The Out of the Darkness Walk Speech

Today, despite casually researching flights out of Austin the night before to make an escape, I stood in front of the Texas State Capitol and addressed a crowd on behalf of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and delivered the following speech:

Good Morning everyone. My name is Beth Doughty, and I am the team captain of the Jay Walkers – just one of the many teams walking with you today.

Like many of you, I’m here because I lost someone. In my case, my husband Jay died by suicide at the age of 40. On that day, almost every person on my team lost someone – some lost a son, some lost a baby brother, some lost an uncle, and others a good friend. On that day, I stopped being a wife and a best friend, and I became a widow – our future plans and dreams shattered. On that day, each one of us lost pieces of ourselves. The loss was devastating. The loss was profound, and none of us will ever be the same person we were before July 9, 2016 – the day Jay died.

Immediately following his death, I not only felt isolated, I was isolated. People didn’t know what to say, so they wouldn’t say anything because of the stigma surrounding suicide. They worried that I was embarrassed or ashamed by his death. So when I went back to work, I wasn’t greeted with sympathy cards or flowers or expressions of condolence after my husband died. No one said, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Instead, several workers asked, “How was your vacation?” And I sat there gobsmacked – emotional wounds that hadn’t begun to heal widened further. And it wasn’t because the people at work who knew about his death weren’t kind or sympathetic people, they just didn’t know how to talk about suicide or mental health issues, and they certainly didn’t know how to share that information with others. 

It seemed like suicide was this boogeyman, and people were afraid to speak about it except in whispers lest you invite its gaze upon you or your family.

My first support group was the people you see walking with me today (and the walkers who are walking with me across the country and across the globe). They formed a protective phalanx – closed ranks, and we gathered around each other tightly – supporting and protecting each other.

Unfortunately, our experience isn’t uncommon.

I’ve been asked to tell you all why I walk. I walk because I believe we should and can normalize this conversation. I walk because I believe strongly in AFSP’s mission. I walk because of the support of this community and I believe that through it we can heal. I walk because you’re here – whether it’s because you’ve lost someone or you’re struggling, you’re here, and I believe together WE can make a difference, and that starts by having open and honest conversations around mental health issues and suicide. It starts by changing laws so that everyone has better access to mental health care. And it starts by being seen, like we are here today, and by talking loudly about these issues so that no one feels isolated again.

We thrive as a community.

We heal as a community.

And I also walk in honor of my husband, Jay, my favorite person and my best friend, so no one ever forgets him.

Jay was so much more than one event.

Thank you.

Community – Beth Doughty, Oct. 2022

A huge thanks to everyone who supported the walk again this year either by making a donation or participating in the walk (virtually or in-person).

We raised $7,747!!! (Once the auction closes, it will take us over $8,000! WOW! Great job all of y’all!!!!)

Special thanks to:

  • The Parks Family
  • Central Texas Archery
  • Our Silent “Let’s Get Loud” Auction Donors
    • Rocky Mountain Vacation Homes – April Bindock
    • Chuy’s
    • Dragon’s Lair
    • Anna Adam
    • Heather Barthelme
    • Dustin Colson
    • Leslie Nichols
    • Dianne Sheldon
    • Meghan Spear
  • Enid Kowalik
  • Katy Kowalik-Alcorta
  • Also, extra special thanks to: John Skaarup for keeping the Silent Auction alive.

And none of this could have been accomplished without my best friend and co-captain, Anna Adam who provided support, hugs, and willingly gave up Sundays to sit for long hours out in the Texas heat. She crafted incentives, chased down tumbling tents, and ultimately helped guide this unwieldy ship to shore.

There’s still a bit more work to do. Incentives to be shipped. Bad videos to be created, but all should be coming your way soon.

Thank you all for supporting us one last time. We had a good run.

If you’d still like to give to a great cause, you have until December 2022. Just click on this link to The “Jay” Walker’s AFSP Fundraising Page.

Every Year…

Every year she comes back and asks us to donate to AFSP. Blahblahblah. Hand outstretched yet again. We get it. Your husband died. But that’s your cause that ain’t mine. “Please donate to our walk.” “Please help end the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health.” “Please help end suicide.” I’ve heard that request before… again… and again… and again. Rinse. Wash. Repeat. Or it’s “Please just walk with us.” Like I have nothing better to do than walk with sad people on a Saturday in October. It’ll probably be 105° just like every other day in Texas. Plus, I have a Halloween party to go to. My makeup isn’t applying itself. Who has time for two hours outside. Hello? And don’t get me started on those cheesy incentives. Lady, no one wants your haiku or to see you poorly act out a scene or sketch or whatever it is you’re asking us to bid on. And seriously, is one of the higher-end incentives a “pay to come and play with you”? WTF? Let me just say that slowly in my head: I.. am paying donating (semantics) to hang out with you. Are you actually kidding me right now? I see through that one!

