Five horrifying statistics about suicide today

As I wrote earlier this week, we’re in a bad way when it comes to suicide as a nation. Suicide rates are rising – badly – and we need to do more to address this ongoing crisis.

We need to have a better understanding about where we are at when it comes to suicide as a country. To that end, here are five things you should know about suicide in America, 2019.

Suicide rates are at near fifty year highs. After hitting lows in the late 1990s, suicide rates began to climb again. They are now at rates which haven’t been seen in fifty years, and have increased 33% since they hit their lowest point in 1999. More than 47,000 Americans died by suicide in 2017, making suicide the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. The number is so high that it has actually begun to drag down the average life expectancy of Americans.

Gun ownership and suicide rates are directly related. This isn’t to say that gun owners are more likely to kill themselves, but it does show a direct relation between the means of suicide and actual suicides. One study revealed that suicide rates are higher in states with high rates of gun ownership, and lower in states with lower rates. Another showed that firearms account for roughly half of all suicide deaths.

For every completed suicide, there are twenty-five attempts.

Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to complete it. This is, in part, due to the method by which each gender typically attempts suicide. Women are more likely to attempt suicide by drug overdoses and other less violent means, giving rescuers a greater opportunity to reverse suicide attempts. Men are more likely to use firearms and asphyxiation related methods, which are typically harder to reverse.

Suicide rates are highest in the Mountain West states, and lowest in the Mid Atlantic. According to the CDC, the states with the highest suicide rates are Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico and Idaho. States with the lowest rates are New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland and California.

If you are looking for more information about suicide, I highly recommend you visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website. After all, the only way to stop a problem is to fully understand it.

Six Questions: An interview with Brad Barkley, Co-Author of Jars of Glass

Today’s interview is with Brad Barkley, co-author of Jars of Glass. From the summary:

Chloe and Shana want the same thing?for everything to go back to normal, the way it was before their mom went to the hospital. But both sisters know that things can never be the same. While Chloe wants their mom to come home so they can be a family again, Shana never wants to see their mother. And while Shana is trying to escape her problems by hiding under a new persona, Chloe is left trying to be the responsible one. Then things go from bad to worse, and the sisters are forced to band together and redefine what it means to be a family.

I really appreciate that this book takes a different look at what it’s like to have a family member with a mental illness. It also bounces between the two perspectives of the two sisters, which is different than usual.

1) Do you think that personal experience with mental illness is necessary to write a story like this?

I don’t think it’s necessary, no, as long as you are a writer who is willing to do your research and use your imagination. I mean, people write novels about the Civil War or living on Mars without having had any experience of that. But it might be a moot question. You know, one of the tricks that fortune tellers are taught is to say to customers, “You are related to someone in the military,” and you go away thinking, Wow, how did she know that? But the thing is, everyone, pretty much, is related to someone in the military. I think it’s the same thing here; pretty much everyone has had someone in their life with some kind of mental illness, either themselves or someone else. Sadly, mental illness casts a wide net.

2) This book is written from a slightly different perspective than most of the ones I’ve seen with mental illness – it deals with what it’s like to have a family member who struggles. What sort of point were you trying to drive home by creating a world like this?

In my mind, novels are not written to “drive home a point,” but rather to explore the lives of characters. Or to put it another way, not to provide answers but to ask interesting questions. The question here might be, “How does it affect your growing up if your parent is mentally ill?” Or, “How does it affect relationships with the people around you?” And not just in general, but specifically for these two girls. The “point” of any novel, I think, is to let us inside other people and their lives, to create empathy and understanding for other people.

3) What sort of feedback did you get from people who had been through similar situations?

We had letters and emails from teens saying that the book really helped them. But they don’t get too into the specifics of that. They feel a real closeness for the book, but the people who wrote that book are still strangers, so they aren’t going to go into too much detail. But it is gratifying to know that someone in a similar situation has felt like they were understood or that they had a voice because this book spoke for them.

4) The book goes back and forth between the perspective of two sisters; that obviously provides two different perspectives. What made you select these two specific perspectives from the point of view of the two sisters?

