The most common age group to complete suicide is not what you’d think

For obvious reasons, you cannot discuss mental health without discussing the tragedy that is suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we lose nearly 45,000 Americans a year to suicide, making it the 10th leading cause of death in this country.

My experience when it comes to suicide and age is this: Most folks, generally speaking, think that suicide is something that primarily strikes younger kids, particularly those in high school. I think there’s a few reasons for this. First is suicides portrayal in popular media, such as the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. This is just a personal hypothesis, but I think that those who are younger have broader communication skills – as a result, when a young person attempts or completes suicide, you are more likely to hear about it.

Interestingly, this assumption is not born out by the data. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, here is a breakdown of suicide completions by age:

Suicide By Age

As you can see, the most likely group to complete suicide is not teens or young adults; it’s actually those aged 45-54, followed by individuals who are 85 or older.

What is very frightening, however, are the overall trend lines. For far too many of these age groups, suicide completions are on the rise, and have been for some time. But no where is this trend more pronounced than among those who are between 15-24, which have seen a nearly 20% spike since 2012, a rate of increase far outpacing those in other demographic groups.

There are many potential reasons for this, including rising rates of depression and anxiety among teens in general, the use of smartphones ad cyberbullying that comes with social media.

Regardless of the reason, the trend line is obviously incredibly disturbing, but it remains vitally important that we deal with suicide for the public health crisis it is among all age groups.

 

Talk to the kids: Why you should tell your mental health story

This past Friday, as part of the real job, I had the pleasure of attending career day at one of my local elementary schools. During that time, I spoke with about 70 5th graders about what it’s like to be a State Representative, what I do, what my issues are, etc. In doing so, did what I always did: I spoke about mental health. I also made sure to be very clear – no euphemisms, and no sugar-coating. I spoke about having depression and anxiety disorders – what that means – and how I see a therapist as needed and take medication on a daily basis.

I make this part of an overall anti-stigma conversation. If I’m talking to younger kids, I broach the subject like this:

“Okay, let’s say you’re riding you’re bike, and you fall off and your arm is hanging at a funny angle.” (imagine me holding my arm at a funny angle) “What’s the first thing you are going to do?”

“Cry!”

“Yes, well, there’s that, but AFTER that.”

“Call 911!”

“Right! Exactly! You’ll call 911! And you would’t even think about it, right? You wouldn’t be embarrassed. Well, imagine having a mental illness….”

And I take it from there.

Sometimes, the kids ask me questions about this stuff. Other times, they delve into other areas of my career. In two of the three classes I had, the mental illness did come up. I was asked questions about it, and they were strikingly perceptive. Two that stick out in my mind:

  • Is suicide a mental illness?
  • Is it a mental illness if you do drugs?

And then a few kids opened up and discussed their own experiences – or that of their family – with mental illness. I know no one would be able to identify them from this, but I’d still rather not say what they said. Suffice to say – it struck me. It left a mark. And it reminded me of one of the many reasons I always discuss my mental illness, but particularly with kids: It can give them a little bit of hope. As many of you unquestionably know, one of mental illness’ greatest challenges is the way it warps your mind, makes you feel like you are alone. I want all of these kids to know that they aren’t alone.

This leads me back to my main point: Tell your story. Please understand I say this not to toot my own horn, but the smartest decision I have ever made in my life was to publicly discuss my own struggles with depression and anxiety. The experience has become astonishingly positive, and has helped me help other people. According to research, a contact-oriented strategy, one in which regular people share their own struggles with mental illness, can be invaluable towards fighting the stigma that keeps people locked in shame and out of treatment. Telling your story can provide incalculable hope to others who need it.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and perspective. Have you “gone public” with your struggles? What has your experience been like?