Ohhhh… and now a Silent Auction??? As if I wanted to attend the longest-running music program. I can get into an Austin City Limits taping whenever, bruh. Guaranteed tickets to the Houston Opera? Yeah. I have connections. A stay in a adorably quaint town in Colorado with some of the best BBQ in a nearby neighboring town. Dude, have you even been to Hutto? We have that here.

HEAR ME OUT!

The Why of Why I’m AskingAGAIN

Let’s start with the facts:

  • Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death
    • In Texas…
      • it is the 11th leading cause of death
      • it is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-24, and 25-34
      • (Have you been to a funeral for a teenager who’s died by suicide? I have. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever experienced. Watching teen after teen stand up, stand before a crowd sobbing as they expressed confusion and heartache for two straight hours of eulogies was profound. It was overwhelming and gut-wrenching. Another friend’s daughter lost a friend to suicide over the summer. When do we say enough is enough? When do we start having those real conversations where we talk about this openly and candidly?)
  • According to the Veteran’s Administration 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report:
    • Among Veterans between the ages of 18–44, suicide was the second-leading cause of death.
    • In each year from 2001 through 2020, age- and sex-adjusted suicide rates of Veterans exceeded those of non-Veteran U.S. adults.
  • In 2020, 45,979 Americans died by suicide
    • In 2020, there were 6,146 Veteran suicides.
  • In 2020, there were an estimated 1.20 MILLION attempts
  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men.
  • In 2020, men died by suicide 3.88x more than women.
  • On average, there are 130 suicides per day.
  • White males accounted for 69.68% of suicide deaths in 2020.
  • In 2020, firearms accounted for 52.83% of all suicide deaths.
  • Almost three times as many people died by suicide in 2019 than in alcohol-related motor vehicle related accidents.
  • 93% of adults surveyed in the U.S. think suicide can be prevented.

But that’s all statistics – numbers can be hard to relate to…

So, all of that is why I ask you to support this cause (again). It’s why I ask you to walk with me (again). It’s why I ask for you to pick yourself up and go outside on October 29th at 9 AM wherever you are. You don’t have to be in Austin, TX to show support. I ask because I want you to help me. I want you to be part of the solution that drives those numbers come down. I want to see REAL change to how we talk about this topic and how we address mental health care in this country.

… and if all that takes is offering up a bad haiku, tickets to Austin City Limits or even a chance to Explore Archery then it’s worth it.

A huge shoutout to all of our donors who come back each and every year! and to our walkers! You’re making a difference! We wouldn’t be successful without your continued support.

And a special shoutout to one of our donors who is trying to single-handedly carry the Silent “Let’s Get Loud” Auction. Thank you!! Hopefully, you’ll get some competition soon or if you don’t, you have a lot of fun date nights coming up. 🙂

The Jay Walker’s Silent “Let’s Get Loud” Auction

I NEED YOU!

This year the Jay Walker’s are all about trying something new, stretching their wings a bit, going out on a limb, and any other similar idiom you can think of that means all of that. But for new to be successful…

I NEED YOUR HELP!

This year, we’re trying out a Silent (not so silent) Auction to help raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

I’m not going to lie, asking for donations was super uncomfortable. “Hi, this is Beth, this is my cause, would you like to give me stuff? Please?” We reached out to friends, family, and local businesses to solicit donations. It’s for such an important cause, and hey, some even said yes! WOO HOO!!! Thank you thank you!

What we have now are some pretty awesome things. We have tickets from The Houston Opera (you choose your show), The Austin Symphony (their donation is being finalized but should be posted in a few days), the Fayette County Theater (more theater, because we LOVE theater!), Chuy’s (because we also LOVE eating!), Dragon’s Lair (games!!), Scubaland (underwater adventures!!) as well as personal training sessions to help you start your fitness journey (get ahead of your pre-New Year’s resolution now and start reaching your goals). And some of our walkers have also donated their own amazing handmade crafts. I even threw in a few things, because I’m swell.

Take a peek! Support a good cause! Help remove the stigma and make mental health a priority!

The Jay Walker’s Silent “Let’s Get Loud” About Suicide Prevention Auction

Like I said, I need you for this to be successful so go out and tell your family/friends!!!

Coming Soon!

More information about teaming up with Central Texas Archery for a fun Fall Archery Event to benefit the Jay Walkers and AFSP on October 23rd.

Plus, a chance to hear me speak from the steps of the Capitol!

Want to donate directly to our walk? Want to take advantage of fun incentives?

Visit my AFSP fundraising page!

Choose to make a difference today!

I Want You!

#StopSuicide

As those of you who know me and follow this blog are well aware, Suicide Prevention is an important cause to me. Each year I talk about suicide prevention. I raise funds. I walk. I do it because I believe I can make a difference, and I know with your help, we can make a difference.

I do it for Jay. I do it for Barbara. I do it for Lyssa. I do it for Austin. I do it for my friends who I know struggle.

I do it because I don’t want to add another name to the list.

