Friday, February 23, 2018

Jayalaskhmi Red

Jayalakshmi Reddy, who's stage name was Fatafat Jayalakshmi (also Phataphat Jayalaxmi) (1958–1980), was a popular Indian actress in Tamil and Telugu cinema. In Malayalam movies she was known as Supriya. She acted about 66 movies in TamilTeluguMalayalam and Kannada.
It has been suggested that Reddy suffered from extreme depression following a failed romantic relationship. On February 23, 1980, she was at the prime of her career when she died by suicide. Jayalaskhmi Reddy was twenty two years old when she died.

Jayalaskhmi Reddy
1980 - February 23, 1980

Thursday, February 22, 2018

This is Why I Write

The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, 
but what we are unable to say.

We must speak up and speak out about mental illness and suicide. We must combat shame. We must end the stigma.

Silence contributes to suffering and silence contributes to loss of life. 

In the United States alone, 40,000 lives a year are lost to suicide. It is estimated that there are 240,000 survivors of suicide loss who are left behind to deal with profound grief. 

None of us are alone. 

Speaking up helps us to remember. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

She Is the Change She Wishes to See In the World

Tensie J. Taylor is a red carpet host for the online Rich Girl Network TV. As a host, she has interviewed numerous celebrities at everything from galas to film festivals. Tensie has attended the Oscars, People’s Choice Awards, BET’s Celebration of Gospel, NAACP Image Awards, Grammys, and the BET Awards. Still, some would say that Tensie's success in the arena of internet media is the least of her accomplishments.

Tensie holds a Masters of Education from the University of Southern California. Currently, she serves as the Assistant Director of the USC Black Alumni Association. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the We Are Ohana Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to providing resources and help to children in foster care in Los Angeles. 

As someone whose achievements are admired, one would assume that this mirrors her experiences as a child. However that wasn't the case. In fact, Tensie suffered from severe bullying during her youth.

On a very personal level, I understand the courage required of someone in order for them to publicly discuss having been bullied. Being bullied can lead to humiliation and shame. It takes a brave person to confront these feelings and share them in order to help others.

It is because of Tensie Taylor's bravery that I was honored to speak to her, and I am equally honored to share her words with you now.

Tensie Taylor is from Louisburg, North Carolina. In addition to her professional work, volunteer efforts, and public speaking, she has many hobbies.  She enjoys reading and writing. She is also a musician and enjoys singing, playing the piano, and trumpet. Tensie's love for music crosses over to her professional life. She has sung and played piano at numerous concerts and performances both in the United States and internationally.

One of the most admirable things about Tensie however, is her proactive advocacy on behalf of others like herself who have experienced bullying. She has written a book that chronicles what happened to her as a child. She is a public speaker and she provides unflagging support to others whose lives have been impacted by bullying.

Tensie's autobiography, Bullied, From Terror to Triumph shares her inspirational story of transforming tremendous pain into the motivation to be successful. In the book she tells the story of the near daily bullying she experienced from kindergarten all the way through to her high school years. 

Tensie endured all forms of bullying including physical, verbal, and social. She recounts the difficulty of making friends, being called names, and having things thrown at her. She says she often felt alone and scared. There were times when she did not want go to school so she would pretend to not feel well. 

"There were many times throughout my life where I felt hopeless as a result of being bullied. High school was rough because there were cliques and I wanted to fit in. I was in Honors and AP classes and that helped deter some of the bullying, but when I had to go to lunch, students who were not in these types of classes continued to make fun of me. In one instance, a student threw food at me outside the cafeteria, and in another, a student threw chips at me and then told me to eat them." 

Because of these painful experiences, Tensie says that she understands the critical need to address the impact that bullying has on a person. When she was sixteen years old, she herself contemplated suicide.

"I felt so low and depressed that I said, 'Why continue with life? No one likes me, I am vilified every day, I don’t have any friends. What is the point of living?'”

However, she was able to focus on how much pain her family would go through if she ended her life. She knew that if she died by suicide, the lives of those who bullied her might go on as usual, while those who loved her would go through tremendous pain. Tensie reminded herself that she had a lot to live for and she began to work on building her own sense of self worth and confidence.

"The words from my bullies still hurt, but I never wanted to find myself in such a low place again."

Now, Tensie is thankful that she did not follow through on her thoughts of suicide. But, she is concerned about the impact bullying is having on the number of childhood and teen suicides today. She is not alone in her concerns.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged ten to twenty four years old. Research has shown that the relationship between bullying and suicide can not be denied.
The United States Centers for Disease Control states that:

We know that bullying behavior and suicide-related behavior are closely related. This means youth who report any involvement with bullying behavior are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior.

The link is so closely related, schools often have zero tolerance policies around bullying. Kids engaging in the behavior may be suspended or even expelled because of their actions. Further emphasizing the horrible consequences of bullying, there are now laws in many states that criminalize the behavior. These laws now extend to adults as well as children. Bullying in the workplace is seen as unacceptable, and documented bullying that contributes to a suicide is starting to be seen as an intentional act leading to the death of an innocent person.

Tensie also recognizes that the advent of social media has significantly worsened the impact of bullying on an individual. She says that she is very thankful that during her youth, social media was not as prevalent as it is today. She knows that it would have made her reaction to the bullying even worse.

"To have been physically and verbally bullied at school by my peers and then to come home and have people bully me on Facebook or Instagram, I would have been devastated and might have gone through with taking my life."

Cyber bullying is largely considered responsible for the sharp rise in youth deaths by suicide. Tensie acknowledges that one of the complications is that bullies can create anonymous accounts and write mean comments and derogatory words on people’s pages. In regard to this action, Tensie does not mince words.

"People who do this are cowards because they hide behind their computer screen or phones." 

Cyber bullying occurs on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The bullying can also happen via text messages. Like all forms of bullying, these cruel actions must be called out. Those who know about it should respond by reassuring the person being bullied that others do not agree with what is being said. Just as important, the person doing the bullying should be confronted directly and told that their behavior is unacceptable, must stop, and that it will be reported if it continues.

Tensie believes that parents can have an important role in protecting their children from this version of bullying.

"I did not get a cell phone until I was 17 years old, so I know my parents would not have let me sign up for Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter in school. When I speak to parents, I tell them to not let their child be on social media at such a young age. This can help deter cyber bullying and protect their well-being. Parents do not always know what their child is putting out there on the web."

Personally, I agree with all of Tensie's sentiments. 

It is important to note that bullying can have a profound impact on adults as well. The bullying I experienced after my boyfriend's death (even though it was only from one person) directly contributed to exacerbating my own suicidality.

Survivors of suicide loss have an increased risk of dying by suicide themselves. It was for this reason that many professionals who were aware of my situation urged me to get a restraining order against the person who was lashing out at me. 

While I chose not to pursue that course, I did reach out to the many friends who supported me. They reassured me that others felt the bully's behavior was reprehensible. They encouraged me to block the incoming messages. Another friend helped me figure out how to save future messages without having to see them, so that I could use them if legal action were needed in the future. This type of practical support made a tremendous difference in my ability to process the bully's cruelty and move forward in my healing.

Tensie believes that bullies behave the way they do because they are insecure and do not feel their own self worth. She wants them to know that while their behavior may make them feel powerful, the act of belittling people actually serves to show how damaged the person doing the bullying is. She has a message for those people who are engaging in this behavior.

"STOP! You are better than this," she says. 

She wants bullies to understand that their words and cruelty can cause a suicide. 

"Know that your behavior is wrong and step back and ask yourself, 'Why am I bullying?'" 

Tensie suggests that bullies consider the fact that their behavior speaks to their own lack of character. She also hopes that bullies will realize that their actions can have legal consequences.

Research shows that it is not just the person being bullied who suffers, but suicide rates among youth who do the bullying are also higher than that of many others. Ultimately, Tensie recognizes that the bullies themselves need intervention.

"Any person who gets satisfaction from seeing another person in pain needs help." 

Tensie's most important message though, goes out to those who are experiencing the pain of being bullied. She wants them to find a person they can confide in so that they do not feel alone. She wants bullied children to know that they are important and that they matter. She wants them to have hope.

"You have so much to live for. You have memories to make, places to go, love to find."

She also believes that having a better understanding of why people bully others is helpful.

