I visited Cosby High School Health Science Students in Chesterfield County and presented on a topic no one wants to talk about: mental illness, addiction and suicide.
I told them my personal story about Charles. Actually, I taught two health science classes. Then we did a skit, “How heroin talked to Charles” and one dr Seuss-like poems on drugs and one on resilience. Voice was still awful but had a grand time.
After, these kids decided they wanted to send me letters to say thank you. Their idea. The most heartfelt, touching letters I have ever gotten. This is my video thank you.
I’m so grateful and I sat here for an hour and cried as I read them. A good cry. So many shared personal stories about all those subjects and a level of understanding I didn’t think 15 year olds were capable of.
These students helped me understand their reality in these letters. How many of their friends suffer and struggle. How many of them struggle themselves. How many of their friends or loved ones cut, do substances, and act out in self-destructive ways that is hard to understand.
I will reach out to the students who asked me to. And reply to those who sent me their email.
Thank you to the Cosby students for sharing your souls with me.
Just a few emotionally naked quotes from these letters:
“Most people dehumanize people that lose themselves to substances and the way you expressed your truth helped to ‘re-humanize’ them.”
Apparently, I was their first, too. The first suicide loss survivor to speak at such an event at National Institute of Mental Health.
I was the short talk at the end of some brilliant presentations and exciting new research on suicide prevention, creating treatment plans and information on ketamine, lack of sleep and suicide, and the ASQ screening tool. Dr. David Brent has an adolescent app he is working on that I assume will launch within the next year or so. It is still in the testing phase and I think it was definitely very promising with amazing initial results.
For some reason, when I read research studies I don’t think about the humans behind it. The prose always so austere and official. But the researchers were all so warm and compassionate and made me feel welcome as well as appreciated. They are really doing this work from the heart. I don’t know why that surprised me but it did.
Thank you to Dr. Lisa Horowitz, my sometimes co-presenter, for suggesting me for this workshop. I was honored to be included on the speaker line up. (the only one with no initials after my name)
Where in the videocast is the speaker you want to hear? See the times highlighted below to find the presentation and information you seek
- Introduction by Maryland Pao– 02:55
I did appreciate the opportunity to present on this topic, “Addiction and Mental Illness: Injustices to our youth” to share why Virginia ranks 46th for treating youth mental health.
That means 7 out of 10 most at risk for dropping out of school, struggling with relationships, ending up in prison, becoming addicted or dying by suicide, do not get the care they need.
I began with my story about my son Charles who died by suicide and talked about the injustices we faced as a middle class family and what I’ve seen are the gaps in a flawed system of care.
I am going to apply at some speaker’s bureaus. Hopefully, next year I’ll get some paid speaking gigs so I can continue my advocacy work. Because I can’t afford to retire yet and need to make a living.
For my applications, I need quotes from people who’ve seen me speak.
I really hate to ask this. But if you’ve seen me, I would love some feedback and quotes in your words. You can comment below or send a message. Thank you.
I am so grateful to have a community partner like McShin Foundation and I’m honored to have been invited to present at the Care Talks event focused on solutions for addiction.
I am still quite hoarse from gamma knife radiation (voice slowly improving) in this video and struggling at times to get sentences out above a whisper. But I got it done! Thank you Tim Alexander and team for shooting the videos.
See other inspirational Care Talks here.
I had hoped to be standing before you today telling you about my success story, Charles.
But 2 years ago, that dream, along with all the other hopes and dreams I had for my struggling youngest child ended when we got the news that he killed himself.
My 20-year-old son Charles was the funniest most popular kid in school. He was an up and coming rap artist and a creative genius. He’d become addicted to heroin in the last 6 months of his life, reaching for something to make him feel better and killed himself while going through withdrawal.
After his death, no one talked about him. What’s more, no one talks about the connection between addiction, mental illness and suicide—often treating them separately when they need to be treated together.
I was tired of the silence and tired of the implied shame. I decided it was time to get rid of that sorry tradition so I wrote an article in the Times dispatch, ‘Honoring my son who died by suicide is not the end of my story’ which was the #1 article for 2016.
And in February of 2016, I started a blog to help me work through the most devastating loss of my life called Emotionally Naked. I write and talk about all the things everyone else was ashamed to talk about: Addiction, mental illness, suicide, grief.
To date that little blog has had over a quarter million visitors in less than 18 months. Over 100 thousand people have shared those stories on their social media pages. If you would have told me that people would be sharing posts about suicide addiction, grief and mental illness on their facebook pages, I would have told you were crazy. But they do and it’s working in ways I could have never imagined.
In May of 2016 I wrote a blog called the final 48 hours. In that blog I detailed the last two days before my son’s death and how I felt. When I wrote it, I felt ashamed of revealing all of my ugly naked momma grief. I wondered why I wrote it and why people were reading it. Until I got a message from a young lady named Lauren.
She told me she had been thinking about killing herself and what she had read in that story had inspired her to reach out for help. She is a success story today and I feel like somehow like I am part of that.
If not for the sharing of that story, it would not have reached her. That’s when it hit me. A village of sharing really can save lives. I had inspiration to keep writing and sharing. And now sharing your stories, too.
A few months after writing that post, it struck me that my son probably googled the phrase “how to hang yourself.” So, I wrote a post with that title for the express purpose of ranking on the first page of google. Since I am a digital marketing and social media expert, I had an idea how to make that happen. And I have succeeded in reaching page 1 most days in multiple countries around the world.
I was right. A lot people google that phrase. Most log in and leave since it does not have directions on how to do what it says. 445 people have gone to that page in the last 30 days. 90% leave right away and 10% stay.
A few stay. They stop and read. Some for minutes. Some for hours even days. From all over the world.
On that page, I have the suicide hotline, crisis text line and a link to suicide hotlines from all over the world. And put videos on that page by my son. Videos that others have told me helped them.
In my statistics I can see that people from other countries have clicked the link to suicide hotlines in other countries.
I also get comments and messages. I will tell you about one of from Matt.
“I’ve been reading this blog since last Sunday when I came across it googling the exact same thing as the heading of this post.
I watched this video of him and it gave me goosebumps.
If you know of someone looking for a speaker for mental health and suicide prevention, contact me.