Information / Statistics

I want to share a some information and facts from the American Foundation for Suicide Preventions (AFSP) and the CDC, and then I’m going to ask that you help – that you choose to make a difference.

  1. Suicide is one of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, and it’s preventable
  2. As the suicide rate continues to rise, we must make mental health a national priority — and advocate for more investment in suicide research and nationwide prevention efforts
  3. There is no single cause for suicide, and suicide risk increases when several health factors and life stressors converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair — learn the warning signs at afsp.org/signs
  4. Everyone has a role to play in preventing suicide, and together we can learn the suicide risks and warning signs, and encourage those who struggle to seek help
  5. Assume you are the only one who will reach out, have an honest conversation, ask directly about suicide, and let them know you care
  6. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance use problems, especially when unaddressed, increase the risk of suicide — most people who actively manage their mental health conditions go on to engage in life
  7. If we encourage more people to seek treatment, we will make a huge difference in improving mental health and reducing suicide
  8. Suicide is complex, answers may not come easily, and it may take time to understand the thoughts and feelings associated with a suicide — you don’t have to go through this difficult experience alone
  9. Driving demand for better treatment will improve the field of mental health
  10. We can #StopSuicide

Some Facts

  • 45,979 Americans died by suicide in 2020
    • It is the 3rd leading cause of death for ages 10-19
    • It is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 20-34
    • It is the 4th leading cause of death for ages 35-44
    • Over 1/3 of people who died by suicide were 55 or older
  • 1.2 million Americans attempted suicide in 2020.
  • In 2019, the suicide rate for Veterans was 1.5x higher than for a non-Veteran.
  • 54% of Americans have been affected by suicide in some way.
  • 90% of those who died by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death.
  • 46% of Americans ages 18+ living with a mental health condition received treatment in the past year.
  • 72% of communities in the United States did not have enough mental health providers to serve residents in 2021, according to federal guidelines.

How You Can Make an Impact

You can make a difference. Here’s how:

Walk with us!

  • Join the Jay Walkers on October 29th and walk with us either virtually (send us a photo of you walking to be included in our walk collage) or in Austin, TX at the Capitol. (Click on the link and select “Join Our Team”.)
  • You’ll be with a welcoming and supportive community
  • Let’s have the biggest group yet!
  • Show Austin, TX that Mental Health Matters and help remove the stigma around suicide

Make a Donation!

  • Donate to AFSP through the Jay Walkers Fundraising Page. (Click the link and select “Donate”)
  • We brought back a lot of fun incentives – haikus, custom disaster-pieces, and bad performances to name a few – all for a good cause!
  • Plus, your donation goes directly to AFSP whose mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. (Read more about the work they do by following the AFSP link)

Choose to make a difference today.

Thank you all for your continued support. I look forward to seeing you on the 29th when I will be speaking on the Capitol steps.

Thank You!

This is a long overdue thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk here in Austin, TX. Thanks to your support we had 29 walkers from around the globe and across the US and we were able to raise $7,362!!! Thus making this our most successful fundraiser to date. WOW!

We also tried something new; we offered up incentives – from bad portraits, digital art, tuneless original songs of gratitude, haikus, and bad movie recaps to “come play D&D with us”. (Although I’m not going to lie, I’m a little sad no one opted for “come throw axes with me” – maybe next year??) You made your donations, and you asked/suffered through the horrible incentives with a smile.

We had a tremendous amount of fun and we raised awareness while putting out some really unforgettable and unforgivable bad art. We’re sorry (not sorry) world!!

The above represents the list of people who signed up as walkers or personally gave to my part of the fundraiser and does not represent the entirety of the 91 people who gave a donation this year. WOW! Just WOW!

So thank you! Whether you walked, donated, or offered support with a kind word or a simple “like”. You’re helping to save lives.

Thank you for supporting us another year! Thank you for choosing to make a difference!

Call to Action: Burgers & Ice Cream

You, yeah you – my friends, my family, that person around the corner sitting near the coast, laptop flipped open or sitting in the comfort of your living room, even you, you know who you are – the one dangling precariously off the edge of a mountain – all y’all (real Texas phrase) – know that every September I come to you to ask for your support for Suicide Awareness. I talk to you about the devastating impact suicide has – the lives irrevocably damaged, and I talk to you about the importance of awareness – how you can make a real difference. Then, I invite you to walk with me or make a donation.

However, today I want to talk to you about burgers and ice cream…

…and of course, the aforementioned awareness and how you can make a difference, but hang on, no heavy sighing, this isn’t a bait and switch – go back to the start of that sentence where I said “burgers AND ice cream! I’m leaning heavy on that “and” there.

