May is Mental Health Month in the US, and May 4 – 10th is Mental Health Week in Canada. It’s a fitting time for individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments to learn more about mental health, and reflect on how we can all better respond to the issues.
There are great toolkits available from both Mental Health America and the Canadian Mental Health Association that can help your organization celebrate these events while also spreading awareness, education, and reducing the prejudices and stigma that surround the topics of mental health and mental illness.
We wanted to share this touching blog by Paul Gionfriddo of Mental Health America, telling the story of his family’s experience with mental illness and homelessness.
By Paul Gionfriddo
There are half a million homeless people with serious mental illnesses in desperate need of help yet underserved or ignored by our health and social-service systems. That number can seem overwhelming, but for me, it’s all about one person: my son Tim.
Tomorrow is Tim’s 30th birthday, and I wish I could spend it with him. But I don’t know where he is, so this year I’ll have to settle for the memories of his childhood birthdays. Tim was diagnosed with schizophrenia over two decades ago, and has been homeless on the streets of San Francisco for the last 10. I am a former state legislator, a former mayor, a CEO of a national organization…and even I couldn’t prevent it. Because people with mental illness become homeless as a result not of bad choices but of bad public policy.
There are many differences between me and Tim…I’m in my 60s, he’s half my age. I’m 5’9”, he can appear towering at 6’ 5”. I’ve got graying hair, his hair is dark. I’m white, he’s black. But all of those difference don’t really matter…the only reason Tim is homeless and I’m not is because he has a mental illness. That’s it. Our mental health system has failed him and countless others, and it’s time to change that.
So I can’t turn back time. I can’t spend his 30th birthday with my son. I will pray as I do every day that he is safe and that one day we can get him the help he so desperately needs. Until then, I’m going to keep fighting just like Tim does every day. I’m going to fight to change our mental health care system, to work to get people the help they need when they need it, and to get this country talking and addressing mental illness before Stage 4. I will continue to fight for Tim and for the millions like him affected by mental and substance use conditions who have not had a voice for far too long.
You can read Paul’s blog here, and also get other information on mental health, mental illness, and other topics on Mental Health America’s website.
We love sharing stories of the great work you and your volunteers and staff are doing in communities all around the world. This week we noticed this article in the Toronto Star highlighting the work of the Good2Talk Program, a partnership between ConnexOntario, Kids Help Phone, Ontario 211 and the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health.
The transition to post-secondary education can be a tough one for many youth. Stress comes from all sides, from overwhelming tasks at university, time management issues, social and romantic struggles, pressure to get good marks, financial struggles, being away from family and other support systems, and much more. All of these issues can be compounded for students who may additionally be living with diagnosable mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety.
Good2Talk aims to provide these students with a free and confidential place to talk, where they can be connected with professional counselling, information and referrals to mental health, addictions, and other human services, and receive general listening and suicide prevention services. Read more…
Back in August we blogged about how many crisis lines had been in the news recently speaking about suicide prevention and a spike in calls following Robin Williams’ death.
It turns out that for many helplines, there continues to be an increase in calls compared to what was seen before the actor’s suicide on August 11. This week Newsweek filed a report stating that several helplines still haven’t seen their call volume return to normal.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, whose number was widely shared and publicized after Williams’ death, saw calls to their network increase from around 3,500 per day before the incident to 7,400 the day after. Still two months later they’re seeing about 200 more calls per day than what is considered standard. Other helplines report similar increases.
You can read the full article here. Has this increase in calls lead to more suicides being prevented? We hope so, but as the article says it will be awhile before we’ll have any definitive answers on that. In the meantime we can hope that the raised awareness about the work of suicide hotlines, and the outpouring of support and publicizing these numbers, has indeed resulted in more people getting help.
People face many barriers on the path to receiving mental health care. Some of the most common are:
Properly recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness
Knowing where to go for help
Availability of services
Cost of accessing services
The stigma associated with accessing the service
Stigma continues to be one of the toughest barriers to take down.
Every day people are still made to feel ashamed for having a mental illness in spite of these being legitimate medical issues. We’d never dream of making someone with cancer feel as though they did something to “deserve it.” We couldn’t imagine looking at someone with diabetes and telling them that taking medication everyday to stay healthy wasn’t normal. I can’t comprehend telling someone with a broken leg, “If you put your mind to it you can walk without using crutches.” And yet these are the attitudes that those living with mental illness are still facing every day. Some people still fail to see the medical legitimacy in mental illness, causing many to be too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help.
Courtesy of SAMHSA below are some suggestions for messages to share the helps reduce stigma:
Support People with Mental Illness –
Society needs to understand that people with mental illness are not the “other,” they are our family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They deserve understanding and support.
Learn More about Prevention –
Behaviors and symptoms that signal the development of a behavioral health condition often manifest two to four years before a disorder is present. Effective prevention and early intervention strategies reduce the impact of mental illness.
Help is Available –
Treatment and mental health services are available and effective. Local crisis lines can be a wonderful source of emotional support and an access point for referrals to professional mental health treatment. If they are in crisis or suicidal, Americans can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Canadians can dial their local crisis centre if they are suicidal or in crisis. Local helplines, crisis lines, and distress centres, or 2-1-1 Information and Referral lines can also be excellent sources of support and referral.
Recovery is Possible –
Most people are able to successfully overcome or manage mental illness, including serious mental illness, with the right treatment and support. Spread the message of recovery.
So during mental illness awareness week, I hope that we’ll all recommit ourselves to educating others about mental illness, and continue to chip away at that stigma. Helplines are on the front lines of this fight. Every day, people who haven’t yet talked to their doctor or a loved one about their symptoms choose to reach out to a helpline. Being greeted with the understanding, knowledge, and validation that helpline workers provide plays a huge role in reassuring someone that it’s okay to seek help.
Since the news of actor and comedian Robin Williams’ suicide last week, the number of times that suicide helpline numbers have been shared via social media is astounding. The number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has undoubtedly been the most common but more localized numbers all over North America, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere have also been shared. This has spurred an increase in call volume to suicide prevention lines everywhere and we wanted to take a moment to share some of the news stories we’ve seen in the previous week.
A report on NBC Nightly News about depression in America featured interviews with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline staff in New York City
We’re sure this collection of articles barely skims the surface of the experiences of helplines everywhere in the past week. Was your helpline featured in local or national media recently? Please leave us a comment below or send an email to and we will add your article to the list above.
We commend the great work that all of you have been doing in the face of increased awareness and media attention. Out of this notable loss millions have been exposed to the realities of depression and suicide, and your staff and volunteers have admirably stepped up to the challenge and been there to greet people with warm and empathetic listening. Especially for those seeking help for the first time you’ve provided comfort and reassurance that they’re not alone.
Like so many others, we’re deeply saddened by the death of famous actor and comedian Robin Williams. His death, preliminarily declared a suicide by local authorities, comes as a shock to many who knew him as a comedic genius who brought laughter and joy to millions. While he openly discussed his drug and alcohol addictions and commitment to sobriety, he never publicly acknowledged any diagnosis of depression or other mental illness. His publicist and friends, however, have shared that he was “battling severe depression” and in Tuesday’s press conference authorities said he was seeking treatment for depression.
This tragic and untimely death of someone known and loved by millions has started a dialogue about mental illness and suicide. Since the announcement of Robin Williams’ death and the way he died, there has been an outpouring of support, discussion about mental illness and addictions, words of encouragement, and sharing of important suicide prevention resources and numbers to call for help, the most common being the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
To aid in this important discussion and opportunity for education, we’d like to share with you this blog by Hollis Easter, Hotline Coordinator for Reachout of St. Lawrence County, Inc. and suicide prevention educator.
And while we’re educating others about how to positively contribute to these discussions, let’s talk about that common saying: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” People who say this surely mean well and are only trying to help. Perhaps they think they’ve found that magic phrase that will speak to the person who they want to help and get that person to “snap out of it.” The truth is that most people who attempt suicide were not doing so as a permanent solution to a temporary problem; they wanted a permanent end to weeks, months, or years of personal torment and agony, often due to a medical condition. To say that it’s a temporary issue greatly minimalizes the deep pain and very real suffering they are going through, and likely have been going through for some time.
For more thoughts on why this turn of phrase should be avoided, check out another recent blog by Hollis titled
It is our hope that out of this loss, more people will be educated on the topics of suicide and mental illness. And while a flurry of media attention was placed on Mr. Williams’ death it’s important to note that on Monday an estimated 10 Canadians and 107 more Americans (108 including Mr. Williams) also died by suicide. Each of these deaths is tragic and leaves in its wake at least six people deeply devastated by their loss.
If you work in the suicide prevention industry: Thank you. Your patience, empathy, and compassion is a true gift and you’ve surely touched more lives than you may realize. Whether you speak directly with those contemplating suicide on a hotline, educate others on warning signs and intervention methods, or play one of the numerous other roles in the industry, the work you do saves lives.