Mental Health Steps to Reverse Troubling Suicide Trends

DSC_0176Last week’s Centers for Disease Control release of deeply disturbing suicide trend data reminds us that even many proven mental health steps still require widespread attention and support. Even as understanding of brain function and chemistry expands, adoption of beneficial physical and mental health practices remains woefully inadequate.

Our minds are vital temples; each worthy of protection, repair and expansion. Our bodies provide foundations for these temples; requiring protection, nourishment and strength to support mental and spiritual health. Many of our temples are in disrepair, though, with data suggesting that far too many are collapsing or teetering on the flimsiest of cornerstones.

So how do we repair and rebuild?

Training Our Minds

A growing body of evidence shows that troubled minds don’t need to remain in a state of pain. A multitude of mental health steps support individuals seeking first relief and then fulfillment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other brain development and thought techniques used by professional therapists have proven effective at helping individuals struggling with self-belittlement, impulse control and a myriad of other issues. At a research forum hosted last week in Chicago by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Dr. Jon Grant noted that suicide rate reductions attributed to CBT can be as high as 50 percent for those with recent attempts, though he warned that properly trained CBT practitioners are in very short supply.

Seeing a professional therapist isn’t the only path toward better mental health:

  • Meditation and mindfulness techniques have a proven track record of aiding brain healing and development. For those particularly struggling, it is often beneficial to pursue these activities with guidance.
  • Expressing gratitude for elements of life helps to route how we view the world through the more positive aspects of our minds.
  • In addition, prayer to a loving god (when believed by the person praying) has been shown to generate mental health benefits, while participation in a religious community is often connected to better physical self-care practices that also help build a strong foundation for mental health.

Feeding Our Brains

Whether better mental health starts with exercising the brain or exercising the body depends on factors that include individual brain chemistry. For many, finding the energy needed to pray, meditate or participate in mindfulness-oriented therapies may first require a physical boost.

Among the critical physical tasks that help us build the foundation for mental health are:

  • Sleep. Professional athletes increasingly emphasize sleep to achieve peak performance, but everyone needs sleep’s healing and restorative powers to be our best selves.
  • Exercise. Brain chemistry imbalances are key contributors in most instances of depression, bipolar disorder and many other mental illnesses. Exercising helps generate critical chemistries the brain requires.
  • Improved nutrition. Many studies show that healthy diet, including Omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics and other nutritional elements, is an essential mental health step.
  • Substance abuse avoidance. If the mind and body are consuming energy to fight toxins, they aren’t building a stronger foundation.
  • Gaining sunlight needed for the Vitamin D our brain requires can be an important part of mental health development.

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Principles on Faith and Humanity

Version 2Ever since being confounded by contradictions in my childhood religion as well as finding disconnects between that religion and my instincts, I’ve searched for spiritual truth. Decades into that journey and still bereft of many definitive answers, I created Principles on Faith and Humanity as a marker on my journey.

With this journey far from complete (as far as I know), I invite you to challenge, question, explore or otherwise comment on my Principles on Faith and Humanity. What am I missing that you know or believe?

  1. God is in us. We are in God.
  2. Humanity comes in many colors and fabrics, each of us with our own strengths and elements of attraction. It is only when we weave gently together, though, that we create the most stunning of tapestries.
  3. If God wanted us to be identical, she would have made us that way. Our differences create our collective genius and must be explored.
  4. The Golden Rule, when well understood, is a core unifying principle across faiths and secularists.
  5. Everyone has a faith, even if that faith solely includes humankind and/or the known physical world.
  6. Competition of ideas enriches our individual spiritual journeys. Forced compliance destroys our search for truth.
  7. When our religion conflicts with our instincts and/or reason, finding the truth requires deep exploration.

A number of my beliefs are important drivers in this exploration. I welcome your challenge to these concepts as well (and leave them numbered to make commenting easier). Continue reading

I Want to Die; Dealing with Severe Teen Depression

It has been many months since I joined Dr. James Sutton on The Changing Behavior Network, but he still considers that interview to be “one of his best.” Discussing my years when “I want to die” was more than a passing thought for me, the interview focuses substantially on the coping strategies that helped extricate me from that pain.