"The reason why you are being bullied is because the other person sees something special in you and wants to break you and bring you down in hopes that you don’t see your worth. You overcome these things by finding your self worth and realizing your purpose,” she says. "Know that there are better days ahead. In your moment of despair, it is hard to see that you can be happy, but it is possible."

Tensie encourages people who are being bullied to build upon their confidence and courage.

"Every day, find something positive and good to say about yourself, and this helps build your self-esteem. The more you realize your worth and how powerful you are, the easier it will be for the negative comments from others to roll off of you. Ask your parents to enroll you in martial arts classes. The times I was physically bullied, if I had been able to defend myself, the physical bullying would have stopped sooner."

Tensie also says that she is a strong proponent of getting counseling if necessary.

"A counselor or psychologist can not only help you realize your worth, but provide you strategies on how to build your self-esteem."

Finally, Tensie says that she found comfort and strength in her spirituality.

“It is really the grace of God that saved me because I wouldn’t be here to tell my story if I didn’t allow God to take control of my situation.”

I hope that Tensie knows that she herself is a blessing to all who are presently being impacted by bullying. Through her book and her honesty, she spreads an important message of hope. 

One of the things she told me when I asked her what she suggested to young people who were being bullied, was they they should read biographies.

"It always amazes me when I read about someone I find inspirational who went through the same things as me, sometimes much worse. If that person got through it, so can I."

The fact is, Tensie is one of those inspirational people. Perhaps the reason she is so committed to her efforts is explained by one of favorite quotes by Mahatma Ghandi. It more than speaks to her motivation.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Along those lines, undeniably, Tensie is succeeding, and for that, I thank her.

You can find Tensie Taylor's book on Amazon, here:

Tensie has a website, here:

You can find Tensie on Twitter here:

Tensie has a page on Facebook:

And Tensie's Instagram account can be found here:

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Dave Duerson

David Russell "DaveDuerson was an American football safety in the National Football League (NFL) who played for the Chicago Bears (1983–1989), New York Giants (1990), and Phoenix Cardinals (1991–1993). He was selected to play in four consecutive Pro Bowls for NFL seasons 1985 through 1988.
On February 17, 2011, Duerson lost his life to suicide. Following his request, his brain was sent to the Boston University School of Medicine for research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Neurologists at Boston University confirmed that Duerson had CTE as a result of the concussions he suffered during his playing career. Dave Duerson was fifty years old when he died.

Dave Duerson 
November 28, 1960 – February 17, 2011 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Gone. The saddest word in the language. In any language. 

According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death globally. Worldwide, it is estimated that one million people die by suicide, each year. This is likely a conservative number. Because of stigma, suicide is often under reported.

At present, there is a suicide death somewhere in the world every forty seconds.

The statistics are horrifying. But the real heartbreak isn't represented in the form of numbers. Statistics are faceless. The magnitude of loss associated with suicide must not be understated. It is critical that we begin to say the names of the people who are dying by suicide. 

So long as there is an expectation that a loss to suicide be kept quiet, then the pain experienced by those left behind is made more complex and prolonged.  

Their Lives Mattered will debut on Saturday February 17, 2018. It is a series of posts that are dedicated to humanizing the tragedy of suicide loss. The posts are meant to honor those who have been lost. 

The posts also feature individuals who were celebrities at the time they were lost. Artists, writers, authors, actors, and musicians. 

Many people who are feeling suicidal are further shamed by the suggestion that their depression is selfish or that they are ungrateful for the positive things in their life. This is a misconception about what causes suicidal despair, and creating additional shame on the part of the suicidal person can increase suicidality.

We as a society must stop saying that we can't understand why someone would die by suicide 'when they had so much going for them.' We must stop calling those who are suicidal ungrateful. Those sentiments deter people from getting help when they need it. Calling someone who died by suicide selfish can further traumatize those who are left behind.

We are losing sons and daughters. We are losing children. We are losing parents and siblings. Best friends. Extended family. Neighbors and colleagues. 

All of us must do something to address the issue.

All of us suffer when we keep the impact of suicide hidden.

All of these lives were cut short.

All of these lives mattered. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Heartbreak and Miracles

Under the surface 
you don't know what you'll find
until it's your time
no second chances 
but all we can do is try
I made up my mind
I can't see you
but I hear your call
baby, hold on now
we're going home

 - Vance Joy, We're Going Home

I journaled every single day for the first six months after John died. Not a day passed where I didn't put words to paper, in trying to sort out this tangle of grief and heartbreak.