Put down the damn phone

The above picture was taken the other day. My wife and I were lucky enough to go see Haim (my favorite group!) at Radio City Music Hall. I’ve been reading this fascinating book lately: How To Break Up With Your Phoneby Catherine Price. It is, as the name says, all about learning to live your life with less reliance and obsession with your phone. To be clear, it isn’t about stopping phone use, but being more conscious of it’s use.

At one point, the book offered this: Take a look around, wherever you are. How many people are on their phones? I’d never really done it, so I thought, sure. I looked and saw this picture. All those little lights? Phones. And the picture doesn’t do it justice – there were plenty more. Granted, this was a relatively young audience and it was before the concern started, but I was still floored. Most of the folks on their phones seemed to be sitting with other people. Were we all really ignoring our friends and loved ones to stare at a shiny box?

I’ve written about it before, but it seems worth saying again: Put down your phone, if you can and if you don’t need to have it in your hand. I have to admit that I can’t believe I’m typing this, because I am notoriously bad with phone use, but it is something I am trying to change because I have to.

Why should you try to use your phone less? Well….

Price makes a couple of arguments that never quite occurred to me before as well: Every second with our phones is a moment robbed from doing something else, be it reading a book, taking in nature, hanging with family and friends, whatever. We take our phones out when we are bored, but it is in the moments that we pause for silent reflection that our brains have time to catch up with the world, to process and to develop new ways of thinking and insight into current problems.

Just to be clear, I don’t want to put my phone completely down, and I don’t plan on doing so. A better way to addressing when to pick your phone up and when to put it down, as far as I am concerned, is to make sure you know why you are using your phone. Are you doing it because you are bored? Do you want to get lost in the “scroll hole”? If so, maybe reconsider your use. But is there a conscious reason you want to use your phone? Looking for a fact that came up naturally in the course of a conversation with your friend? Want to show them that hilarious video? Those uses make sense to me, as they are part of an overall social interaction.

Again, I highly recommend How To Break Up With Your Phone. It’s been helpful to me already. It also encourages you to download an app to track your use, and I already did that, going with Moment.

Any thoughts you want to add to this? I’d love to hear them because I want to know if this prospective is one that’s shared. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

You know, you first hear about something like this, and you think it sounds like some sort of witchcraft nonsense. Magnets? To help depression?

Apparently. And it’s scientific based.

I write about this now because I had an appointment last week to explore this as a treatment possibility, and it is likely something I’m going to pursue. Here are the basics, per the Mayo Clinic:

During a TMS session, an electromagnetic coil is placed against your scalp near your forehead. The electromagnet painlessly delivers a magnetic pulse that stimulates nerve cells in the region of your brain involved in mood control and depression. And it may activate regions of the brain that have decreased activity in people with depression.

 Though the biology of why rTMS works isn’t completely understood, the stimulation appears to affect how this part of the brain is working, which in turn seems to ease depression symptoms and improve mood.

The most important question, of course, is this: Does it work? According to the evidence I have seen, yes, and that’s in tests involving a placebo. More research is needed, but this appears to work.

Thankfully, the side effects are very mild, per the Mayo clinic.

Side effects are generally mild to moderate and improve shortly after an individual session and decrease over time with additional sessions. They may include:

  • Headache

  • Scalp discomfort at the site of stimulation

  • Tingling, spasms or twitching of facial muscles

  • Light headedness

The biggest drawback, as best I can tell? The Doctor I spoke with told me its most effective to do it every single day, for 4-6 weeks. Session, I think, are 30-45 minutes. That’s a heck of a time commitment. That being said, sucks for me. It’s not the Doctor’s fault that this is the way the brain works, but it’s certainly a challenge with my schedule – going to Harrisburg and vacation means I won’t have that kind of time until August.

So, let me conclude by asking you for your experiences. Have any of you out there had TMS? Any experiences to share? I’d love to hear them!

Why “Redemption”

As I said in an entry the other day, I have a book coming out on June 5. It’s called Redemptionand it’s about depression, anxiety and saving the world. From the blurb:

Twenty young people wake aboard the spaceship Redemption with no memory how they got there.