Dr. Sutton is an experienced, insightful and nationally-recognized psychologist, author and speaker focused on supporting emotionally troubled youth. If you struggle with depression or know someone who might need your support, check out our interview at The Changing Behavior Network. If you are struggling with other family or youth development issues, chances are he’s done an exceptional program that will help you too.

 

A Mother Turns Tragic Loss Into a Lifetime of Purpose

A varsity football starter, 16-year-old Kyle Braid led naturally. A standout among his peers for an inclusive, inspirational attitude in addition to exceptional athletic ability, Kyle’s positive presence created a deep, wide imprint at an early age.

Following his sophomore season, one of Kyle’s Florida high school football coaches informed him that he would captain the following year’s team, urging Kyle to work hard to build his speed, skill and strength.

To Colleen Malany, Kyle was much more than a leader. He was her only child, the fulcrum around which she balanced her life and a constant source of pride, joy and fulfillment. He was all that, and much more, right up until Feb. 28, 1994. In an impulsive flash during the middle of a second six-week steroid cycle as he tried to bulk up the fastest way he had heard was possible, Kyle died by suicide.

Speaking at University of Illinois leadership development program.
Colleen Malany during her keynote speech at a University of Illinois leadership development program.

As Colleen talked about Kyle with 200 students and alumni mentors taking part in a recent University of Illinois leadership development program, I found myself frequently wiping tears, in part thinking about the horror of being a parent subjected to the worst imaginable pain and in part contemplating my own struggles with depression-driven suicide ideation as a teen. Several fellow alumni mentors, including many who had met Colleen but didn’t know her history, had to leave the room. Other mentors and student Imprint leadership program participants focused intensely on every word.

Colleen acknowledged that she still cannot accurately describe the agony that tormented every moment in the days, weeks, months and years following Kyle’s loss. Colleen’s story, though, doesn’t just reach an ending with losing her son. It also starts there.

“We had to find a purpose, some way to take Kyle’s life, to take our experience, and turn it into a gift for others,” Colleen told us. “It was the only way to make sense of our pain.”

As she and then-husband Ken Braid grieved, they considered the best way to memorialize Kyle’s life. They found it in creating a program to provide high school student leaders with the skills to create even broader impacts within their schools and communities. Colleen and Ken created the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation. Continue reading

Post-Nevada: Caught Between Political Hell No and I Don’t Know

Long troubled by the disproportionate primary process control of party extremists, I’m struggling to find a presidential candidate who offers me refuge from political homelessness.

With my political philosophy defined by non-traditional concepts of following Golden Rule principles and building unity – ideas that cross party lines – it’s not easy to find candidates I fully support. This year is no exception.

Republican leader Donald Trump routinely displays a full-force middle finger to anyone opposing him, emulating the contempt that President Obama has routinely displayed to his critics by not even pretending that different ideas could contain elements of merit. Perhaps Trump’s unflinching bravado explains his popularity among elements of the Republican electorate eager for payback, but he likely won’t build unity and he hasn’t even come close to sidling up to critical Golden Rule concepts.

Democrats are torn almost equally between a woman chosen by less than 10 percent of those Democratic voters who think honesty matters and a man committed to a Santa-like flow of government gifts. It seems Bernie Sanders would conscript more than half the nation into lifelong servitude that crosses the line between our Golden Rule duty to provide helping hands to those in need over to forcibly requiring the majority to porter around people who are both capable of walking on their own and likely to build better lives if left to paths with fewer bureaucratic obstacles.

Once I wake from the concept of changing my legal name to Hell No and running a November write-in campaign, I’m faced with the realistic dilemma of having to choose among less-than-desirable alternatives. Nevada caucus results only elevate my nightmare scenario prospects.

So what primary should I vote in when given a chance in mid-March? Who deserves help at least making it to November?