At the end of each month, nothing was any more sorted out than it had been before. Nothing was cleared up and nothing was easier.

But time did pass, and consistently, things were different.

I want to tell you that I turned a corner and found myself happy again. I want to tell you that the pain lessened and that the grief became bearable.

None of those things would be true, though. Nothing about healing has been sudden. My heart was shattered when John died. That pain is no less. It has not suddenly become bearable. But there is this, I have learned to bear the unbearable. Those are the best words I can use. 

Three months after John died, I went into the hospital terrified to eat, but determined to do so. After my eating had been normalized for a week, I came home.

And then within days I stopped eating, again.

When I'd left the hospital I went right back into day treatment. I'd arrive at treament diligently each morning. I'd eat my snack. Eat my lunch. And then when I went home for the day, I'd eat nothing else. The next morning I'd have to report what I'd eaten the night before. And I was just so exhausted with my eating disorder. It seemed to be arm wrestling with my will to live, and winning.

One morning I walked into day treatment, sat down and laid my head on the table, and wept.
There was a counselor in the room with me.

"I don't want to keep hurting like this," I pleaded with her.

I still remember the way she looked at me. A flash of relief and then a tenderness.

"Good," she said, quietly. "That's a very good start."

And that was where I began to turn. I laid my head down on the table in front of me and cried over what was true. I just didn't want to keep hurting like this.

Something inside of me whispered. Can we lay this down now? This need to punish ourself?  Can we start to heal? Please?

I want to tell you that something more profound happened on that day. Or something less. I want to tell you that John's angel came to me, or my mother's. And maybe they did. I don't know. But what I can tell you is just like grief itself, nothing was fast and nothing was easy. It's just that this one day, I was able to say out loud, "I don't want to keep hurting like this," and something inside of me heard.

That's how I began to eat again, outside of the hospital. Accountable to nothing other than my commitment to life.

That was enough. 

Today is Valentine's Day. Take two or three deep breaths in and John will have been gone for a year. Often, I still feel as if he is just around the corner. Often I still feel as if he is just one car ride away. Often, I am still waiting for him.

Valentine's day is the holiday that marks the first time John ever told me he loved me. It would be easy for me to plant myself squarely in the middle of misery today. But I don't want to do that. I want to remember last Valentine's Day. And the Valentine's Day the year prior. I can remember what it felt like to be in his arms on both of those years. Those memories are a gift, I know. Perhaps they are John's gift to me.

So that's the way I choose to experience this holiday. Holding on to the memory of my beloved John's arms around me. How wonderful it was to fit in those arms.

John was not perfect. But there were moments when he was perfect for me, and that is what I want to remember today. That I have spent so many moments of my life wrapped in the perfection of John's arms, and that nothing will ever make that untrue.

John would be flattered and somewhat humbled by my writing about him. But I know this too, he would also cringe at some of my portrayals of him. Because he was proud of being flawed. He was proud of being human. I learned a lot from him in that regard. Still, it is hard for me to tell you about him without telling you about the best of his qualities. 

His intelligence and humor, his above par aptitude for forgiving, and his extraordinary compassion. 

There are so many ways that John lived his life in service to others. One of the first things he ever told me was that he hoped that he could one day retire somewhere where he could perform volunteer work in order to help others. He wasn't picky about who, or where. He just wanted to be of service. 

I like to remember that about him. That this was a goal of his, to make life better for others. 

Today is Valentine's Day, and I am choosing to remember John for all the beautiful and compassionate things he wanted to do. I am choosing to remember him for the future that he wanted to have. 

Some have said to me that I only see him through rose colored glasses now. That I have perfected him and idolized him in my mind. There is of course some truth to this, I know that. After all, there is no saint who is canonized while still living. But there is something purposeful about the memories of John that I share publicly, too. 

Yes, I remember the struggles. I remember the harsh words and occasional cruelty (both his and mine). I remember. I remember his illness and I remember how my own issues impacted him. I am not immune to remembering the pain. But our pain was put into a profound context when John died. The pain spoke to our struggles. The pain spoke to the things that made us human. It is true too that the greatest pain did not belong to us, it belonged to John's disease. His illness wielded a confusing sword over much of our relationship, especially at the end. Mental illness took so much away from us both. I did not know how to fight with it when he was still alive. But today - I am done with giving his disease power.