Asher Maddox went to sleep a college dropout with clinical depression and anxiety. He wakes one hundred sixty years in the future to assume the role as captain aboard a spaceship he knows nothing about, with a crew as in the dark as he is.

Yanked from their everyday lives, the crew learns that Earth has been ravaged by the Spades virus – a deadly disease planted by aliens. They are tasked with obtaining the vaccine that will save humanity, while forced to hide from an unidentified, but highly advanced enemy.

Half a galaxy away from Earth, the crew sets out to complete the quest against impossible odds. As the enemy draws closer, they learn to run the ship despite their own flaws and rivalries. But they have another enemy . . . time. And it’s running out.

Now, here’s the question I keep getting: Why is it called Redemption?

First is the obvious: It’s the name of the ship. But it’s the name of the ship in the book for a reason.

Okay. So I wrote this thing not just to tell a science fiction story, but to tell a story of mental illness and give those who suffer hope. That’s sort of been my driving force, as an elected official and advocate for the mentally ill. And to be perfectly honest, that permeates just about every facet of the book. Including the name of the ship.

I named it Redemption because I think the idea of guilt – and seeking Redemption – was and is a big part of my depression. Guilt is a common symptom of depression. It’s something I certainly got to know in a very personal way. And I spent most of my life searching for redemption. I desperately wanted to be redeemed from some unknown sin. And I think that’s something that’s relatively common among those who have suffered.

The entire plot is, at it’s core, a redemption story, but not from a sin: From mental illness, from depression and from anxiety. It’s a redemption that I think we all strive for. In my experience, it’s almost not complete obtainable. Personally, I know I will never be completely free from mental illness. It will always be there, running in the background like an iPhone app. Recovery isn’t an end state, it’s a journey. And that’s a lesson I that I have tried to learn all my life, and a journey I try to highlight in Redemption.

As always, I’d love to have your thoughts. Is this an experience you understand? No? Either way, let us know in the comments!

“So, what are you going to do about it?”

One of the most impactful memories of my life occurred somewhere in the late summer of 2012. At the time I was +220 pounds, and I’m about six feet tall, so this was way up on where I should have been. I had just eaten a ton and had the misfortune of standing on the scale, thus depressing myself more than usual.

Anyway, I was in my living room with my wife, sitting on the couch. My wife had completed her own significant weight loss journey a few years prior, dropping fifty pounds, so I knew she would understand my sadness over my weight and where I was.

So, there I sat, complaining to my wife about my weight. She was silent, nodding, as I listed how upset I felt at what I had allowed myself to do to my body. And then, finally, she asked me this question:

“So, what are you going to do about it?”

That was the question that changed my life. I mean, there I was, complaining about how miserable I was, and I hadn’t done a damn thing to make it better. That wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right. How dare I complain when I hadn’t even tried to improve? So, right then and there, I decided to do something.

In terms of weight loss, I got lucky in that my body was more amenable to losing weight than that of many others. I downloaded a calorie tracker from Livestrong and used that, and exercise, to shift my mindset. Staying in my allocated calories became like a game. And, over time, it worked. I dropped thirty pounds and kept them off. I’m in better shape now than I was in my 20s.

Now, that being said, in writing my blog entry earlier this week, I remembered this question and how it applies to mental health as well. That entry dealt mainly with what I wish every “support person” knew about depression and mental illness, and one of the items mentioned was that none of us really want to be depressed, and we’d all love to get better.

Allow me to propose this question then, support people. It’s the question that you may want to ask when the depressed/anxious person that you love is in pain. You may want to ask it in the most non-judgmental, softest way possible. You also may want to ask it in a tough love sort of style, as my wife did to me:

“So, what are you going to do about it?”