I wrote this with my co-author, so I really only had a hand in selecting the perspective of the older sister (the “even” chapters in the book, in Shana’s voice). Again, I think we wanted to explore a relationship between two siblings (both of us have a sibling), who are in many ways very different from each other, yet still love each other. As you write, characters kind of insist upon who they are, and my job is mostly to type and stay out of the way.

5) As you were writing from two perspectives, were there every moments where you thought, “Oh, damn, that’s not something that character X would say, that’s what Y would say”? In other words, was it confusing to write two different emotions, dialogue patterns, personalities, etc?

Well, that is part of the difficulty or fun of writing with a co-author. Of course, I “invented” one sister, and my co-author “invented” the other one, but I would have to constantly write her character into my scenes, and vice-versa. So we came up with one rule: we each have full veto power over our own character. In other words, I could say to Heather, “Nah, Shana would never say that,” or Heather could say to me “Chloe would never do that,” and then we would figure it out. But, over the course of three books, we only had to invoke that rule twice that I recall, so we were pretty intuitive about all the characters in the book and who they were.

6) Anything that you would change about this book, now that it has been years since publication?

It never occurs to me to think of books that way, or even short stories. I’m sure I could read through with a pen in my hand and a few things would make me cringe, and I would start marking this or that change. But a book is a finished work. It is complete in itself, and it’s also kind of a time capsule of where you were in life when you wrote it, and who you were, and all the ways you have moved on. Even if you could change it, why would you want to?

Suicide rates are rising in girls – with the highest rise among ages 10-14

I guess I should warn you ahead of time, but this entry has some absolutely brutal statistics. For those who may be disturbed by such content, please note that the following blog entry will review information on suicide, including methods.

A new study which appeared in JAMA examined whether or not the gap between suicide in boys and girls was narrowing. Broadly speaking, while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to complete it. This is for a variety of reasons, but the most obvious one is that men typically use more violent means to commit suicide, and are thus less likely to be saved by medical professionals.

The results of the JAMA study were disturbing. It examined 85,051 suicides of children and teenagers, ages 10-19, between 1975 and 2016. The most painful result:

Following a downward trend until 2007, suicide rates for female youth showed the largest significant percentage increase compared with male youth (12.7% vs 7.1% for individuals aged 10-14 years

From the conclusion of the study:

A significant reduction in the historically large gap in youth suicide rates between male and female individuals underscores the importance of interventions that consider unique differences by sex. Future research examining sex-specific factors associated with youth suicide is warranted.

Further examination of the data reveals that the rate at which women were using hanging and suffocation for suicide were approaching the same rates as men. In other words, girls are starting to use more lethal means to kill themselves, a highly disturbing trend, and one that will lead to additional deaths.

A key and tragic consideration to keep in mind when it comes to suicides is that, for every death by suicide, there are an estimated 25 attempts. A rise in use of more lethal means of suicides means that more suicide attempts will result in death.

To put the above statistic another way: If every suicide attempt led to a death, we’d lose approximately 1,175,000 people every year.

Unfortunately, none of this information is all that surprising, though it is deeply disturbing to know that more 10 year olds are killing themselves at accelerating rates. A study which came out last months showed that the number of children going to the emergency room doubled between 2007-2015. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death of 15-34 year olds in America, and rates of mental illness are rising among young adults faster than any other age group.

Clearly, our young people are under more pressure than ever before, and clearly, we are failing them if we don’t do a better of job of addressing this crisis.

Back to the study above. One of the things I’d like to focus on – at least when it comes to trying to reduce this gap – is means reduction. If young girls are starting to use more violent means for suicide, we must do a better job of determining why, and what, if anything, we can do about it. There are public policy options when it comes to guns, but I’m not sure what you can do, if anything, when it comes to suffocation or hanging.

We have to do something. The only way to guarantee failure is not try anything.

Six Questions: An interview with Laura Silverman, Author of You Asked for Perfect

Today’s interview is with Laura Silverman, who wrote You Asked For Perfect, the story of a super smart, LGBT teenager who is trying to learn to navigate his life in a high pressure world. From the summary:

Senior Ariel Stone is the perfect college applicant: first chair violinist, dedicated volunteer, active synagogue congregant, and expected valedictorian. And he works hard―really hard―to make his success look effortless. A failed calculus quiz is not part of his plan. Not when he’s number one. Not when his peers can smell weakness like a freshman’s body spray.

