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, 1960, 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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

This is Why I Write

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.
                                                                                            - James Baldwin

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Sharing the Same Passion

This week I had to opportunity to speak with Keith O'Neil. If you don't know his name already, let me tell you a little about his accomplishments.

Keith was born in Rochester, Michigan, but grew up in Amherst, New York. He comes from a family that is passionate about football. His father is former NFL linebacker Ed O'Neil, and his brother Keven played football for Syracuse University.   

Keith's own football talent was more than evident by high school. In college at Northern Arizona University, he was a four-year letterman and three-year starter with 225 career stops, 20 sacks, 49 tackles for losses and three interceptions.

In 2003, O'Neil entered the NFL when he was signed by the Dallas Cowboys. He played with the Cowboys for two seasons.

Following playing for the Cowboys, O'Neil played for the Indianapolis Colts. In 2006, he earned a Super Bowl ring when the Colts beat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

For many reasons, I have a great deal of admiration for Keith. Though impressive, it's not his athletic accomplishments that are chief among my reasons. I admire Keith because of who he is as a person. I admire him because of his courage and his advocacy.
I admire Keith O'Neil because recently he posted this on his Twitter page:

Keith O'Neil has bipolar disorder. Over the past decade, he has become a vocal advocate for the mentally ill, devoting himself to ending stigma and to helping fund critically needed research. I am awed by his courage and commitment.
His efforts in these areas continue to be extraordinary, and I was excited when Keith offered to share his story with me. 

With that said, I'm happy to share with you what Keith has to say about living with bipolar disorder. 
Keith first began experiencing symptoms when he was a child, but he didn't understand what was going on. He'd have insomnia at night when he was anxious, and then conversely, there were days when he was so depressed, it was difficult for him to get up and do things. Those around him didn't recognize that he was beginning to struggle with bipolar. He was often given the message that he just needed to settle down, or that he just needed to get up, do things, and stop 'lying around.'

As a young adult, despite realizing his dream of playing for the NFL - he still struggled. After his first season with the Dallas Cowboys, he told head coach Bill Parcells about his anxiety and insomnia - both hallmarks of the manic side of bipolar. At the time, Keith thought the best thing for him to do would be to retire from professional football. However, Parcells and the team said that they would do their best to get Keith the help he needed so that he could continue playing. 

Two years later, he moved on to play for the Indianapolis Colts, but the difficulties he experienced resurfaced. His anxiety became so hard to manage, four days before opening day he again reached out for help, this time from head coach Tony Dungy.

But without a clear diagnosis and without good medication management, Keith continued to suffer and eventually stopped playing altogether. Along with his sleep issues and his anxiety, at one point he felt so despondent, he attempted suicide.

It wasn't until he was thirty years old that he was finally diagnosed as bipolar. Given the diagnosis, suicidal ideation on Keith's part was not surprising. Studies show that up to 50% of those with bipolar will make a suicide attempt at some point during their life. The risk is especially high for those who do not have effective treatment.

For Keith, the formal diagnosis of bipolar was initially very painful for him. Today, he readily admits that the stigma around mental health issues had a negative impact on his ability to get help and move forward.

"'For a year and a half I didn’t tell anyone about my diagnosis, except my immediate family and a few close friends. I was scared to tell others because of fear of what they would think. It was very difficult because as a professional athlete, my life was always very public. Now I was living a secret. The shame and secrecy I felt was as bad as the illness itself.'"

Soon enough though, Keith realized that he didn't want others to suffer the same way he was. He began to speak out, Keith explains his motivation.

"I want others to know there is no shame in it."

Keith wanted to get his message out to as many people as possible. He is now an internationally known speaker on the topic of mental health awareness. He has also written a book, Under My Helmet, A Football Player's Lifelong Battle with Bipolar Disorder.

In addition to those efforts, Keith founded the 4th and Forever Foundation which also promotes mental health awareness, and raises funds for research. He recognizes that a better understanding of bipolar disorder is key to streamlining treatment. 

Although he feels he himself has now found the right combination of treatment in order to manage his illness, one of his frustrations with his bipolar journey was how difficult it was to find effective medication.

"There was a point when I felt like a medication guinea pig," he says.

Keith has empathy for those who are experiencing the same frustration. "I want there to be an easier way to prescribe medication for those living with bipolar," he explains. 

To those who are still struggling with mental illness, he knows that the process of finding the right treatment can be frustrating. He has this to say to them:

"Give it time. We all know the saying 'Time heals all wounds'. It’s true." 

Keith is very encouraging. "If you work hard, exercise, take your medication, find purpose, etc., you can find recovery."

And Keith has a very straightforward message to those who struggle with wanting to end their life.
“Don’t do it.”

He encourages people to remember their loved ones, and to have hope. He wants people to know that things do get better.

Of his own suicide attempt, Keith says "I feel blessed to still be alive. I realize now that life is a gift and you only have one. If I'd been successful in my attempt, there would have been so many beautiful things I would have missed, like the love that has flourished with my wife, and watching my son grow up. " 

One of the reasons why I was excited to feature Keith O'Neil on this blog is because it's clear that he's not only empathetic with those who suffer with mental illness, but he is also compassionate toward those like me, who have lost their loved ones to suicide.

I mentioned to Keith that the pain experienced by survivors is often complicated by guilt or blame. I asked him if he wanted to share something with those who are experiencing this type of complicated grief.

Keith admitted that the thought of losing someone this way is overwhelming. "You saved the hardest question for last," he told me. And yet about survivors taking on guilt, he was resolute.

"It’s not your fault. Suicide is an illness in itself."

When it comes to his efforts to end stigma and make a difference in the mental health arena, Keith knows that he has a lot to feel good about. Most especially, he is proud of the number of people his book and foundation have reached.

Of his advocacy work, Keith says "It’s very rewarding and gives me purpose, something I didn’t have when I was at my sickest moment."

It was an honor to speak to Keith O'Neil. He answered a lot of questions, but it was something he said to me in the very first message I received from him that touched my heart the most.

"Thanks for all you do Chelise, it's very important and we share the same passion."

I understand on a very personal level what it is like to use painful experiences as a motivation to help others. When it comes to turning around stigma, speaking out publicly, and most importantly - reaching out to those whose lives have been touched by mental illness and suicide - indeed, Keith O'Neil is right. He and I share the same passion.

I hope that Keith knows that he's not only helping those who are struggling with mental health issues, but he is also helping those of us who are trying to speak out the same way that he is. I can't thank him enough. And as for being in his company, I couldn't be more proud to be a fellow advocate.

You can get Keith's book on Amazon, here: 

Under My Helmet: A Football Player's LIfelong Battle wiht Bipolar Disorder:

Keith's websites:

Keith can be found on Facebook, here:

Keith can be found on Twitter, here: