This week’s post begins below. First:
A new and fascinating conversation: How to talk to a rising generation through social media about suicide? How to spot trouble in what someone is posting online? And how can we use the voices of people who’ve been suicidal? The suicide prevention and awareness world has started working through these issues on Twitter (#SPSM) and in blog form, with chats every Sunday evening. A common agreement is that the mental health world is far behind in social media. An encouraging comment from the latest chat: “perhaps inviting suicide attempt survivors to add their thoughts to this conversation is needed… is this a safe place to disclose?” And, “Agreed – survivors are the ones whose words carry a great deal of weight – sharing their stories.”
A media request: A Los Angeles-based documentary maker and attempt survivor is looking for artists, writers, musicians, performers of all kinds who’ve had a serious attempt and would be interested in sharing their story. “Our overall goal is to examine the correlation between suicide and the creative mind and shed light on the subject of depression and suicide and hopefully create a dialogue about this subject, since it is so often shrouded in shame,” Travis says. You can reach him at artistsforsurvival (at) gmail (dot) com.
New resources, video: The International Association for Suicide Prevention now has a resources page for attempt survivors. And the UK-based Grassroots Suicide Prevention has this new video. “Maybe they’re afraid of talking about it because they know someone that’s been through it,” an attempt survivor says. “They’ve got their own memories and their own thoughts. But what they don’t realize is that by not talking about it, those that suffer in silence, those that think about it, it gives them the sense that they don’t matter. It heightens the anxiety and the belief that suicide is the better option because nobody really cares enough to talk about it and their own fears.”
‘It Totally Rocked My World’
The two lives behind this week’s post came together with the cry of a child.
Randy Tucker was in trouble. Tom Cruz was working with Battles in Distress (BID), a new effort to save suicidal veterans and service members from themselves. It was formed in January after a soldier, in a Facebook post, threatened to kill himself and people online worked together to track him down in time. The thinking behind BID was this: Many thousands of veterans and service members are online. If we can work together to help one person, why can’t we help more?
The volunteers who formed BID reached out to military groups on Facebook for help in spotting and reporting signs of distress. They came up with ways to contact veterans and service members when someone in crisis was located nearby. So remote help was available for stressful issues like unemployment, while real people — peers — could reach out and talk in person when needed.
And that’s how Cruz came to be talking one day by phone to Tucker, who had slid to the point where he was homeless and sleeping beside the veteran’s memorial in his Florida town. Tucker had little patience with the local Veterans Administration and a lot of intent to harm himself. Then, he heard the cry of Cruz’s child in the background.
“Is that your baby?” Tucker asked.
Cruz hesitated. He was a private man with his own experience of suicidal thinking, and he didn’t mean to bring his family into the call. “That’s my son,” he said.
And that’s what struck Tucker about the possibility of recovery. If Cruz could come to the brink of suicide himself, and survive and thrive …
Battles in Distress wants to cut through the bureaucracy of finding help. “There are tons of resources. Tons and tons of crisis hotlines,” Cruz says, “The problem is, with veterans there are a bunch of cultural barriers. They don’t trust outsiders. There’s pride, self-isolation, loyalty to the team… If someone’s really in distress, are they really going to go online, look for a number, press 1 here, wait 10 minutes, talk to somebody who’s just doing their job, getting paid to sit on a hotline, and didn’t have same the experiences you did?”
We spoke with Cruz, Tucker and BID president Dan Caddy a few months ago. In a recent email, Caddy said BID continues to pursue its goal of becoming a national rapid response network for those in crisis. They’re working on funding and a legal review.
Here are the stories of Tucker and Cruz, in their own words:
She finally was able to convince me to take the gun apart, to put the gun away. And she was the one who worked with the negotiators: “We’re going to come out, but we’re going to the hospital together. I want to be with him.” She took me out of the house by holding my hand. She went over to the police. I was handcuffed. Then they handcuffed and zip-tied her and took us in separate cars to separate hospitals. We had psych evaluations for eight hours because they thought she was crazy. Of course, she passed with flying colors. She did it because she loved me.