Here’s the Deal

AFSP is partnering with Phil’s Ice House and Amy’s Ice Cream located at 5620 & 5624 Burnet Rd., Austin, TX (y’know, places that get you to the burger and ice cream thing I was talking about)

What AFSP is saying about the event:

We’re partnering with Amy’s Ice Creams and Phil’s Ice House for the 5th year in a row! But there’s a catch. We only receive donations if we have at least 50 people check-in at both Amy’s AND Phil’s.
When you get there just simply mention the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Austin Walk and you’ll be checked-in. But don’t forget to go to both Amy’s and Phil’s so we can qualify for the Party Time Donations. The dining room is open for those wanting to eat at the restaurant. But we also encourage you to use their curbside or home delivery services. While supporters will still be able to go inside the restaurants to order and check-in, we encourage supporters to order online and put “American Foundation for Suicide Prevention” in the chef’s notes. If ordering in person, when you get there just simply mention the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and you’ll be checked-in. But don’t forget to go to both Amy’s and Phil’s so we can qualify for the Party Time Donations. Want an extra incentive for you and your team? You got it. There is a chance to have all the donated money credited to your team! How to win the Party Time Funds:
Take a picture of you enjoying your burger and ice cream
Share your picture on social Media
1) Tag American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Central Texas
2) Tag Phil’s or Amy’s

The team with the most tagged selfie’s wins!

Pretty easy! So, just to sum it all up (part 2, because who doesn’t love a sequel?!?! Am I right?)

  1. Go to Phil’s Ice House & Amy’s Ice Cream on Burnet Rd. in Austin (address above) to dine in, pick it up, or have it delivered
  2. Order food from both Phil’s AND Amy’s and let them know it’s for the “AFSP Out of the Darkness Austin Walk” – you can indicate that in the chef’s notes if you’re choosing curbside or delivery.
  3. Take a selfie
  4. Have your friends/family take a selfie
  5. Post that selfie, you gorgeous do gooder who’s out there making a difference, to social media (want to participate but don’t have a social media account? First off, good on you! Second, just send your photo to me and I’ll post it – AFSPJayWalkers at the gmail)
  6. Tag the following:
    • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Central Texas
    • Phil’s Ice House OR Amy’s Ice Cream
    • The Jay Walkers

Watching your girlish/boyish figure? Have it delivered to a friend or family member or those folks who are working hard throughout the day? (Just get them to take the photo and post to social media.)

Like AFSP said, they only get the money if there are at least 50 participants. So, come have a burger and some ice cream with me!

I’ll see you Monday, October 11th!

PS – Want to skip the clogged cholesterol but still support this cause? Please consider walking with our team (virtually) or making a donation.

The Jay Walkers – 2021

September is Suicide Prevention Month – the month when mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness. Each year my team, the Jay Walkers, get together to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and put a spotlight on this cause, and we’re doing it again this year. But our ultimate success relies on the generosity of people like you who believe mental health is as important as physical health. People who want to remove the stigma that is oftentimes associated with admitting to a mental illness and that can become an obstacle to getting necessary treatment.

Normally, I’d write a pitch about why this cause is important to me, but instead mixing it up this year.

Let’s Talk Incentives

When you donate to the Jay Walkers for this year’s Out of the Darkness Walk (link below)… https://supporting.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=2422339

…you get to choose from one of these many fine incentives:

  • $5 – A “thank you” shoutout on my social media accounts letting everyone know how awesome you are, because you are!
  • $10 – Your choice of:
    • A watercolor portrait of you or your pet. DISCLAIMER: I don’t know how to paint. Seriously, think of it as a disaster-piece, but hey it’s from the heart.
    • An original haiku. DISCLAIMER: I’m also rubbish at poetry, but again… from the heart!
  • $15 – Your choice of:
    • An AFSP Out of the Darkness Wristband (yellow band with blue lettering)
    • An AFSP You Are Not Alone button
  • $25 – A bad recap of your favorite movie/book on TikTok featuring my friend Anna and me! There may be props! There may be costumes!!! Who knows? The only thing I can guarantee is that it will be terrible! Think Siskel and Ebert, but like if they were really bad at their jobs – then imagine something 10x worse.
  • $50 – One entry to win a gift bundle – each additional $50 up to $250 will give you additional entries. Must be in the Greater Austin area or able to come to Austin to get this incentive. Here’s what’s included:
    • Gift certificate for Georgetown Pie Co. – donated in memory of Erika DeBrabander (1996-2021)
    • A Hand Crafted Candle by Bug Makes Candles – wine inspired scents donated by Bug, a crafty 17 year old
    • A Batch of Cookies – donated by my lovely and talented cousin, Kimberly – one of the best bakers I know
    • Gift Certificate for Lark & Owl Booksellers – a really cool independent book store and bistro founded by women in Georgetown
    • Gift Certificate for a Massage at Round Rock Health & Wellness
  • $75 – A batch of cookies – cookies made by Kimberly – (must be in the Greater Austin area for delivery/pick-up – trust me)
  • $150 – Hangout w/ Beth: Nerd Style Options!
    • Ever wanted to try D&D? Now’s your chance! Guest Star in a D&D Campaign – Homemade BBQ by Jim (Friends/Family Only)
    • D&D not your thing but board games are? Come play board games with a pack of board game lovin’ nerds? Now’s your chance! You, me, and a bunch of my friends will go to Emerald Tavern, play games, and I’ll buy you a pint. I’m really terrible. You’ll likely win. Who doesn’t like winning?
  • $200 – The “Let’s Get Serious” Options:
    • Axe Throwing at High Five – you, me and some axes
    • VR Sandbox – You pick the adventure and let’s go play a VR game!
    • Archery at Central Texas Archery – Grab your bow or borrow theirs, and let’s go shoot arrows (you must have completed the First Time class at CTA)

All donations come with the warm fuzzies of knowing you did something awesome. Whether you donated $1 or $200, you’ve made a statement that mental health is important and making an important impact on your community.