Depression sucks. It does. And it’s taken me years and years to realize that it’s not a weakness and not my fault. Indeed, it’s not the fault of anyone who has it. But there is a big difference between not my fault and not my responsibility. All of us who suffer from some sort of mental illness have an obligation to do something about it. That may mean doing little things on our own time, like exercise or meditation. It may mean seeing a therapist or psychiatrist to discuss medication. But above all else, it means managing our disease.

Support people, here’s where you can come in. Ask us this question. If the depressed person you love truly wants to get better, they’ll need an answer. They’ll need to do something about it in order to get better or get through the rough patch they are in. It is a question I have to ask myself from time to time when things get bad. Sometimes the answer may be, “Wait a week and see if I’m this miserable still – if I am, I’m going to see my therapist.” Sometimes the answer may be, “I’m making a call now!” But above all else, there needs to be a real answer.

And, as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts! How do you ask your loved one or yourself this question. What has your experience with this been like? Let us know in the comments below!

Redemption: Coming out on June 5, and now available for pre-order

Alrighty. I mentioned this one in an earlier blog entry, but some fun personal news to report: Redemption, my young adult, science fiction novel that features a character with depression and anxiety, will be available on June 5. Even better, you can pre-order it for the Kindle here.

Summary below. And more later, or sure. For now, I’m gonna bask in the glow of this one. I worked really hard to make this happen. And I’m so excited that you will all get to read this story soon.

Twenty young people wake aboard the spaceship Redemption with no memory how they got there.

Asher Maddox went to sleep a college dropout with clinical depression and anxiety. He wakes one hundred sixty years in the future to assume the role as captain aboard a spaceship he knows nothing about, with a crew as in the dark as he is.

Yanked from their everyday lives, the crew learns that Earth has been ravaged by the Spades virus – a deadly disease planted by aliens. They are tasked with obtaining the vaccine that will save humanity, while forced to hide from an unidentified, but highly advanced enemy.

Half a galaxy away from Earth, the crew sets out to complete the quest against impossible odds. As the enemy draws closer, they learn to run the ship despite their own flaws and rivalries. But they have another enemy . . . time. And it’s running out.

5 things depressed people want their closest friends to know

I don’t know about the rest of you, though I suspect you feel the same way: I would not be alive today if not for the people who have supported me throughout my +16 year battle with depression and anxiety. The people have shifted, to some extent, be it my parents, girlfriends and then wife, but if not for the people who have been closest to me, I never would have survived. Full stop.

That being said, being a support person with mental illness is really, really, really hard, particularly if it is something you’ve never experienced. I once had a girlfriend whose parents denied the importance of mental illness and didn’t let her see a therapist when she really needed it – as a result, she didn’t know how to deal with my depression. It took a visit for her to my therapist to get her in a better place about how to deal with me.

Being a support person requires a lot of characteristics: Kindness, empathy and a whole lot of patience. And it also requires great communication from both people. So, related to that: Here are five things I think that support people should know.

1) We never expected you to fix us, because you can’t: Depression, anxiety and the like do not disappear just because you have a great wife or an awesome best friend. Heck, I don’t know if mental illness ever really does go away. I have never, ever expected my wife or friends to fix me. It doesn’t work that way, and while the advice from my closest friends can be critical, nothing replaces medication or professional therapy. We don’t expect you to fix us, and if that is the expectation that someone has on you, the relationship needs to be recalibrated. That’s not right and it’s not fair to you.

2) We’re really, really, really sorry: Sadly, guilt is a common symptom of depression, and on this one, we probably feel really, really bad. I cannot tell you how bad I have felt for the pain I have put my wife an others through – the worry. The stress. Having the same conversations over and over and over again. I feel so bad for the things that I have said and done. I’d do anything to take it back.

