November 10, 2010

Clouds with a Sweet Silver Lining

“Most days I try my best to put on a brave face. But inside my bones are cold and my heart breaks. But all the while something is keeping me safe and alive.  But so many people are looking to me  to be strong and to fight but I’m just surviving. I may be weak but I’m never defeated. And I’ll keep believing in clouds with that sweet silver lining.” -Kate Voegele, Sweet Silver Lining

I spent this past weekend at Active Minds’ 7th Annual National Mental Health on Campus conference. Active Minds, a national non-profit and BC2M partner, brings together hundreds upon hundreds of students and gives them the inspiration and tools to decrease mental health stigma and increase awareness on their college campuses.  At last year’s conference, I was still working as a full-time Active Minds staff person and didn’t have the opportunity to step back and truly bear witness to some of the incredible things taking place. I knew that the organization covered everything from stress relief tips to model for preventing suicide.  It’s one thing to understand in your mind the change that is taking place, it’s another thing entirely to feel it in your soul.

Marc Peters and Alison Malmon at the Active Minds National Mental Health on Campus Conference

I’ve never lost anyone  to suicide and I pray I never will. However, I’ve met family member after family member and friend after friend, mourning the loss of loved ones to a senseless act of  violence by their own hand. I had never really understood how my former boss, Alison Malmon, could so completely dedicate her life to a cause so grounded in her own personal pain of losing her brother. This weekend, I finally saw that she draws incredible strength from the passion of the students with whom she works. I finally saw not only the tears in her eyes when talking about how much she loves and misses Brian, but the joy in her heart as she looks out over a room full of people so invested in this movement.

From three people at her first club meeting many years ago, to a ballroom full of student activists is a remarkable journey. While I know that there is nothing Alison can do that will allow her to completely let go of the pain that she lives with every single day, I find great inspiration in how she has worked tireless to have Brian’s memory not only associated with a tragic loss, but with a living memorial that reaches students all over the country. From a place of pain, she’s developed for others a place of belonging and a joy for life.

Inspiration for my BC2M blog posts comes from someone or something different every week. This one started not with Alison, but with a BC2M Facebook friend and real-life stranger. She spent Friday at the conference to visit the Send Silence Packing display that features ownerless backpacks representing the 1,100 college students lost to suicide each and every year. After she saw my Facebook status update about the conference, she  messaged me to tell her how much having her son’s story featured on one of the Send Silence Packing backpacks at this year’s conference meant to her and her family.

Her message led me to reflect on my own history with suicidal ideation and being suicidal. One of the things that always keeps me here is knowing how much losing me would hurt my friends and family. Even at my lowest moments, I never want to bring pain to others. I never gave much thought to how I developed that line of thinking, but this weekend I suddenly knew.

Seeing the hurt in Alison’s eyes (and seeing that same hurt in the eyes of all of the countless mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers and friends that I’ve met who had lost someone to suicide) helped save my life. While I grieve with them for the loss of someone special in their lives, I am forever grateful that they have had the courage to share their experience in a way that saves the lives of so many other children and friends. I know that not even the shiniest of silver linings could dim the pain they feel, but I want all of you to know how much your strength means. You may never know how many people you’ve reached. So when you find yourself wondering if it’s worth the agony of revisiting such haunting memories, please know that you reached me.

Thanks for reading,



October 27, 2010

Why Men Don’t Seek Help

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Marc Peters @ 8:00 am

When I was a student at Syracuse University, I had the privilege of being involved with a student group called A Men’s Issue that is dedicated to redefining masculinity and ending gender violence. It allowed me to reevaluate and grow and when I went through periods of depressive, manic, or psychotic hell, I sought help (or at least didn’t resist if it sought me out). That isn’t the case for most men.

We are conditioned to toughen up and deal with it. Whereas girls are allowed to hold onto their tears throughout childhood, men are scolded for crying and learn to bottle up their emotions. In elementary school, we are more likely to be bullied than affirmed when expressing emotional need. In middle school, it is a scarce few who spend those awkward years feeling like anything other than an outcast. If we are depressed and try and express it, our concerns were brushed aside as being frivolous because we are young. Rather than being taught how to cope and how to put our emotions into words, we were mocked for our weaknesses. As a result, we learned to mask them. We show no fear, no hurt, and no pain.