Each of us has our own priorities, but three fundamental reforms seem essential to the nation’s ability to survive long past our current 240 years (which also happens to be the average existence of empires before implosion or invasion). Continue reading

I Can Explain Trump Supporters (With Help)

Only racism, bigotry or hatred could explain the call from presidential candidate Donald Trump for a temporary ban on Muslim travel into the United States or his months-old statements about Mexican immigrants. Right?

How can nearly 30 percent of the 40 percent of Americans who identify as Republican or Republican-leaning voters say they would vote for Trump today. Granted, his support from roughly 12 percent of the overall populace may not be enough to elect him President. Still, how could that many people find his exaggerated political statements anything other than repulsive?

It’s a question particularly perplexing, almost stunning, to liberal Democrats and libertarians, along with many traditional Republicans.

While I’m admittedly no fan of what I view as Trump’s Don Rickles campaign methodology, I’m convinced that the disparity in reactions to the Donald can be explained without labeling all of his supporters in terms so derogatory that no efforts to understand their motivations are necessary.

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Give With Me on Giving Tuesday

Give with me on Giving Tuesday. 100% of earnings from December sales of Suicide Escape will be donated to mental health groups and you’ll have a gift for someone you care deeply about (perhaps even yourself).

While it didn’t win the Writer’s Digest 23rd Annual Self-Published Book Awards, Suicide Escape received a perfect rating in all six categories with encouraging judge’s comments:

“My life is a little better from having read Suicide Escape. While I was aware of the timeless truths conveyed in this novel, I needed the reminder. I appreciated how well the author teaches that great depression is dragged about by so many human beings in the world, be it hidden, recognized or ignored. Bushman grabbed my attention with a gripping opening scene of life and death. He made me care about Mike and Clarissa.

Kindle ebook cover for Suicide Escape“The encounter between a very likeable seventy-year-old hiker and the teen he stops from committing suicide does not ever grow wearisome because Bushman is good at dialogue and tension. He cultivated just enough conflict and interest in the simple hike down the mountain to make me want to follow. Mike’s fall helped, of course. The police arrest was even better and a perfect dramatic high point.

“I had a feeling the story was set in a futuristic society and that was confirmed in the ‘about the author’ segment at back. Bushman has succeeded in making Suicide Escape a standalone book. However, the intriguing futuristic devices make me want to read the other books that also include these characters. I liked the foreword by Carly Jacobson.

“In the wake of Robin Williams’ death and our growing public awareness of misery of depression, a book like Suicide Escape should be available in every classroom and school library. I was tremendously impressed, especially when the truth of Mike’s insistence that he too had been saved made more sense upon his diagnosis of cancer. This is a deeply touching book. The cover art is perfect.”

Lessons from Civil Rights Legend Timuel Black

It could have been one of life’s passing pleasures, a serendipitous opportunity to spend an evening absorbing the insights of 96-year-old civil rights leader, educator and World War II veteran Timuel Black, Jr. on what it was like to create his own pathways through life.

As we talked, however, it seemed that there must be a purpose to our fortunate table placements beyond my simple fascination with his living history. There were lessons to be gleaned, insights that apply to any young adult but seemed particularly relevant to an intensely dedicated and gregarious African American man who has lived as part of our family between college breaks during the past 18 months.

Graciously, Mr. Black was willing to share during our extended conversation.

Timuel Black, Jr. has both endured and created dramatic events. The grandson of slaves, he survived the Normandy Invasion and Battle of the Bulge during World War II before making a lifelong commitment to human rights after seeing the horrors of the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp. An educator who received his master’s degree from the University of Chicago, he brought in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his first Chicago appearance, organized Chicago’s Freedom Trains to the March on Washington, helped elect Chicago’s first African American mayor and introduced around a young man named Barack Obama who became another important first.

His history is extraordinary: his insights are equally important.

“If Demetrius were sitting here instead of me, what would you tell him?” I asked from my seat next to Mr. Black at a fundraising dinner for the Kennedy Forum, a group founded by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy to improve mental health awareness and treatment.