Do it for Erika and Austin (my close friend’s partner), who we lost in 2021.

Do it for those who struggle.

Do it for those who impacted by those deaths.

Do it for Jay.

Do it for me.

Choose to make a difference.

Support

The death of Jay by suicide is the most devastating event I have yet to experience. To lose someone so suddenly, so definitively, and so needlessly ripped out a big piece of my heart. I spend a lot of time talking about the aftermath of surviving Jay’s death, about my struggles, about the struggles of other survivors in regard to blame, to shame and the stigma of suicide. I talk about the importance of putting a spotlight on mental health issues, which are critical – about supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. What I don’t spend time telling you enough about is the love and support I received (and continue to receive).

The day Jay died, I broke – I broke in ways that I will never get back – I broke in predictable ways – ways that a lot of survivors break. I have anxiety attacks. When those attacks aren’t managed, I can have panic attacks. These can be brought on by a stressful event, or a simple office meeting, or just watching a TV show about something as adorable/stress-free as kittens. I can be calm in one moment, and in the next, my body has just dumped a lot of chemicals and hormones into my system signaling me that we’re now in fight or flight mode. To cope, I’m now a reigning queens of breathing techniques and now have a keen ability to describe objects in painstaking detail. I do this until my brain relents and says, “Yeah ok, we’re cool – false alarm. So, how about those kittens. Huh? They’re pretty cute.”

I was angry at Jay in the immediate aftermath of his death, and like many survivors, I struggled with suicidal ideation. Why didn’t he take me, too? I felt a keen sense of abandonment and that hurt me even more. We were supposed to be together. Now, to be perfectly clear, this was the manifestation of my own mental health issues that were a result of his death. I’m glad to be here. I’ll vainly put out there that I know the world is a better place with me in it. Lucky you guys!

So, let’s talk about the many things that helped me survive, and that’s all of the people who immediately surrounded me – my phalanx of friends and family who refused to leave me behind or let me fall. They began showing up at my house within a half hour of the news, and they stayed – they stayed through tears, long silences, through moments where I couldn’t focus well enough to tell them what I needed – from food to how to hold a memorial service. They sat quietly while I screamed irrationally in my kitchen, and again while I sobbed on my front porch, They forgave me when I was a little too impatient – a little too short – a little too blunt or brutal with my responses. They forgave me when I greeted their “How was your vacation?” with a low growl and the harsh toned announcement of, “I wasn’t on vacation – Jay is dead.” They forgave me when I was cruel, and there were moments where I was absolutely cruel.

One of the things I know I’ve lost is that patience – that softer edge. It’s something I work on – something I sometimes have to feign, because I want to be kind. I want to be caring again.

With my loss, I found new and amazing friends (or rather they found me) – people I knew of, but did not know. These people took me under their wing – included me in their events – introduced me to new people who were equally amazing – these incredibly good, kind, witty people with huge hearts and clubs I got to be inducted into.

My one regret, if I have one, is that I didn’t know them before and that there’s this chunk of years where I wasn’t talking to them, hanging out with them, and enjoying even more shared adventures and stories. Their generosity of spirit is awe inspiring and I cannot properly express how much I appreciate them for including me.

The bond with many of my current friends became even stronger.

The simple truth is, I would not be where I am today without the incredible support I received from my family, from my friends, and from my co-workers. I am surrounded by a great deal of love – a ton of patience and a lot of caring – people who want me to thrive – people who go out of their way to make sure that happens every single day. They’re the ones who reach out and ask, “Hey, are you ok?” when I seem a bit off or drop a silly card in the mail or agree to drive across state lines just to hang out in the mountains (and generously offer up a soft (free) landing spot in those same mountains.

When I’ve talked about suicide and how I struggled, and how other suicide survivors struggle, I did not tell you about this other side. I didn’t tell you how fortunate I felt (and still feel) – how loved I felt (and feel). But recognize that it too is part of my healing process – I could experience and recognize that love, but I couldn’t express it, yet.

So this is a thank you to all the people who are in my life – who support me. I see you. I appreciate you, and I love you.

This is also a reminder that not everyone receives the same support that I was fortunate enough to receive. And a lot of it has to do with the very real stigma associated with suicide and with people struggling with mental health issues. You can change that. You can do something to help reshape that narrative.