I will not remember John by his disease. I will not represent him to the world this way. It is not because he is perfect now nor is it because he is perfect in my memories. It is, very simply, because he deserves better than that. His family deserves better than that. All who love John deserve better than to have his memory sullied by angry words or accusations.

Today is Valentine's Day, and I will remember John by the sound of his laughter. I will remember him by his beautiful blue eyes.

Today is Valentine's Day, and I will remember John by his compassion and his commitment to making the world a better place.

I will remember John by that fact that he made my life better, and in this sense, he achieved his life goal.

Nothing changed overnight. I spent months wondering how in the world a human being is supposed to get through such unfathomable sadness and pain. It shifted slowly. It became an awe of sorts. I am amazed at how much suffering a person can get through and still come out the other side. 

Since John's death, I have learned to appreciate the profound impact that love can have on a person. I do know now how human beings get through unfathomable sadness and pain. We do it by surrounding ourselves with love. We do it by no longer waiting to get through it, but instead in beginning to understand that grief can be held for as long as need be - if we have others who will hold us for as long as need be.

Nothing changed overnight, but I began writing letter after letter after letter to other survivors of suicide loss.

I'm sorry. I never met your brother/love/child, but I know they were important. I wish I could take away all of our pain. Your loved one will not be forgotten.

I did it by writing these words over and over again, and meaning them every single time.

My heart is with you.
My heart is with you.
My heart is with you.

I did it by beginning to understand that every time I extended my love to someone else who was hurting, another stitch was applied to my own broken heart.

And I wrote. I survived those six months (I survive still) by writing and writing and writing. I shared my writing on my blog and on social media and in grief groups, and suddenly message after message began flooding my inbox. People needed to have their pain voiced, and they were so glad that someone was doing it.

Nothing changed overnight, but I got through by writing less and less for myself, and more and more for others. 

The shift began. 

I went to suicide prevention fundraising walks. I went to survivors day events. I joined county mental health commissions. And always, with every step, I had someone beside me who loved me. When I wasn't sure if I could take another step, someone would remind me that I'd already been walking for a while, and that they knew I could keep going. So, I did.

Nothing changed overnight, but every single day I received messages about my writing. Every single day I spoke to people whose lives had been touched by suicide. Every single day, I reached out to people and they reached out to me.

"Hi, my name is Chelise. First, I am also a survivor of suicide lossI am so sorry. My heart is with you. I am wondering if you would be willing to talk to me about your experience. I think there are people reading my blog who want to hear about you and what you are doing in order to heal."

Over and over again I got responses. "Yes. Thank you for what you are doing. I want to share."

For me, the words 'I am a survivor of suicide loss,' became more than just the obvious heartbreak, but also an invitation into the hearts of others who had suffered similar losses.

Today is Valentine's Day,  and I want John to know that through my love for him, I've learned how to better love others. 

John told me that he wanted to spend his life being of service.

I know that so long as I am still alive, I will do everything I can to advocate for others who suffer from diseases such as his. So long as I am still alive, I will do everything I can to share my experiences so that others know that they are not alone. And so long as I am still alive, I will do everything I can to give a voice to those who also have stories to tell.

But it is important to me that people know that it is not John's death that inspires me to do these things. It is the opposite. I am inspired by John's life.

It gives me so much comfort to know that even without him here on this earth, his goal of service and of helping others is still being achieved. I want to hand him that. The fact that his life mattered when he was alive. That fact that his life still matters, now.

Today is Valentine's Day, and I want John to know that this is not my first Valentine's Day without him. This is the Valentine's Day where the best of him is still here.

Last year, just as the season was turning from winter to spring, my John slipped away from this world in the early hours of a Sunday morning. Likely, it was still dark out. Nearly all who loved him were still sleeping. Did we flutter our eyes at the moment he was gone? Did we roll over restlessly when he took his last breath. Did John visit each one of us that morning, in dreams that we've yet to remember?

I don't know. What I do know is that we were afforded one final gift. Each of us woke up in a world where we believed that John, in body and spirit, was still with us. Each of us, on that morning, woke up believing that our worlds were still lit up by his presence.