Ariel throws himself into studying. His friends will understand if he skips a few plans, and he can sleep when he graduates. But as his grade continues to slide, Ariel realizes he needs help and reluctantly enlists a tutor, his classmate Amir. The two have never gotten along, but Ariel has no other options.

Ariel discovers he may not like calculus, but he does like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit.

1) Do you think that experiencing mental illness is a requirement for any author who deals with this topic?
I don’t think it’s a requirement, but I do think if a writer is ever writing outside of their own personal experience, it should be done with a great amount of both research and empathy.
2) Your book obviously deals with a gay teenager, a group which faces enormous mental health pressures. Can you talk a little about writing a character with mental health challenges from that perspective?
Ariel is a bisexual teen, but his anxiety in the book is related to academic pressure not his sexuality. I wanted to write a book about the extreme academic pressure teens deal with today, as I believe it’s something so many teens experience but is rarely written about.
3) As I type this questions, your book is number one in “Teen & Young Adult Jewish Fiction.” What has your experience been like in terms of the interaction between religion and mental health?
I grew up in a very supportive Jewish community and wanted to reflect that in this novel. Ariel’s Jewish community is a place of comfort and warmth for him. Although services certainly take up more time in his busy schedule, adding additional stress, overall his Jewish community is an incredibly supportive aspect of his life. And his rabbi is actually one of the people who helps him the most throughout the book.
4) Your book addresses many of the societal pressures which teenagers face today. What do you think any of us can do to try to tamp down those pressures?
I think we need to send the message that grades do not define you. There’s so much pressure to excel in school and get into top universities, but while education is important, it should be about the learning experience not about top SAT scores and AP credits.
5) Many of the reviews of You Asked For Perfect note that you seem to perfectly capture what it’s like to be a teenager in a high pressure environment. How did you do that??
I went to one of those high schools! Although my experience wasn’t as intense as my protagonist Ariel, I experienced the exhaustion of taking multiple AP classes, taking extra electives, the pressure to excel, the fear of scoring a low grade. I also did a lot of research for the book. I talked to high achieving students about their experiences and watched documentaries and read books.
6) If you could do it again – anything you’d do differently?
With the book? I wouldn’t change a thing!

How mental health is – and isn’t – figuring into the 2020 Presidential race (yet)

One of the great thrills of my political career was when I had the opportunity to meet Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. This was in 2016, about two and a half weeks before the November election, when he was Senator Clinton’s running mate. I spoke at the rally and got to shake his hand, but in the brief time we had together, I told him how much I appreciated their campaign releasing a mental health plan, as that was an issue important to me. He said thanks and agreed – he thought it was necessary.

My own political experience has made me realize that mental health is a deeply salient issue in politics – and one which can have a very serious political impact, and one which is often underestimated. I’ve used these statistics before and I will say them again: 1 in 5 Americans actively suffer from some sort of mental illness, and one in two will over the course of a lifetime. This means that virtually everyone in this country knows someone – or is someone – who suffers. For those reasons, and many more, I wish that more people spoke about mental health. We need to do a better job of addressing this issue, particularly given the way rates of mental illness are rising.

As you may know, there are now north of twenty Democrats running for the Democratic nomination for President. These candidates have a wide, wide range of plans and proposals for what they would do if they occupied the highest office in the land. But, as politics is my life, I got to thinking: Of the candidates, who has any sort of mental health plans, and who doesn’t? The answers of the major candidates:

No specific mental health plan

Actually has a specific mental health plan:

  • Former Congressman John Delaney: Hey, we found one! Among the highlights are enforcing mental health parity, expand access to at-risk populations and increasing reimbursement rates.
  • Andrew Yang: Yang specifically calls for better integration of physical and mental health, anti-stigma campaigns and an increase in access to mental health resources.

