Friday, October 20, 2017

Suicide survivors say dialogue is key to prevention

Published Oct. 19, 2017 at 06:51PM
The Union Democrat by Alex Maclean

If given a second chance at life, how would you choose to use it?
Kevin Hines, 36, of Atlanta, and Ken Baldwin, 60, of Angels Camp, are among the rare few who survived attempts at suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Now, both men are speaking out in an effort to keep others from making the irreversible decision to end their own lives.
“We have a massive problem here,” Baldwin said of suicide in the Mother Lode. “It’s rural, the poverty level is significant, there are drugs up here, and all of that produces this bowl of depression.”
The men shared their personal experiences Wednesday night to an audience of roughly 100 at the Bret Harte High School Theater as part of an event organized by the Calaveras County Behavioral Health Division aimed at raising awareness about suicide and offering advice for prevention.
Information about the number of suicides in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties for 2016 were not readily available, but the most recent report by the California Department of Public Health showed the rates of suicide between 2013 and 2015 in both counties were among the highest in the state.
According to the report, the three-year average rate is calculated based on the number of suicides per 100,000.
California as a whole had an average rate of 10.6 suicides a year between 2013 and 2015, while the average rate for Tuolumne County was 19.5 and Calaveras County was 30.8. The actual three-year averages were 10.7 in Tuolumne County and 14 in Calaveras County.
Kaybee Alvarado, community health assistant for the Calaveras County Behavioral Health Division, said studies have shown two of the main reasons suicide rates are higher in rural areas is because of isolation and access to guns.
“That’s across all of the rural counties,” Alvarado said.
That’s why the Calaveras County Behavioral Health Division and other organizations in the community have spearheaded initiatives aimed at reducing the social stigma surrounding suicide and improving open communication about the topic.
Baldwin said he believes fear is the main reason for the stigma that hinders dialogue about suicide.
“Many people are afraid of the word suicide because there’s finality to it,” Baldwin said.
Sparking conversation about suicide was the goal of a community event Wednesday night at the Bret Harte High School theater in Angels Camp, where Baldwin and Hines shared their similar experiences with a crowd who ranged in age from students to senior citizens.
The two first met 10 years ago for a news story about how each had jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and survived, but they didn’t see each other again until earlier this year.
Baldwin said he was taken by surprise when he found out that Hines was scheduled to speak at the school where he has worked as a teacher since 1993.
In August 1985, Baldwin jumped from the landmark bridge after struggling with deep depression for years. He had previously attempted to kill himself three years earlier by taking a bottle of sleeping pills mixed with alcohol shortly after the birth of his daughter.
Baldwin’s wife, Ellen, said the couple’s biggest mistake was not talking about his struggles after the first attempt. After jumping from the bridge, Baldwin said he knew that he had to open up to his family.
“Once I was in the hospital bed, I realized I wouldn’t be able to hide this one,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said he still struggles with depression and has bad days, but now he knows he can lean on his wife to help him through it.
“She’s my rock, she’s my hero, she keeps me sane, she keeps me going, she tells me I’m a good person, and I believe her,” Baldwin said. “I’m lucky because some people don’t have someone they can believe in.”
In September 2000, a 19-year-old Hines attempted to take his own life by jumping from the same bridge that Baldwin had jumped from 15 years earlier.
Hines told the audience Wednesday night about his upbringing and long struggles with bipolar disorder prior to the attempt. He said that he openly sobbed on the bus ride to the bridge and while standing on the walkway hoping someone would ask him what was wrong, but no one did.
“Apathy, maybe fear … that’s where I think society has lost its way,” Hines said. “We have forgotten as a society that if we are not anything else on this planet we are one thing — our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
“And you don’t have to have faith in a higher power to know that.” 
Hines spoke with passionate conviction about the importance of being kind to others and peppered his hour-plus speech with humor to lighten the mood and keep people engaged whenever the story took a dark turn.
People shouldn’t feel like they are defined by their own thoughts, Hines said.
“If all of our thoughts became our actions, how many of us would be in jail for road rage?” Hines asked the audience to a show of scattered raised hands, which prompted a joke about how California Highway Patrol officers were taking notes at the event.
“Just because you have thoughts of suicide doesn’t mean that you have to act on them, no matter the pain they cause you,” Hines said. “Our thoughts do not have to own us, define us, or rule the day.”
The goal of his motivational speaking, Hines said, is to let people know that they should express how they feel without fear of judgment and help others understand what to do when others are in crisis.
Hines said the best question people can ask someone who they suspect may be at risk of harming themselves is the most blunt one: Are you suicidal? He believes he likely would not have taken the 220-foot plunge from the bridge if someone had asked him that question.
One effective suicide-prevention program noted by Baldwin was QPR, which stands for Question, Persuade and Refer. Started in 2009, the program aims to provide training in suicide prevention for community “gatekeepers” such as teachers, students, parents, employers and spiritual leaders.
Meanwhile, there is also work underway to install suicide barriers at the Golden Gate Bridge after more than 1,600 deaths since it opened in 1937. Fewer than 30 people are believed to have survived the fall.
Completion of the barriers is anticipated in early 2021.
The number for the national crisis line is (800) 273-8255.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Tips for Teachers: Ways to Help Students Who Struggle with Emotions or Behavior