I woke on the morning John died and looked again at the last message he'd sent. A message he'd typed less that eight hours earlier. The only note he left was this message to me. And in the message he spoke only of love and of a forever that I would come to understand had never been as limited as I once thought it was.

I believe that John lives now in the best of the forever that we spoke of. That he is there waiting for the split second (which sometimes feels to me to be an eternity) before we are together, again.

John was always more spiritual than I was. Since childhood he understood just what it meant to be held up by the love of God.

Today is Valentine's Day, and I want John to know that I no longer wonder and I no longer waffle. I am absolutely certain now that God calls on each one of us to be compassionate, to be forgiving, and to react with integrity and love. I am certain of those things and I want John to know that this is a gift that he, over this past year, has given to me.

Today is Valentine's Day, and my heart is forever broken and yet it is forever healing at the very same time. And this is how I begin to be able to bear the unbearable.

Nothing changed overnight. It still isn't fair. My world will forever be amiss without John present. I still cry every single day. I still think of him and miss him every single minute of the day.

I don't want to get political or data heavy or delve into a lecture. Not on this post. Not on Valentine's Day. But I will say this. There are medical and therapeutic and legislative advances on the way, that are going to change the face of mental health care in this country. Too many people are dying. Too many people are hurting. Too many people are lost and too many people are left behind.

Changes are on their way, some already and some soon. I want John to know that he is on the side of history where the tragic loss of beautiful people just like him is inspiring necessary change. I want John to know that when he was fighting to stay alive through the worst of his pain, he was a hero, and I want John to know that he is a hero, still.

Nothing changed overnight. But I know that John loves me. I know that he wants me to be happy. I know that he wants me to be ok. 

Today is Valentine's Day, and I want to give John the only gift I can. I want him to know that even in the midst of my ever present grief, because of him, this one thing is true:

I live in the constant miracle of how much love a broken heart can still contain.

John has been my greatest heartbreak, and John has been my constant miracle. When I wrap up what I want to share about those first six months, I can tell you that nothing changed overnight, but the shift began to happen when I realized this one thing:

It turns out that heartbreak and miracles can live side by side.  

Sunday, February 11, 2018

People Are Still People First

As many know, I work in the field of addiction treatment. I work in a facility that provides services to those who are dual diagnosis. These clients are dealing with both mental illness and addiction issues. The challenges inherent in providing adequate and effective treatment are numerous. The urgency of providing effective care is multiplied when we consider that the risk of suicide increases for mentally ill persons who also struggle with substance abuse.

In my field, it is critical to address the stigma that impacts both mental illness and addiction. We also must share best practices for providing treatment for individuals who are suffering from these co-occurring disorders. It's not easy and we rely on experts to help lead the way.

David Susman, PhD is one such expert. His dedication to the field of mental health recovery is impressive, as is his experience. Perhaps though, the most impressive thing about David Susman, Ph.D, is his personal commitment to combating the stigma that plagues mental illness.

Dr. David Susman grew up in Southwestern Virginia and now lives in Lexington, Kentucky. He is married with one daughter. He is a dog lover and when talking about his family, he always mentions his Westie, Bella. When he finds himself with free time, he enjoys reading and travel photography.

Professionally, he is a clinical psychologist and has been working in the mental health care field for twenty five years. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Kentucky. He is also the director of the Jesse G. Harris, Jr. Psychological Services Center, which trains clinical psychology doctoral students in providing psychological testing and therapy.

Among his many other credentials, are the following:
  • Member of the Association of Psychology Training Clinics
  • Training Director at the University of Kentucky Internship Consortium
  • Former President of the Kentucky Psychological Association
  • and the Kentucky representative to the American Psychological Association's Council of Representatives
Dr. Susman also regularly gives back to the mental health community. He has contributed his expertise to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and has been active in mental health advocacy initiatives at the state and Federal levels.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Susman estimates that he has helped to provide care for over 50,000 people who are struggling with mental illness, in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

On the topic of mental health, he has a lot to say and he is worth listening to.

One of the first things that Dr. Susman discussed with me was the importance of combating the stigma that is so often associated with mental illness. He explained that mental illness is often invisible and some people are unable to get appropriate care because they don't want to discuss their stigmatized disease. Many people who are suffering don't reach out because they fear being discriminated against.