Men- think back to high school, suppose you had a crisis of any kind, did you have a friend or teacher you would turn to and trust with such a disclosure. Maybe…if you were lucky. In general, men are taught as boys not to value relationships. We don’t learn that supportive relationships are vital to living a rewarding life. We don’t form close emotional bonds with our male friends for fear of being accused of being gay. Boys who build relationships with teachers are labeled as teacher’s pets. We know what is socially unacceptable and we adjust our behavior to meet the societal norms. We never learn appropriate coping skills. Now, fast forward to college, fast forward to adulthood. If you are a man and you seek help, do you fear damaging your reputation? Women- do you know men who will reach out or simply too damaged.

Violence is born out of frustration. This extends to suicide. It is a resort to violence against yourself when you don’t see that other options are available. Unless we break free from the boxes that society has forced on us, we will continue to fail to potential alternatives when suicidal. We will continue to keep help at arms length. And because we are so damaged, we will continue to fall short as full emotional partners in relationships and friendships.

I spent this past weekend at a nonviolence workshop and one of the activists passed a long a song (that may be too touchy feely for some, but it works for me): “I love you so much, so that you can love you so much, so that you can love me so much…” In this case, unadulterated love is a great end goal, but for the time being let’s just strip our relationships and friendships of judgment. Let’s work toward an environment where it is acceptable for men to seek help. Let’s be intentional and transparent with our help-seeking so that we can serve as models for others. Together, we can make this the last generation of men that is conditioned to avoid help and bottle up pain. Society made these rules, it’s up to us to break free from them.

Thanks for reading,


October 13, 2010

What Can I Do?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Marc Peters @ 7:30 am

Ask yourself why you are involved in this cause. You may have a mental health disorder or know a family member who does. You may have lost a friend to suicide or simply had your heart broken by all of the news reports of young people taking their own lives. We all have our own motivation for getting involved. The problem is that it is (relatively) easy to get fired up about a cause. It’s much more difficult to sustain that commitment.

One of the things we can do is to guard against “do-gooder” flame-out. You may have instantly realized that youth suicide is a tragedy and an issue to be addressed. Maybe you think it should have been eradicated yesterday. Perhaps you quickly came to the conclusion that mental health stigma is a disgrace and that every day that it exists in our world is a terrible reflection on us as human beings. Impatience can be a valuable trait when it keeps you from settling for the status quo. It becomes dangerous when you grow easily frustrated when change doesn’t come at your preferred pace. Mental health stigma and suicide have been a part of our culture from day one. They will be a part of our culture tomorrow, next week and next year. Yes, we should challenge ourselves and each other to set HUGE goals, but we also need to set small, achievable benchmarks.

I know that I explicitly needed to be told that I couldn’t do everything myself. I could commit every hour of every day to this cause for the rest of my life and not reach everyone. Some things can only be done together. It is instinctive (and reasonable) to think, “Well if I won’t see results right now and I can’t get it done alone, why tackle this at all?”

Just because you can’t fix the problem completely doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. The onus is on all of us to serve as support system for each other and prevent others from losing hope and giving up.  Everyone has a sphere of influence. Everyone has people they can reach. We all have people we look up to and people whom look up to us. If you learn that one of your friends suffers from depressive episodes, you can find out how they want to be supported and fill that void. You can offer to be called day or night and be willing to drop anything you are doing to be with them when they desperately need the presence of a friend. You can speak up in groups of your peers when they are bad-mouthing people who are “crazy” or dismissing people with depression as “overly emotional.” We can all be more supportive to people we care about and (more importantly even) to people we pass by daily and hardly notice. We can use teachable moments not to admonish people for expressing ignorant beliefs, but rather to increase understanding and decrease stigma.

We all can do something. Take Ron Artest for example:


Ron Artest of the Los Angeles Lakers is motivated to win another NBA championship because he plans to auction his ring from last season’s title to raise money for mental health counseling in schools.