  1. Start fresh. Other teachers may see your class roster and warn you about a particular student, but if what they have to say is negative it can taint your perception of that student before you have even met them. If you see a conversation starting to go this way, reframe it in a positive light. Ask what worked best, or what that teacher would have done differently if they got to do it over. It’s up to you to develop your own relationship with that student.
  2. Draw on past experiences with students, but don’t necessarily rely on them. The start of the school year brings a fresh crop of children and teenagers with different backgrounds, personalities, and problems. Think about techniques that worked last year for dealing with some of your “difficult” students, but stay open to new approaches.
  3. Put yourself in the right frame of mind. Most students who have emotional or behavioral problems want to be successful in school, but have trouble controlling themselves, focusing, and staying still. Avoid deeming them “attention seekers,” or “slackers.” Work on being as patient as possible.
  4. Expect some disorganization and forgetfulness. Children who are sad, angry, or afraid are probably not too concerned about missing papers or homework assignments. Of 11-17-year olds who took MHA’s Youth Screening, 92 percent reported that they sometimes or often had trouble concentrating, and 91 percent reported that they were sometimes or often easily distracted. If your workload allows, it might be helpful to email homework assignments to parents to keep kids on task, or provide written directions instead of verbal ones so students can refer back to them. If you are using technology in the classroom, use the reminder or task tools that are available.
  5. Reduce classroom stress. Avoid rigid deadlines – try giving homework assignments that are due in two days instead of the following day. Don’t lower grades for non-academic reasons like messy handwriting, especially with younger children. Think of ways to gamify your lessons from time to time so they are more engaging for students who struggle to focus.
  6. Look into evidence-based programs that support social and emotional learning. MHA recommends the Pax Good Behavior Game (especially for younger students), the Positive Action Program, and the Raising Healthy Children Program. These programs use social and emotional learning to deliver outcomes that matter later in life such as less crime, lower rates of public assistance, improved employment opportunities, and higher earning potential. Furthermore, they have demonstrated considerable return on investment.
  7. Find the good and praise it. Children and teens who are struggling with emotional or behavioral problems find school extra hard and often deal with low self-esteem. They may be extra sensitive and much harder on themselves than their peers. Be genuine and generous in your praise and downplay their shortcomings. Assure them that with hard work and practice, they will eventually find difficult assignments easier.
  8. Be familiar with options for accommodations. For children and teenagers who still have trouble despite after school help or chances to correct their mistakes, IEPs and 504 Plans can help structure the unique assistance they need to succeed. Gently suggest these options to parents when appropriate – they may not even know this kind of extra help is available.
  9. Avoid embarrassment. When dealing with a student who is being disruptive, take them aside or out in the hall to explain the problem rather than reprimanding them in front of their classmates. Ensure that they know the problem is with the behavior – not them – and how you expect them to behave moving forward.
  10. Exercise compassion. No special accommodation can substitute for patience, kindness, and flexibility. Teachers bring a great deal of compassion to the table to start with, but it can be easy to let it fall to the wayside when you’ve got a classroom full of 30 students, 4 more lesson plans to get through, and can’t seem to get everyone to stay on the same page. No one expects you to be a saint – just try your best to keep your cool.
  11. Work with parents. Parents may see behaviors at home that you aren’t seeing in school and vice versa. Keeping open lines of communication with parents will create consistency in working with students who have emotional or behavioral struggles and minimize misunderstandings. Make a plan that helps you communicate regularly with parents who need more frequent contact than others so that they're in the loop with what you're seeing in the classroom, and they can fill you in on what's going on at home.
  12. Make time to take care of yourself. Find ways to de-stress on evenings and weekends so you can bring your “A game” to the classroom. You might be the take-a-hot-bath type or you might be the cross fit type – whatever works best for you.
Adapted from Red Flags, “Ways to Assist Students with Depression or Related Disorders.”