"We need to keep putting out accurate information about treatment options, supports, and coping strategies," says Dr. Susman.

The fear of being judged that discourages people from reaching out can have tragic consequences. The impact of stigma on individuals who are suffering from mental illness can not be understated. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain.

Dr. Susman wants the public to know that we can all help to ensure that those suffering from mental illness get the help they need.

"I believe it's important for us to speak up on their behalf and keep the topics of mental illness and mental health on the table. We need to keep stating that's it's ok to come forward and ask for help," he says. "We need to tell people that effective treatments are available, and that ultimately it is possible to reduce distress and have a better quality of life."

Ultimately though, Dr. Susman recognizes that in order to begin to successfully treat mental illness, we must start by acknowledging the human being behind the diagnosis.

"We have to continue to show that people are still people first, and not just their illness." 

Dr. Susman recognizes that everyone's path to recovery is unique. He encourages those who suffer with mental illness to be patient and remain determined. 

"Different treatments work well for some and not as well for others. So, it's important to be open to keep trying new approaches to therapy, different medications, and so on, to find the combination that works best for you," he says, noting that finding the right treatment can be a slow process.

"It's important to get lots of support from friends, family, and health care professionals along the way. Also, talk with people who are at various stages in their own recovery to hear about their experiences and get tips for things to try that may help you feel better."
While the mental health care field continues to work towards finding the most effective ways to diagnose and treat mental illness, Dr. Susman fully recognizes the urgency. Ultimately, some mental illnesses have the potential to be fatal. Research suggests that up to 90% of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their death.

Dr, Susman also recognizes the pain that is left behind when someone dies this way.

"It is an unfathomable loss," he acknowledges. 

He has many suggestions for moving through the grief, including taking as much time as needed and reaching out for help. He also suggest that channeling one's grief into positive action can be helpful.

"Supporting groups and activities aimed at suicide prevention or perhaps starting a scholarship fund or foundation in the name of the loved one who died, can help." 

He also points out that feelings of guilt can make things worse.

"Each of us has to deal with grief and loss in our own way and in our own time. It's important to not fixate on what could have been done differently or to imagine that the suicide should have been predicted in some way."   

Dr. Susman's most important message though, is aimed toward those who are still alive, but struggle with thoughts of suicide. He urges them to take their feelings seriously and to get help immediately, emphasizing the importance of finding a good therapist. He also believes that a person should be open to considering medication if it is recommended by a professional. Healthy nutrition, physical activity, rest, and sleep are all important. Enjoyable activities such as humor, and interacting with friends and family are important too.

"Learn coping skills to tolerate distress and to manage difficult emotions and situations," Dr. Susman says. "Develop a safety plan and use it, including calling for help immediately if you are in crisis."

To provide hope, Dr. Susman wants those struggling to remember that suicidal thoughts may come and go, but with patience and work, they can eventually go away entirely or at least reach a more manageable level. 

"Above all else, don't give up trying and don't lose hope. You can find a way forward, sometimes when you least expect it," he says. 

"Finally, it's been said many times, but you are not alone. Help is available, but you must reach out when you need it."

For the past three years, Dr. Susman has had a public blog.

"My goal is to provide proven, science-based information and resources to offer support, hope, inspiration and encouragement to persons in recovery and to those who care about them," he says.

On his blog you can find 'Stories of Hope', a series that features individuals who bravely talk about their personal life experiences with mental health issues. Dr. Susman also shares research, data, and both expert and personal opinions regarding mental health. He discusses current events, hot-topic stories, and other timely issues.

Last November, Dr. Susman posted about the importance of gratitude in a person's life. In his post, he offered the following:

"I think the tremendous power of gratitude is under appreciated and underused. We could all benefit from expressing our thanks on a more consistent basis." 

On that note, speaking on behalf of others working in the field of mental health, as well as someone whose life has been touched by mental health issues in many different ways, I thank Dr. David Susman for all he is doing to pave the way for a healthier more joyful life for us all.

You can find Dr. Susman's blog, here:

David Susman, PhD - Resources and Inspiration for Better Mental Health

You can follow Dr. Susman on Twitter here:


Dr. Susman has a Facebook page, here:

David Susman PhD