I think it’ll be more important to give back to something I believe in, which is providing kids with someone to talk to because it’s so expensive. I pay for parenting counseling, marriage counseling and anger management, and it’s very expensive. This will be for children of all demographics, rich or poor — preferably the rich can pay for their own psychologists — but it’ll be a great way to help kids who don’t know where they’re going in their life at this point.

When I think of mental health advocates, it’s easy to relate to Tipper Gore using the reach of the Vice Presidential office of her husband to bring mental health issues into the national debate. It’s easy to comprehend Mrs. Carter offering fellowships to journalists to write about mental health. We applaud Glenn Close for sharing her sister’s story and using her celebrity to draw attention to a cause that is all too often ignored. They are the ideal advocates we have…for middle class and elite America.

But what about everyone else…it’s commendable that Ron Artest is using his considerable clout among young people, the very people unlikely to seek help, to make a difference. We may not all be NBA superstars with a sphere of influence in the millions, but no matter how large or small, what is important is that we do something.

You don’t have to change the whole world. Start by changing your world and I will work on changing mine and if enough of us do that, the entire world will begin to change.

October 6, 2010

Acts of Kindness: Countering Bullying in our Schoolyards

Filed under: Youth — Tags: , , , , — Marc Peters @ 9:15 am

My heart may have been irrecoverably broken this week. Each and every day this week there seemed to be a new story about a student lost to suicide. People are waking up to the fact that there is an epidemic of bullying in our country and all too often it is ending in tragedy.

I’ve been suicidal before. I get brought up to the edge by a chemical imbalance, but what keeps me there thinking about taking my own life is self-loathing. A self-loathing that was fostered by making the wrong friends in grade school and sticking by them after being constantly demeaned. A self-loathing that was fostered after being called out for being overweight. A self-loathing that was fostered by being made to feel too smart by my classmates and not good enough by my father. It took me a long time, a great therapist and good friends to get over all that. But too many young people aren’t giving themselves that chance.

Bullying is a fact of life. From the time we start kindergarten until we graduate from college, we are faced with “school-yard bullies” Some kids are just mean and haven’t been taught a sense of right and wrong. Others have an abusive home life that fosters the belief that doing wrong is right. Now, we can love these bullies and hope that they grow and change and mature, but the reality is that eradicating bullying from our society is unlikely.

Let’s work under the premise that bullying will always exist and the bullied will always be suffering as a result. We can try and be punitive. We can confront bullies with fists or we can sentence them to detention and never change the behavior of others. It’s futile. We aren’t going to win playing this game. We need to change the rules of the game. We need to change the game itself.

To be honest, the bullies aren’t where we need to be spending the majority of our energy. It’s the bystanders at whom we need to take a hard look. So many of us watch people getting harassed and never respond. If we do respond, it is to challenge or report the bully. All too often, we forget to support the bullied student. We need to counteract anger with love. If there will always be premeditated acts of hatred, we need premeditated acts of kindness. Random acts of kindness are all well and good, but that’s not what this situation requires. We will never get anywhere in fits and starts. We need to take every opportunity to affirm the people in our lives. We need to build their defenses up before these incidents take place.

We all must realize that our words and action carry serious repercussions. Words carry weight. They can affirm someone or they can break them down. We need to build people up. We are losing far too many people to keep doing the same old thing. I doubt that we will ever “cure” depression, but we can bring an end to this senseless loss of life taking place in our communities and across our country.

I’ve seen people argue that suicide is without exception, a byproduct of mental illness. Speaking from someone who has gone through severe depressive episodes, it is important to know that the behavior is triggered by something. You may have a warped sense of reality, but it is in fact still reality that you are looking at. A rational person might look at being publicly humiliated and bullied and be able to cope with the ramifications. A depressed person might look at the same situation and thing that their world is over and they have no choice but to end it. That is what we are fighting. That is what we need to prevent. Tell your friends and family what they mean to you. Tell your classmates that you care. Tell your neighbor that they are important to you. Together, we can make this a better world to live in and one that our friends stick around to see.

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