So I’m in another hospital. There were no drugs or alcohol in our systems. Neither one of us was filing charges against each other. We came out peacefully. At that point, the police let me go. I was like, “I don’t know what just happened here.” I sat in the psych ward, and they couldn’t tell me anything, either. Once they found out I was military, I wound up in the Walter Reed psych ward. They really couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
I was fine, like I am right now. I had never contemplated suicide before. I didn’t have a plan. I was sitting there with the doctors, trying to analyze it myself. I had a bunch of little stressors leading up to that day. Maybe the stressors built up. So I did the mandatory time in the psych ward, and there were really no answers still.
I had to give my whole history, and they said, “You have PTSD.” For me, even to this day, I still argue that. One of the first things is denial. They said, “No you have clear symptoms.” So I went through the training for Wounded Warriors. I had a Navy lieutenant come in and give the master resilience course, and I was like, “Wow, this makes sense. It’s something everyone does every day and doesn’t know it.” It was an awesome course for building myself back up.
So once I got out of there, I became a master resilience trainer. For me, it was therapeutic to be able to help other people. I’ve gone through ASIST, QPR. I’ve been through crisis intervention training. I’m still trying to figure out how to make sure it won’t happen again, how to identify it in somebody else. I use a lot of resilience training to keep from having a bad day get worse.
I have a saying: “There’s only one person who saved my life.” Ninety-nine percent of what I do is because of my wife. She could have said, “This is way too much. I’m done.” We weren’t even married. But she showed up the very next night to Walter Reed to see me. In her mind it was “I’m gonna go and see him, and I’ll know when I look at him whether I’ll be with him still.” When she saw how broken down I was, she came every day to Walter Reed. We have our rough patches, but we work through them. She’s literally the reason why I’m alive. We got married, we have our son, we worked through stuff. We manage a lot better. We want to be able to give back now.
I want to be that “one” for someone else. Battles in Distress gives me that opportunity to be that one for someone out there who doesn’t have it. And a lot don’t know they have someone who cares.
So that’s kind of my story in a nutshell. I finally told my soldiers a year after them knowing me. Obviously, it’s a touchy topic. Some were receptive, some not. I try to have my wife there whenever I give it, so they see the impact.
I’ve had to work my ass off. It’s not like, “You’re going to talk to me tonight, and tomorrow you’re gonna hit the lottery, your wife’s coming back to you, your financial woes will be gone.” If you think it will be handed to you, you’re wrong. You need to pull your pants up, go back into the world, fight another day. Over time, you will achieve what you need to achieve. Look at me, it’s taken me three years, almost. Nothing’s ever been handed to me. I’ve had to prove myself. I’ve been through trainings, research, done work on my own.
I’ve had to deal with guys who literally have flashbacks on the phone. It’s scary as crap. It’s about talking to people in their languages. I’ve built a team of people who get it. It’s not about them, it’s about helping others. We do everything we can resource-wise to make sure these people succeed, but they’re going to have to put in 90 percent of the work. It’s not our job to run their life. We’re here to put the jumper cables on them and restart.
My wife and I actually wrote our story out. Mine was more like a police report; fact fact fact. That’s just the way we write. My wife wrote from her point of view. Being a female, her situation, hers was more emotional. When I get to page two of hers, I always start to cry. She’s now crisis intervention qualified. She helps out the spouses who don’t know what to do. We’re like a tag team now.
When I was speaking with Randy, I was at home, pacing around, like usual. I talk to a lot of high-risk ones because I’ve been on both sides. I usually give them my story to give them the personal level. With Randy, it was hearing Holden’s voice. I was kind of leery when he asked, “Is that your baby?” I try not to use a lot of personal stuff. I said, “That’s my son.” And it made him want to talk to me more.
We started, “OK, what do we do to make this work?” I’ve been following him ever since on Facebook, and every time he posts something, I like it. I send him a post every once in a while, so no matter what he does, someone’s watching him, pushing him forward. If he slips, we’re here to catch him. It’s not what we do for everybody because it’s not what everyone needs. But he’s ongoing. He has his moments, but I’ll text him and we’ll talk. But he’s hugely turned around. He’s amazing. He’s progressing awesomely.
For example, he asked for a job, and we sent him a list of about 20 in his area. Instead of giving up, he said, “These didn’t work for me, didn’t fit my needs.” I said, “Hang on, give me a day.” And we gave him another list. We tell them, “Hey, just because we’ve helped you, it doesn’t mean we’re done talking now.”
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.