Sally is a psychologist who had 16 years in the field of mental health before she faced a life-changing tragedy.
Her brother Carson was a 34-year entrepreneur who by all external accounts was living an exceptional life. He had a beautiful family, hugely successful business, and many loving friends. Inside his head, however, Carson fought the demons of bipolar condition as was often plagued with feelings of anxiety, self doubt and shame that ultimately proved to be fatal when he took his life on December 7th, 2004. In an acute grief state, Sally and other members of Carson’s family and friends resolved to do bold, gap-filling work to prevent what happened to Carson from happening to others.
This passion led to new suicide prevention and mental health promotion initiatives aimed at helping men realize that they were not alone when facing depression, addiction or other overwhelming life stressors.
The first initiative was a national effort to bring make suicide prevention a health and safety priority in our workplaces. Through collaborative partnerships and lots of trust building, many first responder, transportation, oil and gas and construction communities -- where the workforce is primarily men -- are implementing total wellness programs that include many of the strategies outlined in this book.
The second initiative is a humorous, digital approach called “Man Therapy” (www.ManTherapy.org), that draws men to the website portal with compelling media and encourages them to self-assess for depression, anxiety, anger and substance use disorders. This program now has special modules for first responders, military/veterans and primary care, and uses humor to bring down barriers men may have to accepting advice and counsel. After all, laughter is the best medicine, and there is no co-pay.
Today she is a professional speaker and impact entrepreneur who uses her platforms to “elevate the conversation” and make resilience, mental health and suicide prevention health and safety priorities where we live, work and learn. As a mother of three young men, her vision is that they continue to thrive in a world where men are proud of how they manage their emotional well-being and develop life-long skills of compassion for one another.
Frank is a standup comedian and storyteller, who was born into a family with the gift of humor, and the curse of generational depression and suicide. His maternal grandmother took her own life, after realizing her mental state was deteriorating and felt that “doctors have done all they could,” his mother found her. His grandmother’s sister, his great aunt took her life after being diagnosed with glaucoma, and deciding that she didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, his mother and he found her at age four. According to Frank’s mother, he “screamed for days.” She said that she offered a deal to God, that she would give up 10 years of her life, if he would make it so Frank didn’t remember any of this, and he didn’t, until 2014 when in an instant, whatever had walled that off in Frank’s brain collapsed, and the traumatic memory all came flooding back.
It was a blessing and a curse. A curse, in that up until that moment, he’d been blissfully unaware of his aunt’s final moments, and of his family history of generational depression and suicide, and blessing, in that it explained the source of his major depressive disorder and chronic suicidality.
For as long as he could remember, suicide was always an option on the menu for him, for problems large and small. He remembers one time when his car broke down and he had three thoughts unbidden; one, he could get it fixed, two, he could buy a new one, or three, he could just kill himself. That’s chronic suicidality.
Shortly thereafter, he went from being a funny speaker, to being a speaker who is funny. He now had a story to tell, with not just ha-ha’s, but also with life saving ah-ha’s. He began doing something he’d been dreaming of since he took the stage as comedian, making a living, and a difference. He took those painful memories, and presented an 18 minute TED style talk event in Vancouver, BC. Today he shares his lived experience, and mental health insights, speaking on depression and suicide prevention for association, corporations, and colleges everywhere.
He’s doing what comedians, since the time of the court jester, were born to do, speak truth to power, on behalf of the powerless. He speaks truth to the power of mental illness, on behalf of people often powerless in its grip. He’s taken his familial gift of humor, and curse of mental illness, and combined them to bring hope to the often hopeless.3
Shortly after accepting her first job in the mental health field, at 20 years old, Sarah lost her third friend to suicide in a three year period. She was so devastated by that loss that she had informed her new employer that she did not think she would be able to work with youth in crisis. However, Sarah’s mother encouraged her to try it, reminding her that she could always quit if it was too much (Thanks MOM!).
A couple decades later, Sarah has worked with many populations ranging in age from youth to the elderly, with challenges ranging from trauma to chronic mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance use related disorders to suicidality. She has worked in a wide variety of settings including residential treatment, outpatient, substance abuse, crisis and outreach.
Sarah earned her Associates Degree at Holyoke Community College (1998) and her Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health counseling at Antioch University New England (2009). She is honored to be part of the Riverside Trauma Center, a Program of Riverside Community Care, based in Needham, Massachusetts. In her role there, she has been providing trauma response, suicide prevention training and trauma training to public safety and Massachusetts communities. Interestingly enough, Sarah was warned that Firefighters and Police officers would never talk about their struggles. As she has learned and you will find in these pages, when you give men permission to talk about their lives, they will.