A word of caution: It’s still early. Really, really early. As in the first Presidential primary is about seven months away, and the Presidential election itself is slightly less than seventeen months away. The Clinton/Kaine mental health plan which I referred to above didn’t come out until October 2016, so there’s plenty of time left. It’s also worth noting that mental health care is likely in many of these candidate’s healthcare pages, not it’s own subheading – a mistaken, in my opinion.

Still. Kind of a bummer. I was hoping that more elected officials would be willing to specifically highlight mental health.

More in the future, I hope!

 

Six Questions: An interview with Mindy McGinnis, author of Heroine

Another day, another author interview! This one is with Mindy McGinnis, author of Heroine, a YA book which deals with a main character who becomes addicted to opioids. Here’s the summary:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month! A captivating and powerful exploration of the opioid crisis—the deadliest drug epidemic in American history—through the eyes of a college-bound softball star. Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a visceral and necessary novel about addiction, family, friendship, and hope.

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Again, I love these interviews and the insight they provide. I wrote Redemption to help people understand mental health challenges from a personal perspective – and it seems like that’s what Heroine does for addiction.

Anyway, here’s the interview.

1) Do you think that personal experience with mental illness or addiction is necessary to write a book which deals with mental health or addiction?

I think a measure of it is useful, of course. And – if we’re being honest – pretty much all of is have that, either in our own experience or through loved ones. Having never been an addict myself (to substances, anyway), I wanted to be sure that I knew what I was talking about when I wrote this book. Research involved reading thousands upon thousands of pages about addiction, but also talking to counselors and addicts. The best compliments I’ve had for HEROINE is when a recovered addict tells me I got it right.

2) It’s clear that society is facing a massive addiction crisis, particularly when it comes to heroin. How much was your book inspired by that ongoing issue?

I got the idea for writing HEROINE after visiting a school district that had been particularly hard hit by the opioid crisis in southern Ohio. That, combined with my own experiences as a school librarian for fourteen years (and an intense love of softball + respect for female athletes) were the two sticks that struck together to create the spark for the story.

3) More often then not, when we’re dealing with books about young adult and sports, it’s written as a male character; yours obviously has a female lead. Why do you think that is?

I was a YA librarian for 14 years in a public school system. I could count on one hand books that featured female athletes, and needed both hands to count off male authors who only wrote about male athletes. As a former high school athlete who was also a reader, I had to wonder – why the disparity? There’s no real reason. So I set out to plug that hole.

4) I noticed that a few of the reviews noted that the book made readers uncomfortable because of the subject matter. Is that level of discomfort a basic requirement when dealing with a topic this heavy?

It depends entirely on the reader. I’ve written books where people get set on fire, or nine year olds are shooting someone to protect their water source. I don’t pull punches and I don’t shy from rough topics. I show teens using drugs – and liking it – in this book. I’m sure it will make some people uncomfortable. That’s reality. It’s not pretty or nice or kind or comfortable.

5) Your book comes with a trigger warning about how has “realistic descriptions” of opioid use, and there has been a good amount of debate over the subject of trigger warnings in recent years. I’d love to hear your thoughts about why you included one and what your thoughts are on the subject generally.

I’ve never used trigger warnings in any of my books, regardless of the fact they all do feature pretty intense content. For this one, I chose to include a trigger warning because of the honest depictions of drug use. It’s not an after school special with people doing drugs and immediately hating themselves or puking. They do drugs and love how it makes them feel. I didn’t want a recovered addict to read a realistic description of the high of heroin, and miss it enough to relapse.

6) If you could do it again – anything you’d do differently with the book?

Too early to say. I can point to things in my older releases that I would do differently because I have some distance and time has passed since I wrote them. HEROINE is still too fresh to have that perspective.

Six Questions: An interview with Spencer Hyde, Author of Waiting for Fritz

Today’s interview is with Spencer Hyde, author of Waiting for Fritzwhich deals with much heavier topics than I usually cover in these interviews:

Addies loves nothing more than curling up on the couch with her dog, Duck, and watching The Great British Baking Show with her mom. It’s one of the few things that can help her relax when her OCD kicks into overdrive. She counts everything. All the time. She can’t stop. Rituals and rhythms. It’s exhausting.