Today Congress passed a bill establishing 9-8-8 as the Suicide Prevention line; it’s now awaiting the President’s signature. This is a HUGE step in the right direction, and still more needs to be done. We must act now.

You can do that by helping support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention again. AFSP provides those who have lost someone to suicide the opportunity to talk with their volunteers – volunteers who are themselves survivors of suicide loss. AFSP helps survivors find support groups. It’s one of the many important services this non-profit provides, and it’s so crucial to the well-being – to the mental health – of other survivors.

And I get it, I know, you’re getting tired of these posts – tired of these conversations, but it’s important. We have to keep fighting for better access to mental healthcare. We have to keep fighting to reduce the number of suicides by 20% by 2025 (a goal AFSP has set and believes is achievable).

Please consider making a small ($10) donation to my fundraiser for AFSP.

Fundraising promise: If I personally raise $3,000 for my team, I’ll share the story about a blind date surprising me by taking me to his missed AA meeting. Good times!

On a more serious note

If you are you in a crisis: Please call 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.

Stay well. Stay healthy. I love you all to the moon and back.

You Can Help Stop Suicide

I belong to a fairly exclusive “invitation-only” group on Facebook – one you must be vetted first in order to join. It’s a group no one seeks membership to, but once accepted everyone is so thankful to be a member. This “elite” group is for those who have lost a spouse or partner to suicide and every single day new survivors join our group. I read their introductions: “Please welcome… who lost her husband/his wife/their partner on…” Every single day – sometimes multiple times per day. I read their sadness, their pleas for help, their confusion, their “what if’s” and their “if only’s”. Honestly, some days I just “can’t,” it’s too much, it’s too hard, and then there are days where I’m the one who is lost and seeking their hard-won wisdom, their compassion, their understanding – clarity from the scarred. No one wants to be a member of this group, but we’re grateful it exists. It’s a place where we can safely show our wounds – our sadness – without being repeatedly shut-down with, “you should go see a counselor.” It’s a place we can say freely, “I desperately miss my person,” and be ok with remembering times when our loved one wasn’t reduced to just one single, horrific event.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and we need to talk frankly about suicide and how you can help.

The fact is, I wasn’t planning on starting a walk group this year. Right now, there are so many very worthy causes – so many people in pain – so many people in need of assistance. Then I read a post from one of my fellow survivors – a woman who was told by her partner’s family to stop mentioning how he died because it brought the family shame.

I was absolutely appalled, but not particularly surprised by the family’s reaction.

The stigma associated with suicide is very common, and it compounds the complicated grief felt by we survivors. The truth is, we do not get the same support from our community (friends/family) as we would have had our loved one died any other way. Our loved one’s death was an embarrassment – a reason for great shame. Their deaths should be hidden, tucked away, never to be spoken of again – as if the mere acknowledgment of how they died would encourage the visit of the ugly specter of suicide to visit their own house.

And we need to stop that.

We stop that by openly talking about suicide and by talking about mental health issues. We stop telling those suffering and in need of mental health services that they are “weak” when they express the need for counseling, or psychiatric intervention. It is not, nor has it ever been, a weakness or flaw in constitution to need mental health services, much like it isn’t a weakness or flaw if I have the flu. If I break my arm, I need a doctor. No one questions that. By that same token, if I have a chemical imbalance that affects my brain such as suffering from clinical depression, I need to see a mental health specialist. That’s where we fail in our understanding (and compassion) as a society.

That must change.

..and those changes happen when we’re willing to talk openly about suicide and mental health issues.

It changes when we recognize that mental health services are as important as physical health services. It changes when we stop stigmatizing suicide – when we stop stigmatizing mental health issues. It changes when it doesn’t occur to us to ask a person whose spouse/partner/child/parent/friend died by suicide to “please not mention it.”

So, here I am again asking you to walk with me on October 24th to raise awareness. This is a virtual walk between 9AM – 1PM – you choose the location. To join the Jay Walkers click here. If you raise $100 on behalf of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), I will send you one of our fine Jay Walkers 2020 team t-shirts.

If you can’t walk (and even if you can), please consider making a donation to AFSP at our Jay Walker’s team site here.

Whatever you do, I need you to commit to talking about mental health issues, to supporting those who have been affected by suicide, and to never attempt to silence someone from talking about their loss of a loved one to suicide. (… and a very personal note, I need you to commit to never saying or suggesting the person who died by suicide was “selfish” – no, my friend, they had a mental health crisis and could not see any other escape from their tremendous pain.)

Let’s endeavor to be more compassionate and to make a difference.

I’m leaving you with some of the latest facts/figures from the CDC:

There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.

General*

  • In 2017 (latest available data), there were 47,173 reported suicide deaths in the U.S.
  • Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • A person dies by suicide about every 12.8 minutes in the United States.
  • Every day, approximately 129 Americans take their own life.
  • Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
  • There are 3.54 male suicides for every female suicide, but three times as many females as males attempt suicide.
  • 494,169 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm behavior, suggesting that approximately 12 people harm themselves (not necessarily intending to take their lives) for every reported death by suicide.