Chicago 96-year-old civil rights legend Timuel Black, Jr. and his wife Zenobia
Chicago 96-year-old civil rights legend Timuel Black, Jr. and his wife Zenobia

“I’d tell him to prepare himself; academically, if academics are the right direction for him. But whatever he wants to accomplish, he needs to be prepared, really prepared. The door of opportunity doesn’t swing open very often. If you’re ready, you’ll find a way through, but you have to be prepared,” Mr. Black replied. “Barack Obama didn’t become President just because he wanted it. He was ready when the time came.

“And I’d also tell him to persevere,” Mr. Black added. “There’s always someone or some institution to stand in the way of your success. If you know what you want to achieve – and you know it’s right – keep working, keep pushing. Don’t give up. You may even achieve beyond your dreams. I didn’t grow up dreaming about a black President. But we persevered. Something greater than my dreams happened.”

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Does Russia’s Re-Expansion Threaten Global Peace

A critical aspect of Golden Rule government is acquiring knowledge and imagining ourselves in the situation of others. With the news today that a Russian General has walked into the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to request/tell the U.S. to pull its soldiers away from Syria, I’ve started to imagine what Russian President Vladimir Putin might be planning. Following are some of the questions I’m pondering:

  1. Now that we’ve been asked/told by Russia to withdraw our troops from Syria, how long will it be before an American soldier is accidentally killed by a Russia bomb?
  2. In the likely case we pull our troops back further after that American death, how long will it then be before a full Russian military base is built in Syria?
  3. What American interests will be put at risk by that vastly expanded Mediterranean base?
  4. What part of Russia’s re-expansion strategy benefits from Russia’s rapidly strengthening Syria-Iran alliance?
  5. Once Russia begins to fight ISIS in and around Syria while also taking out the handful (actually) of soldiers allied with the U.S. in Syria, do we fully turn over the fight against ISIS to Russia?
  6. Do we have any reason to trust that Russia would only fight ISIS, given Putin’s willingness to invade relatively defenseless nations and know the international community will let him bully his way into control?
  7. Which one of the ‘stans, or will it be Armenia, will the international community have a harder time reaching to stop Russia’s taking of control the next time Putin senses that the U.S. President is politically weak? (My money is on oil-rich Kazakhstan, but there are other candidates).

It’s easy to say let’s clear out from the Middle East and let Russia fight ISIS. But we can be certain that Putin isn’t moving just a single chess piece. In Doing Unto Others, set in the 2040s, Russia has full control of some former Soviet Union nations beyond those he has already taken. Putin may be on the path to greater control sooner than I suspected.

Glad to Walk With, Not Just For, Carly on Suicide Prevention

Five years ago today, the world came one missed detail away from losing one of its most beautiful souls. It was the third time this caring, talented, engaging woman reached a point of desperation and pain she couldn’t see any other way to escape. I hope and pray it was her last attempt to die by suicide.

Since that attempt, Carly has worked hard to develop and implement the coping skills that allow her to see what used to seem like enclosed walls as hurdles or at least as rooms with doors and windows that she can pry open. Though it is still hard some days, Carly has figured out how to learn lessons and move on from mistakes rather than dwell in self-loathing. Carly has surrounded herself with energizing people who give her strength and renewal rather than those encouraging the thoughts and behaviors that sent her on too many downward spirals. She learned to love herself enough to accept that others could truly love the real Carly: along the way opening her heart, mind and soul to the extraordinary woman who is now her wife.

As I walk today in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Chicagoland Walk, I join Carly’s family and other friends in considering ourselves fortunate that we are not walking in memory of Carly Jacobson. We are walking with her. If her wife and mine do not mind, I might even hold her hand or hug her by my side for a few moments as we walk, grateful to know her and be part of her world.

For too many walking today, the walk is to honor, remember and cherish those who have died by suicide. In addition to our involvement in The CARL Project, No Stigmas and other mental health work, I am proud to join Carly as co-chairs of a new AFSP-Illinois Lived Experience Committee—established for those who have suffered through suicide ideation or attempt, as well as those currently struggling with pains they don’t know how else to escape.

It is our hope to learn from those who have struggled and share those insights so that, in future years, many more of our fellow AFSP walkers are doing so hand-in-hand or side-by-side with those they love.

#OOTDCCW #SuicidePrevention #MentalHealth

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