When Fitz was diagnosed with schizophrenia, he named the voices in his head after famous country singers. The adolescent psychiatric ward at Seattle Regional Hospital isn’t exactly the ideal place to meet your soul mate, but when Addie meets Fitz, they immediately connect over their shared love of words, appreciate each other’s quick wit, and wish they could both make more sense of their lives.

Fitz is haunted by the voices in his head and often doesn’t know what is real. But he feels if he can convince Addie to help him escape the psych ward and get to San Juan Island, everything will be okay. If not, he risks falling into a downward spiral that may keep him in the hospital indefinitely.

Waiting for Fitz is a story about life and love, forgiveness and courage, and learning what is truly worth waiting for.

1) Do you think that personal experience with mental illness is necessary to write an authentic book on the subject?
I don’t think so. On this one, I’ll refer you to two great writers. Stella Duff said, “We can write who we are not and do it well if we write with passion, strength–and care. We’re bound to get it wrong sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If we want our writing to reflect the truth, then our characters and their experiences must be as diverse as the world in which we live.” And Hari Kunzru said, “Attempting to think one’s way into other subjectivities, other experiences, is an act of ethical urgency.” I, of course, agree with both of these statements. Writing fiction is about imagining a world and trying to find your way into it through characters that teach you empathy along the way. If I choose characters like me, how will I learn? I hope others write books about characters with OCD, even if they’ve never experienced it. That way, we can build bridges to better understanding and community.
2) The cover of your book is gorgeous! What inspired it?
Thank you! I’ll make sure the graphic designer gets word. She did an amazing job. The cover was inspired by the talk of birds in the novel, and the auditory hallucinations of one of the main characters: Fitz.
3) Most YA books which deal with mental illness focus on topics like addiction, depression or anxiety. You went much “heavier” in terms of dealing with OCD and schizophrenia. Were you concerned that the topic would be too stigmatized or heavy for people to want to read it?
I had a real fear of depicting schizophrenia for the same reasons stated above. I wrote from a place of curiosity and sensitivity, attempting to understand a disorder that is not a far cry from severe OCD in terms of mental fatigue, incessant voices (or compulsions), and subservience to that wet machine in the black box of our skull–and we heed those demands almost without question. It’s fascinating, really, how much power one thought can have. I have heard that for some it was accurate, for others it is far from accurate, and I appreciate their frustrations. That is why I opened the novel with an author’s note about the idiosyncratic nature of mental illness. I’m sure I got things wrong, but I did so from a place of humility and curiosity. Fitz taught me a lot, and I’m a better writer and person because I got to know him. As for the OCD, well, it does get a bit exhausting. I’ve heard numerous people relay how exhausting the main character, Addie, can be. And that was the goal–because mental illness IS exhausting. It is unrelenting. Feeling even a modicum of that kind of overtaxed brain will help broaden the conversation about what mental health actually means, and how we can and should approach the topic with more charity.
4) Your book also touches on more than just the mental illness experienced by people, but the impact it has on their families. What sort of lesson, if any, were you trying to impart on those who do suffer from mental illness and know that their families suffer with them?
It’s important to remember the caretakers in our lives–those who give up so much to help, even when it seems no amount of added support will do any good. It was not to shame those with mental illness, but to show that it’s okay to be vulnerable with those closest to you. In fact, it’s necessary. Gratitude is an offering that should be extended whenever you can escape the world of your own mind. It helps to come up for air and remind those around you that, even though you feel you’re sinking, you still see them at the boat with a lifering and you appreciate their support. That’s one reason I love teaching Stephen Crane’s short story, “The Open Boat” to my students. I won’t offer a synopsis here for purposes of space, but at one point the main character feels that he has gone through a terrifying situation all alone, narrowly surviving a shark attack, only to find out the next morning that one of his boat-mates was awake the entire time. That next morning, he says some variation of, “I wish I’d known you were awake.” Would it change the fact that a shark circled the boat and almost killed them all? No. But it would make that one person feel better knowing, at the very least, he wasn’t alone. And that’s what I want people to remember, whether they suffer from mental illness or not. You don’t have to go through this alone. Get help. Reach out. You are loved. You are needed. We are in that boat with you, and we are awake.
5) What sort of feedback did you get from people who had endured similar experiences to your main characters?
I think I answered part of this earlier, but the feedback has been very positive overall. I’ve had a few upset that my depiction of mental illness didn’t match up with their experience, but I knew that would happen. How could it not? Mental illness is such an individual thing that it’s impossible to get right. I just hope it came close. I’m speaking of OCD here as well. I have personal experience with OCD, but I’m sure for some it doesn’t ring true. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to. This is an imaginative art, and at the end of the day some things won’t connect. But I sure hope people know I wrote from a place of humility and charity, hoping to create a story that is uplifting in the face of the odds.
6) Anything you would change about the final product?
So much! I think the quote is attributed to da Vinci, but it’s true no matter who said it: A work is never finished, only abandoned. I think my characters might smile too much at times. At other times, I’d like to have Fitz go through more of his emotions on the page, drawn out, and detailed. However, I push back on that because of the tone of the book. I had to do the same thing with Addie–I took out a lot of the researched material on the illnesses because the scenes felt overburdened. I wanted this book to be accessible, but not just to those with mental illness. I allowed Addie to wander pretty deep into her obsessions, but I felt I couldn’t do that with all the characters in this one novel. That’s the good news though, right? There’s more to come!