Depression

25 million Americans suffer from depression each year.
  • Over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.
  • Depression affects nearly 5-8 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year.
  • More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.
The best way to prevent suicide is through early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of depression and other mental health conditions.

*Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Let’s make a commitment right now to have open, frank, and honest discussions about mental health issues and about suicide.

We’re Nearly There: The Importance of Community

My grandfather died when I was 16 years old. I have no real memory of him – no endearing stories of “the time when Grandpa and I…” I’ve heard I once sat next to him on a piano bench, and that he was very sweet to me, his only grandchild at the time, while I listened to him play. I imagine toddler me probably helped with my chubby toddler fingers plunking away at the keys beside him while we shared our musical moment, creating a piece no one had heard before, nor will ever hear again. A perfect grandfather/granddaughter sonata as only a grandfather and grandchild can create.

By all accounts, my grandfather was quite an accomplished musician who played upwards of 17 instruments. I’ve only been able to play 5 proficiently. I still hope to add a couple more. While your bucket list may have “Tuscany,” mine has “cello.”

When he died, we weren’t informed. No one knew he had a family. There wasn’t an emergency contact the care facility had on file. In fact, we actually didn’t learn he’d passed until almost ten years after the event when my Mom started tracking him down.

My grandfather was laid to rest in a pauper’s grave in Henderson, Texas, where there is no headstone marking the site – only a number. His name was James, but maybe he went by Jim or Jimmy to his friends and family. I’ll never know because I only met him once.

My grandfather didn’t do anything to our family to deserve this end other than suffering from paranoia and schizophrenia. The reason I didn’t know him is that he spent the majority of his adult life in an institution. We didn’t visit. When I asked about him, asked what he was like, my Mom would say she didn’t want to talk about him. When I asked about his family, these great aunts and uncles I’d never met, his siblings, I was told they really didn’t want to have anything to do with him or us because of his mental illness. This seemed odd and a bit hurtful. We hadn’t done anything wrong that I was aware of other than be descended from their brother. How could someone judge me (or them) based on my grandfather’s illness? They didn’t know me. They had never spoken to me. Maybe they weren’t aware of the fact that my family tree isn’t a stick, and I actually have a lot of DNA from fairly diverse pools – not just his or his family’s. His descendants aren’t actual clones. I’m not his clone. Hey, the science of the time just wasn’t there. But apparently because he suffered from a mental illness, I’m not worthy of knowing. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m pretty delightful. I’m also exceptionally modest.

I’m aware of only one photo of him. I found it while on one of my extra-nosey Nancy Drew adventures looking for clues within my Grandmother’s framed photos. I would pop open the backs and look for hidden photos. And that’s how I found him – this young and serious face peeking back at me. A lost memory freed. I took the photo to my grandmother and tween-girl me demanded, “Who is he?” I expected to hear a story about an old friend. Maybe a cousin, or perhaps a boyfriend from college? “That’s your Grandfather.” I was stunned. I just stared at his photo – this stranger who is part of my story whom I don’t know anything about. My only real and tangible memory of him was discovering this one image. It’s now in my frame, displayed on my shelf – no longer hidden.

My Mom learned from his caseworker at the institution that my grandfather was well thought of – that he was a kind and gentle man, and that they had been saddened by his loss.

Over the years, I asked about his mother, my great-grandmother, and learned she’d also died in an institution. I always believed, and likely made-up, that she was institutionalized in North Carolina – that the family had left her behind when they moved to Texas. When I started digging for details, I discovered that not only was she a native Texan, but she was institutionalized in Austin – in a set of buildings that I had worked in. She died at 48 – in those same buildings – buildings whose halls I’ve walked through – buildings where I sat at a desk on a campus where she’d likely looked out upon from a window or even strolled through, as I have.

I taken aback, because I had no idea. We didn’t talk about her. Her illness was a mark on our family, like my grandfather’s.

I pulled up her father’s death certificate. He also died in an institution. The cause of death was from “exhaustion” after having a manic episode. It was near the three-year anniversary of the death of his daughter, my grandmother’s sister, whose death certificate indicates she had head trauma and then died… in an institution. I wanted to throw up. I had gone down this genealogical path in hopes of learning I was descended from Niall Nóigiallach or, you know, Sacagawea. I’m not picky. However, that’s not what I found. I found sadness, loneliness and abandonment in this branch.

I never knew these stories, their stories, because the stigma surrounding all of them, all of their struggles, was so awful that no one dared to openly talk about them. What would the neighbors think? What would the people at church think? What would our friends think? I have always believed my ancestors’ illnesses were a poor reflection on us – that their being ill said something terrible about me – that we would be judged by their suffering. In fact, I know that by sharing this information today, in our “enlightened” society, that some people will take what little they know about me, about things I’ve done (or will do), and they’ll now frame those actions in this particular context. “Oh, mental illness. Well, it runs deep in that family.” I even know that some people will take what they think they know about Jay and try to work my family’s personal history, something that had nothing to do with him or what happened to him, and they will try to weave it into his narrative.

