. “I mean, they haven’t gone down just because people got better, because America just started getting healthier. Guest what? No! They’ve gone down because we have been intentional. We’ve put energy behind it, because we knew that we could do something about it, and that has yet to be the case with suicide.”

Stephen Canova, who works for Lines for Life and follows up with suicide survivors after they leave the hospital, knows how mental health literacy could save lives. He’s a survivor himself.

He knows he’s living, breathing proof that there is hope for people who are at their lowest point and long-term recovery is possible.

But to save lives, we have to ask the question no matter how tough it is.

“It’s been a myth in our culture for a very long time, if you talk about suicide, it’ll get people to think about suicide and therefore they’ll go die by suicide. When the reality is they’re already thinking about it, what they need to know is there’s hope out there,” Westbrook says.

If you’re comfortable, you could ask: are you thinking about hurting yourself?

It could help establish a tone with your kids that you’re concerned about their mental well-being. But it’s especially important to ask when you’re afraid the answer could be yes.

“Be aware of the warning signs. If you see a dramatic change in your friend or family member’s personality, in their hygiene, in isolating themselves from activities or people that used to bring them a lot of joy, don’t be afraid to ask them a very direct question: are you having thoughts of suicide? Are you thinking about killing yourself? When you do that, you open up the door to have a really honest conversation that doesn’t have stigma because you started it, you used a word we’re not supposed to use,” says Canova.

If the answer is yes, know how to reach out for help. Many of the calls to Lines for Life in Southwest Portland are from third parties, family and friends, looking for help for a loved one.

If you need help with whatever you’re going through, you can find people to help you at 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255.

You can also text “home” to 741-741 to get connected with professionals near you.

Speak Up to Prevent Suicide

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