Report: Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why tied to rise in suicides

13 Reasons Why started as a book and then made it’s way to a Netflix series. From the summary:

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

The series on Netflix generated no shortage of controversy when it graphically depicted the suicide of Hannah. At the time, there was concern that the depiction of suicide may encourage other vulnerable young adults to do the same.

A new report suggests those fears were well founded.

The brutal findings, courtesy of a study conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

The Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month (April 2017) following the shows release, after accounting for ongoing trends in suicide rates, according to a study published today in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry…The number of deaths by suicide recorded in April 2017 was greater than the number seen in any single month during the five-year period examined by the researchers.

The study notes that suicide rates spiked during the promotion for 13 Reasons Why and in the aftermath of its immediate release, and spiked particularly among young males. Homicide rates – which are influenced by similar cultural and sociological factors – did not show a spike during the same time.

As this Vox article notes, this increase is likely tied to the concept of suicide contagion – the idea that one suicide will encourage more. At least one suicide expert advised Netflix not to release the show:

His fears sprang from the problem of suicide contagion, which is what it’s called when media attention focused on one prominent suicide leads other people who are struggling with suicidal ideation to try to kill themselves. It’s a danger that young people are especially vulnerable to.

To be fair, there are certain concerns with the conclusion of this study. This includes the it’s design (which makes it impossible to rule out other sources) and the fact that boys drove the rise in suicide (girls would have been more expected, given the fact that the lead character is a girl).

This tragic result reiterates an important point: The media and entertainment industries have a moral obligation to be careful with how they discuss and depict suicide.  ReportingOnSuicde.org gives some helpful advice. These include:

  • Avoid glamorizing the death, sensational headlines and showing pictures of grieving and weeping families.
  • Describing the suicide as sudden or “without warning.”
  • Treating suicide as any other crime.
  • Showing or describing the method of death in graphic detail.
  • Using appropriate language, including “died by suicide,” “completed” or “killed himself” INSTEAD of “successful/unsuccessful.”

I never watched 13 Reasons Why, but from what I have read, the show’s depiction of Hannah’s suicide violates all of these rules.

Between the research already done and the study which came out last week, it’s clear that 13 Reasons Why is contributing to an ongoing massive spike in suicide rates – and one that is particularly acute among young adults.

The show should be pulled off the air.

The positives of depression

Yeah, I get that the title of this entry makes no sense at first blush. But I mean what I’m about to say: There’s a lot of positives about having depression. The trick, of course, is finding it.

I started thinking about this concept after my wife sent me an op-ed by Kevin Dean, a nonprofit officer in Memphis, who discussed his own experience with depression. One of the things he mentioned is the concept of “depressive realism,” which is the idea that those with depression are better at viewing others and make decisions and observations which are more realistic than those without it.

