Trigger warning: This blog post deals with sensitive issues surrounding suicide and death, as well as related personal anecdotes. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to ask for help and explore our resources at the bottom of the post.
World Mental Health Day: October 10
September was Suicide Awareness Month. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. And this year, especially, both topics are heavy on our minds. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so many people are experiencing loss in different ways. Some of us know people who have died from the virus, while others are mourning the loss of life as we knew it, and are now dealing with work insecurity, financial stress, and isolation. All are triggers for those dealing with mental illness, and are even affecting those who have never had to worry about their mental wellness. We wanted to share a post that talks about suicide in the creative industry in a realistic light, because it’s a real threat. Below are personal anecdotes from Grey House Executive Producer Hannah Soto and Grey House Integrated Producer Denisse Robledo. Each of their stories are followed by actionable steps for how you, as a member of the creative community, can help those who may be struggling, or seek support for yourself.
“Jonathan Chapman, a Minneapolis-based photographer and director, died by suicide on June 18, 2019. While I have known others in the industry, and personally, who have made the choice to complete suicide, receiving that phone call after midnight, while at a hotel in NYC, took me by total surprise. It’s never easy to lose someone to suicide, but with my other friends’ and colleagues’ own suicide attempts and completions, I’d known about their struggles and battles with mental health. We’d seen them struggle for years. But with Jonathan, I never saw it coming. I had flown to Minneapolis to see him a month prior, and while I wasn’t close enough that I thought he would have confided in me, this news was just so far from how exuberant he was in life at our last visit — presenting about this trip he took a few years ago, when he paused shooting for clients for a year to travel the world with his family. Jonathan and I sat in the green room with the event host and traded stories of work, and most importantly, work-life balance. This was one of the things I most deeply admired about him, and this is part of what made this loss so hard, that if someone who I admired as being able to find work-life balance in this chaotic industry couldn’t overcome the toll of mental health, what chance did the rest of us have?
“For me, there were different phases of processing the news. The first was an immediate shock. I had received a call from someone in Minneapolis just after midnight to break the news. I was just shocked, and really struggled to keep myself together. I spent most of that next day in the bathroom crying.
“The second phase of grief and processing was realizing that I never saw it coming. If he had gone through this — and I’d felt like he had such a good balance — then any one of us is susceptible to this. After Jonathan died by suicide, I had to have a come-to-jesus moment with myself. You really have to keep yourself healthy, lean on your support system, and know what to do when triggers happen. This experience made it a significantly more personal topic for me. I ended up taking a month off work, turned down projects, and did what I needed to do to have support and get to a healthier place before taking on work again.”
“My brother-in-law, Derek, died by suicide about 13 months ago. It was a huge shock and deeply devastating to my family. As a way of coping with that loss and processing my grief, I reached out to volunteer at an organization here in Chicago called Hope For The Day (HFTD) to help educate myself and others on suicide prevention. HFTD is a non-profit movement empowering the conversation on proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. They’ve pioneered several clinically-backed, peer-led workshops, and presentations, including one called ‘The Things We Don’t Say,’ that focus on breaking the silence that stigma creates around talking about suicide, but also about mental health in general.
“In training workshops for HFTD’s Surrogate program, I’ve learned that the current model of suicide prevention is highly reactive, typically focusing primarily on the crisis point (the suicide). For instance, a celebrity or other well-known figure attempts or dies by suicide and it generates a lot of conversation. People share hotlines or resources on social media, but after a short period of time, it isn’t discussed further and very little discourse is had around factors that escalated to that individual’s suicide, such as unaddressed or under-addressed mental health challenges. Some of the ways to proactively approach suicide prevention are to normalize having open conversations about mental health, and to educate ourselves on stigma and other outdated ideas so we can act as a bridge and support to one another. Proactive suicide prevention means educating ourselves and starting the conversation on mental health before it adversely impacts our lives. Hope For The Day’s motto, ‘It’s OK not to be OK,’ is a great reminder of the importance of talking about mental health in order to break the silence that stigma creates.”
How to help
While suicide prevention isn’t a linear path, there are clear things you can do if someone is in crisis. First and foremost, make it OK for someone to discuss their mental health challenges openly. It’s important to listen without judgment. If someone expresses thoughts of suicide or suicidal ideation, take them seriously. If they confirm that they are thinking of ending their life, stay with them — never leave someone in distress on their own. Finally, connect them with a professional. (Scroll down for a list of resources.)
One immediate and proactive shift we can take as a community is in the words we use when we talk about suicide. Some language is stigmatizing. When discussing suicide, try to stay away from using the word commit, which implies sin or crime and has a negative connotation (e.g., “committing a crime”). Using the phrases “died by suicide,” “death by suicide,” and “suicide” are ways we can discuss suicide without contributing to the silence of stigma.
How to listen
Through her volunteer work with Hope For The Day, Denisse shared some insight for how to be supportive to someone experiencing a mental health challenge. For starters, keep the focus on them. “As much as you want to be able to relate along the lines of, ‘Yeah, me too,’ when you shift the focus away from them and onto yourself, that person could possibly feel like they’re being talked over or shut-out,” she says. “Knowing how to listen without judgment is really important.” Furthermore, she says, ask “what” and not “why.” “When you’re asking someone what is bothering them or what’s on their mind, you’re opening the door for them to talk about their feelings without having to justify or qualify why they’re feeling a certain way.” Finally, instead of trying to diagnose someone, point them to a professional. “Unless you are a doctor, it can be very insensitive to assume a diagnosis or disorder in someone,’” Denisse says. “Instead, it’s important to share accurate information and to point them to resources in the community. You can act as a bridge between them, and professional help.”
Take Care of Yourself.
Thankfully, there’s less of a stigma behind mental health these days. Especially in the time of COVID-19, social channels are encouraging us to check in on our friends and loved ones. But let’s take time to check in with ourselves, too. As creatives, we’re already prone to emotional ups and downs. On a regular basis, we teeter on the edge of brilliance and anxiety, pushing ourselves to feel everything in order to get audiences to react to our work. We’re competitive, yet we regularly experience rejection — of ideas, of bids, of jobs. This makes us incredibly vulnerable. So let’s be good not just to each other, but to ourselves, too.
- Crisis Text Line
- Text “ITSOK” to 741741 (Available 24/7)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- 1-800-273-8255(TALK) — Press 1 for Veterans Line
- Call4Calm (COVID specific)
- Text “TALK” to 552020
- For Spanish, text “HABLAR” to the same number: 552020
- Warmlines — peer support by phone
- Hope For The Day Resource Compass — search by zip code
- Mental Health America
- American Psychological Association Counseling Locator
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- To Write Love on Her Arms
- The Loveland Foundation Therapy Fund