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Story of Recovery from Recovery Is Beautiful

Posted at 12:23h in Stories of Recovery
This recovery story comes from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
This past year I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression. I think I’ve always known that I live with these conditions, but it wasn’t until last year that I decided to do something about it. Since a very young age I always felt as if there was something “different” and “wrong” with me. I never felt like I was a normal kid and I never felt as if I could fit in anywhere. Instead of hanging out with friends, having fun, or even being able to study and focus on school, my days were spent worrying about one thing after another. Fears that I was going to die, fears that I had a brain tumor, fears that I was going blind, fears that I had diabetes, fears that I would be kidnapped, fears that my house would burn down, fears of people, fears that I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough or I wasn’t smart enough, fears of failure and fears that I had no future. The list goes on and on. These fears led to constant rituals that I had to do to try to ease the anxiety that they were causing me.
I googled diseases and illnesses constantly to see if I could possibly have one. This resulted in me going to pretty much every type of doctor possible. I’ve constantly had a panic in my mind that there is something wrong with me. I’ve spent way too many of my nights awake and paralyzed in panic because I was so convinced that the worst things would happen to me at night. It was usually that I would either get kidnapped while asleep or that my house would burn down in flames. This resulted in me turning lights on and off, locking and re-locking my doors and windows, and checking outside my room over and over again. It was as if I was just waiting for something bad to happen and the anxiety would keep me awake all night. I did things like count the number of steps I took, the number of times I touched something and pretty much counted the number of times that I did anything. There were constantly numbers going through my head and they always needed to end in an even number. If it didn’t end in an even number, I would often have to redo things and do it until it felt “right.” This made my days feel full of stress, anxiety and made me dread every day because I didn’t want to have to deal with it for any longer. These fears have been crippling me all my life. They have made me distance myself from having friendships, relationships, jobs, school, social events and anything that could trigger these fears more and that could cause me more anxiety.
My fear of failure and of people has resulted in me skipping many days of school and to make many excuses to friends to not hang out or go to social events. Every day of high school was a trial for me because I always thought that everyone was judging me, and looking down on me. Quickly my old ways continued into college and again I was skipping and failing classes. My depression and anxiety kept me unmotivated and—once again—disappointed in myself. Feeling like I had no control over my life and absolutely no self-confidence, I decided that I needed to turn my life around. I thought that a great way I could do this was by losing weight. Little did I know that my goal of losing a “little bit” of weight would trigger my OCD and lead me down a dangerous and even worse path than I was on before. Losing weight turned into my obsession, my passion and my life. It was all I cared about and my days were spent writing and rewriting my calories, counting and recounting my calories, and stepping on and off of the scale over and over again. I thought at first I was doing something good for myself and like I finally had the control that I had always wanted over my life, but really I was the one being controlled by OCD that had now lead me to anorexia. Every day the number on the scale would drop and every time I saw a lower number I was proud of myself and I felt like I had finally accomplished something for once in my life. Family members began to worry about my physical and mental health and at first I didn’t understand why and I couldn’t agree with them because my mind was so distorted by this disorder. It wasn’t until my family and I vacationed in California last summer that I truly realized how bad my problem was and how truly miserable I was. I couldn’t enjoy a single second on vacation because my thoughts were consumed with food. I cried after every meal I ate, I was cold the entire time and shivered while in the sun on the beach. I could barely hike or ride a bike because my body was so malnourished and weak. I was constantly dizzy, shaky and my whole body would tremble from just walking a few steps. It hurt to even sit down because every bone in my body stuck out and would bruise so easily. I knew that I had a problem and that my body was shutting down, but I felt so trapped and like there was no way to get out. It was scary thinking that this would be the rest of my life and left me with constant thoughts of suicide.
When I got home from California, I immediately went to an eating disorder center looking for help. I promised myself and my family that I would gain weight and recover from this disorder. I did not want to let it control my life for another second and was motivated to recover. Little did I know how hard and how long the process would be for me to truly let go of it. After months and many tears, I finally let go of my routine and I began to let myself gain my weight back. Still with thoughts of suicide and depression, I knew that I immediately needed to get help before doing something that I would later regret. I found a therapist and psychiatrist and was diagnosed with OCD, anxiety and depression. The constant worrying, fears, anxiety attacks, rituals and obsessions finally all made sense. I finally felt like I knew the reasons for why I acted how I did all of my life and I felt like I was finally taking the steps to help myself that I need to for so long.
I’m always going to face these problems, but I am going to try my hardest to find the best ways to deal with them and fight through every day. Some days will be harder than others, and those are the days that I will want to lie in bed and cry, but that’s ok because some days I’ll feel happy and those are the days that I will cherish. I know that I can never let the depression take away my life like I once almost did.
A lot of people don’t understand how crippling OCD, anxiety and depression can be. I understand how they couldn’t because if you have not experienced it yourself then I don’t think anyone could truly understand it. To the people who do understand and who are also dealing with OCD, or any other type of mental health condition, I want you to please know that you are never alone. There are so many people who really do understand what you are going through, even when it feels like no one does. I understand that feeling of just wanting the pain to go away and of just wanting it to end for a single minute. I’m sharing my story so that maybe I can help or relate to at least one person out there who is also struggling. I want whoever you are to know that you will never be alone in this battle. We will all have many battles to face in this lifetime, but that is what will make this life so rewarding. I will choose to push through and fight everyday knowing that this is my battle. I can conquer it and you can too.