The evidence for depressive realism is conflicting. But what isn’t up for debate is the concept that depression can make a positive difference on someone’s life.

How? Well, a few thoughts, garnered from my own experience and that of others who have shared there’s.

First – a concept I’ve spoken about regularly – is the idea that depression can make you more resilient. Resilience, at least as I am describing it here, is the idea that having depression makes you realize that you can survive anything. I mean, obviously, having depression sucks. It sucks away joy, interferes with your social relationships and your perception of the entire world. At the same time, people who live and thrive with depression – and there are many of us – have come to the inescapable conclusion that you CAN live and thrive with this disease. If you can survive your own mind working against you, you can survive anything. That, in and of itself, can teach resilience.

Second – depression can teach empathy stronger than many other experiences. If you have depression, you know how painful that experience can be. That, in turn, makes you more sympathetic to the rest of those who suffer. From a HealthTalk article on the subject:

Sophie said in the past it was hard to know what to do when friends were having problems, but depression has made her “more empathic towards people who are going through it as well.” Jeremy says he has learned to put himself “in other people’s shoes.” Several people described becoming less likely to “judge those who have mental illness” because they realize that “no one is exempt” from depression and everyone is deserving of compassion.

Along the same lines, it also makes you more compassionate. You know what you look for if you are depressed: People who are kind. Good listeners. Understanding. As a end result, you know that these are the qualities you need to possess and demonstrate, because you want to show others the same positive attributes which have been showed to you.

I’d also make the argument that depression has forced me to have a more productive life. It was in high school and college that I realized I could stave depression off, to an extent, but sublimating it. My depression has been kept at bay with a rigid schedule that keeps me busy. Productivity forces the mind to stay active and not ruminate. I’ve become a gym nut and have gone there 4-6 times a week for the past six years, because keeping up my physical health keeps me in better mental and emotional condition.

This schedule has enabled me to do things I would never have been able to do otherwise: Hold public office, write books, etc. Are there downsides to this? Yes. I feel like I am constantly being chased. But depression and mental illness has made me be a more successful person. It’s driven me. I can’t deny this positive effect.

Are there more? Heck yeah, and if you’ve got more to share, I’d love to hear from you below.

The chief reason I’m writing this entry is this: There’s positives and joy to everything, even depression. If you can find it, and recognize the good, you can let go of a lot of the bitterness and sadness that comes with depression. Find the positive. Find the good. You’ll be happier.

Six Questions: Interview with Amelinda Berube, author of The Dark Beneath the Ice

As you likely know from reading this blog, I’m an author and wrote Redemption, a sci-fi, young adult, mental health book. I remain fascinated by the connection between literature and mental health, with a special emphasis on books which appeal to young adults.

To that end, I’ve got a slew of Six Question interviews coming. I’m going to start with a haunting, atmospheric book: The Dark Beneath The Ice, by Amelinda Berube. If you want an e-book, it’s only $2.99 until the end of April!

From the summary:

Black Swan meets Paranormal Activity in this compelling ghost story about a former dancer whose grip on reality slips when she begins to think a dark entity is stalking her.

Something is wrong with Marianne.

It’s not just that her parents have finally split up. Or that life hasn’t been the same since she quit dancing. Or even that her mother has checked herself into the hospital.

She’s losing time. Doing things she would never do. And objects around her seem to break whenever she comes close. Something is after her. And the only one who seems to believe her is the daughter of a local psychic.

But their first attempt at an exorcism calls down the full force of the thing’s rage. It demands Marianne give back what she stole. Whatever is haunting her, it wants everything she has—everything it’s convinced she stole. Marianne must uncover the truth that lies beneath it all before the nightmare can take what it thinks it’s owed, leaving Marianne trapped in the darkness of the other side.

And here are six questions for Amelinda!

1) Do you think personal experience with mental illness – either yourself or someone close to you – is required to write an authentic book on the subject, even fiction?

I’d say personal experience isn’t necessarily required, but your job is a lot harder and riskier without it, and you have to approach it with the appropriate care, simply because you don’t know what you don’t know.