Mental illness is isolating.

Most of us understand the importance of community. Just look at the word – “common” and “unity.” We thrive thanks to our community. It can give us a sense of belonging, of purpose, of identity. It bonds us together, it protects us and it provides us with support through our happiest and hardest times. Sure, there are also downsides. I’m certain the Hatfields felt a sense of community with Hatfields, and McCoys felt a sense of community with McCoys, and while the younger generations at times sought a new community, the elders weren’t having it. There’s us, and then there’s them. Go to any major sporting event, and you’ll find people, strangers, bonded together as they cheer on their team. Put those sides together at the end of the game, and riots can erupt. However, let one tragedy befall America, and we’ll cast aside political differences to come together, because we’re America. That’s also community. Incidentally, I will punch you out if you say something about Texas and you’re not from here.

There’s a reason being banished or exiled from a community is such a major punishment: the person becomes vulnerable – physically and mentally. They lose their support, they lose protection, and they lose their sense of identity/belonging – things almost all of us need to survive. At the extreme, it’s why prolonged periods of solitary confinement is so taxing on a person’s mental and emotional state. We are meant to be with a group.

We need each other to survive – to thrive.

Many times those suffering from a mental illness will not seek help – in large part, because of the stigma involved. They have a very real and valid fear that if others found out, they would be excluded from the group. Or they’d be treated to a series of denials in the form of, “You just need to buck up! Smile more! You’re not ‘really’ ill, you’re just not trying hard enough to be happy – to be well – to be sane.” So, people end up suffering and not seeking the critical medical care they need, which can lead to a series of cascading events as they attempt to address their issues on their own.

If I broke my arm, and I walked around with it hanging awkwardly at my side, wincing and grimacing with each jarring move I made, not only would family and friends try to intervene, strangers would likely stop me and say, “Honey, you need help – let me call someone.” No one would even think to suggest that if I just tried harder to have a straighter arm, it would all work out.

That’s another way we’re ignoring issues around mental illness, by telling people who suffer they’re not real.

Ignoring mental illness isn’t working.

Stigmatizing people for suffering, and stigmatizing their families, isn’t working. This failure in our society has resulted in 129 people dying each day by suicide in the US alone, and the numbers are increasing. 1 in 5 adults (20%) in America experience a mental illness. Nearly 1 in 25 (10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14, three-quarters by the age of 24. We are failing them.

Since my last post about this issue on September 22nd, approximately 2,838 Americans have died. People who were alive as I wrote my words who are no longer here today. It hasn’t even been a month. Of that total, approximately 440 of those have been our veterans. The men and women who have fought for our freedom – who sacrificed their personal freedom, their families, and their bodies to allow us to enjoy the lives we have today.

Approximately 2,322 Americans who are alive today will be gone by October 31st. That’s too many.

Right now those 2,322 people are struggling. Right now you can make a difference by reaching out to them, while they’re still here – before their pain exceeds their ability to cope – before they’re a statistic, before their family is writing a blog asking for your help.

You can make a difference.

My team is now $230 away from reaching our team goal of $5,000 in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). I’m now $400 from my personal goal. I am so grateful and in awe of the support we’ve received. I didn’t tell the team, but I honestly didn’t believe we’d make it this far. A huge thanks to everyone whose been able to make a donation.

We got this far, because as a community we have banded together to say:

  • Mental Health issues are important,
  • Finding ways to curb the ever increasing number of suicides through research is important,
  • Advocacy is important,
  • Helping survivors is important, and
  • Jay is important

People have occasionally come to me for advice on how to handle complex grief. I’m truly not an expert. I still grieve. I’m still deeply wounded. But I draw strength from my community – from my family, from my friends – they refuse to let me fall.

It will take a community coming together for one last push to reach our goal. It will take a community coming together to reduce the suicide rate in the US 20% by 2025.

If you’re able, please consider making a small donation to my team: The Jay Walkers for the Out of the Darkness Walk in Austin, which will be held on November 2nd. The money goes directly to AFSP.

We’re so close and we really need your help.

My grandfather lies in a pauper’s grave, because of the misfortune of suffering from a mental illness. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter concertos went unrealized, unheard, un-laughed about. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter moments of pouring over sheets of music, digging through scores, and having someone see music the way I see music were missed. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter hugs never happened. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter political debates weren’t enthusiastically debated.

A lifetime of being seen by his family, surrounded by their love was denied this man.

The only thing my grandfather did wrong was have a chemical imbalance in his brain. For that he was punished. For that he was exiled. For that he lies in an unmarked grave.

I walk to raise awareness about mental health issues. I walk to raise awareness about suicide. I walk because they can’t.

I need your help.

They need your help.

As always, if you see someone in crisis, assume you’re the only person who is reaching out and do so. Have a Real Conversation.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.