To see similar stories to this one – click here visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s website.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Continuing Conversations on Addiction

On April 26, Newark City Schools Superintendent Doug Ute kicked off “Starting Conversations,” an amazing day of activities bringing people from many facets of Licking County together to talk about addiction and how it impacts Licking County residents.
Doug’s eyes were open to the issue through a personal experience when one of his children became addicted and he is willing to share that for the greater good of our community. Add to that the frequency with which he saw grandparents in the NCS administration building registering for school the grandchildren they have custody of because their adult children have addictions, and Doug knew the time had come to get anyone and everyone involved.
The Sam Quinones book "Dreamland" was the focus of Starting Conversations. The book is an investigative reporter’s perspective of how our country came to have a problem with prescription drug and heroin abuse. It’s a fascinating read about the perfect storm that resulted in today’s addiction issues. Those issues are happening right here in Licking County, and they affect people from every walk of life.
Throughout the day, community leaders of businesses, agencies and school districts, organizations, students and families joined NCS for conversations around drug addiction. Speakers included Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Jennifer Lloyd, director of Drug Abuse Outreach Initiatives for Attorney General Mike DeWine and Wayne Campbell, founder of Tyler’s Light, talked about efforts to help people in our state with addiction, the use of Narcan and the story of Tyler Campbell, who lost his life to addiction.
If you missed the NCS events, there are more opportunities for you to become educated about what is occurring in your back yard. Through the Licking County Community Blueprint process, which identified behavioral health including drug addiction as a top priority, Hope In Action forums are being held around the county to provide information and resources to anyone with an interest.
I hope you’ll join me, Kay Spergel of Mental Health and Recovery for Licking & Knox Counties and several others as we facilitate “Hope for Recovery – Understanding Mental Health and Addiction Issues 101” at 6 pm on one of the following: Wednesday, May 17 at Etna Township Administration Building, 81 Liberty Street, Etna; Wednesday, May 24 at Newark Public Library, 101 W. Main Street, Newark; or Wednesday, June 14 at Buckeye Lake Public Library, 4455 Walnut Road, Buckeye Lake.
We’ll be talking about drug addiction and the wear and tear of everyday stressors on our lives, as well as mental health and suicide. These are concerns that are swirling around our community and impact us all. What is being done to address these issues? How do we cope and where do we turn for help? Join us as we discuss the resources available in the community that begin to address these concerns.
Penny Sitler is the executive director of Mental Health America of Licking County.
Found in The Newark Advocate May 16, 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

Would You Know When You’ve Gone Too Far?

By Penny Sitler
Executive Director
Mental Health America of Licking County

Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. But people experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently—and some engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem. Sometimes people—especially young people—struggling with mental health concerns develop habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. Activities like compulsive sex, recreational drug use, obsessive internet use, excessive spending, or disordered exercise patterns can all be behaviors that can disrupt someone’s mental health and potentially lead them down a path toward crisis.

This May is Mental Health Month and Mental Health America of Licking County (MHALC) is raising awareness of Risky Business (#riskybusiness). The campaign is meant to educate and inform individuals dealing with a mental health concern understand that some behaviors and habits can be detrimental to recovery—or even mask a deeper issue—and that seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of.

Take the interactive quiz at and tell us when you think behaviors or habits go from being acceptable to unhealthy. MHALC wants everyone to know that mental illnesses are real, that recovery is always the goal and that even if you or someone you love are engaging in risky behavior, there is help. It is important to understand early symptoms of mental illness and know when certain behaviors are potentially signs of something more. We need to speak up early and educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental illness and do so in a compassionate, judgement-free way.

When we engage in prevention and early identification, we can help reduce the burden of mental illness by identifying symptoms and warning signs early and provide effective treatment Before Stage 4. So, let’s talk about what is and is not risky business. Let’s understand where it’s important to draw the line, so that we can address mental illness B4Stage4, and help others on the road to recovery. For more information, visit