I drew on a lot of my own anxieties in writing The Dark Beneath the Ice, especially after going on medication, which made some of the spirals I’d been stuck in really obvious in retrospect. But when it came to hallucinations or being unable to distinguish between nightmare and reality – or the treatment of those symptoms, for that matter – I was in deeper water than I’d ever navigated myself, and I worried that I might unwittingly fall into inaccurate and damaging clichés. Input from mental health professionals and a sensitivity reader was really crucial.

2) Your book obviously mixes the supernatural with mental illness. Was it a challenge to blend the two?

On one hand, the two of them do seem like a natural fit. Mental illness was historically mistaken for supernatural influence, after all, especially when it comes to possession, which was central to The Dark Beneath the Ice. And faced with supernatural events, I think a lot of us in modern North America would probably reach for a psychological explanation – especially if you’re already prone to doubting yourself.

But there are also potential pitfalls in mixing the two together, as summed up neatly in an excellent article I was lucky enough to come across. Basically, the danger is in taking one side or the other: either it’s the mental illness that’s real, so the supernatural is all in your character’s head, or it’s the supernatural that’s real, so your character was never really mentally ill. It ends up being dismissive of mental illness either way.

So my objective, in putting mental illness and the supernatural together, was to walk the line between them without toppling over on either side. Done properly, fantasy and real-world elements can reinforce each other (think Pan’s Labyrinth, where the fantasy lends the war story an urgent, terrifyingly emotional edge and the war story grounds the fantasy in reality). That’s the effect I was hoping to achieve here.

3) Many of the reviews of your book referred to the haunting atmosphere. When you’re writing, can you talk a little about how atmosphere effects the overall story when it comes to mental illness?

Atmosphere is a huge part of what makes a spooky book, as far as I’m concerned, because it’s all about how the book makes you feel. As a reader, you ought to be feeling a creeping dread of what’s to come well before anything scary actually happens. Atmosphere is what accomplishes that.

In this story, I think that creepy feeling – the weight of fear and doubt and dread – was also really appropriate to the headspace our heroine was in, and her headspace is ultimately what the book is all about. If I got the atmosphere right, if I got the feeling of my character’s thoughts right, maybe it might give a reader some insight into, empathy for, or company in the experience of mental illness, whether that’s exhausting hamster-wheel thought spirals or frightening dissociative experiences.

4) One of the things I’ve noticed is that there aren’t a ton of books which combine mental illness and supernatural elements – why do you think that is?

That’s an interesting observation, especially because the combination seems alive and well on screen (Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House, for example). Maybe there’s more awareness of mental illness and therefore more hesitation to mix it with the supernatural, for fear of trivializing it? Or maybe the obvious outcomes of the combination (it’s “really” mental illness or it’s “really” supernatural) feel too clichéd or “done” by this point?

5) When writing this books mental illness elements, were you thinking of how the book would be perceived by those with mental illness? Did that specific factor play a role in your writing?

Yes, absolutely; that’s something I worried a lot about. The importance of representation and the effect of bad representation is, fortunately, a huge discussion in young adult fiction right now. It was also obvious, looking back on my own peer group as a teenager, that a lot of my audience would be dealing with mental health crises of their own. So I was very conscious of the need to approach the topic with care and respect, to examine the messages I was sending, and to seek lots of feedback.

I’ve come across a few reviews from readers who said that the book’s depiction of mental illness really spoke to them, and that means the world to me. I worked so hard to make sure the book wouldn’t hurt people that it never really occurred to me to consider it might actually connect with some of them. Letting yourself be seen in a piece of writing is pretty terrifying, but as it turns out, it’s incredibly rewarding too.

6) If you could do it again, anything you’d do differently in this story?

This book went through so many revisions that by the time I was going through the final galleys, I had a surprising, deep-down certainty that I’d turned the idea into the very best book I could. So, weirdly enough, I think I’m satisfied with it? I’m always willing to consider criticism, but I feel like the book did what I wanted to, and I learned a lot from writing it – both in general and about myself. I can’t ask for much more than that!