3) This isn’t intentional. We’d love to stop: I suppose I can’t say this for everyone, but I suspect it is true for the vast, vast majority of us–we wish we could stop. Almost no one wakes up in the morning and thinks, “Hells yeah, I can’t wait to be so miserable I can’t function so I can lean on my husband for the WHOLE DAY!” If I had a magic wand right now and could wave my depression away, I’d so so in a millisecond. No one wants to live like this. And we’d stop if we could. That’s important, because sometimes someone gets so miserable that you almost think want to feel that way. We don’t.

4) Please be patient: Depressed people can be angry, cranky, irritable, lazy and a whole lot of undesirable traits. Please give us a chance to pull ourselves out of the funk. After a time, most of us do. My feeling has always been this – no matter how ill a person may be on a a mental or emotional level, they should be moving towards trying to be better. When I have had moments of severe depression, my wife will say to me, “Okay, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to change your life or seek additional treatment in order to feel better?” If you have an answer to that question, you’re moving in the right direction. And to our support people: If there is an answer to that question, please give us the patience we need to get better.

5) We want you there, no matter what: It’s counter-intuitive, but there have been times I have thought to myself, “I know, darling wife, that I am telling you I’m fine. I’m not fine. Don’t leave me.” We get snappy and rude, and that’s wrong. Depression should never, ever be an excuse for poor treatment of others. But please know that, no matter what walls we put up, we want you there. Maybe not physically, maybe not at that exact moment, but yes, we want and need you with us. We want to know you are a call away.

What about you? What do you have to add? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

A presentation: Social Media & Depression

I had the pleasure of giving a presentation on Social Media & Depression for the Interlace Cultural y Desarollo Integral Mexicano de Lehigh Valley, a Mexican cultural group in my hometown. In the presentation, I talk about the frighteningly strong connections between Social Media & Depression.

The actual presentation is below. But here are the highlights:

  • As you can imagine, social media and teenagers and incredibly linked.
  • The networks that teenagers use are constantly changing, but at the moment, Snapchat and Instagram are the preferred networks.
  • The Hispanic community, as a whole, is overrepresentated on social media compared to other demographics.
  • Social media does make people depressed and social media use is correlated with higher levels of depression.
  • Social media depression can be combated by a change of mindset and by primarily remembering this: Social media is not the real world.

Finding the good in the bad

A sweet moment to share, and one that I hope will give you a little bit of inspiration if you are starting today in a difficult way.

Last week, I had very minor surgery on my hand. Long story short, I had my FOURTH freakin “Trigger Finger” and the third operation for such a problem.

What is a Trigger Finger, you ask? Remember the movie Rookie of the Year? That. In my fingers. It’s not even really all that painful, particularly compared to the surgery or the annoyance afterwards, but you do need to get it taken care of or your finger can get stuck. That’s a terrifying thought, so under the knife I went.

All went well and my hand is now just really sore. It also has stitches in it until Friday, and if you’ve had stitches before, you know what that means: Keep it dry. This, of course, is easier said than done.

One of the biggest problems for me? My puffy, puffy head. Untreated, my hair looks like a birds nest of curls and thorns, and requires copious amounts of gel to allow me to be presentable to the general public. And, with stitches in my hand, this presents a problem. I can one hand it, but the gel is really thick and then gets distributed in a big clump across one side of my hand, leaving me half-froed, half Gordon Gekko.

Gekko
Above: No.

So this is the part of the story where I scream for my five year old daughter, Ayla.

First post surgery day, I get my little girl.  “Ayla!  I neeeeeeed you.” She comes in and mushes her hands up in the gel, giggling and talking about how gross it is. She runs it through my hair, with me screaming the whole time. Then we look in the mirror and I go, “Good job! I don’t look like a train wreck anymore!” A minute or so with the comb later, and I am as ready for the public as I will ever be.

First day we do this, Ayla’s cracking up. Every day since then, she’s looked forward to it. And I realized something: I made a nice little memory for her. And I certainly made a good one for me.

Here’s the point: Every problem creates an opportunity for joy. Every bad experience can turn into something good. In large and small ways, try to figure out how you can turn each annoyance into a great memory.