To open the conference, Mr. Kevin Briggs, a CA Highway Patrol officer discussed his experiences with assisting others whom he encountered wanting to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Helping over two hundred individuals NOT jump to their death was experienced through a desire to listen, learn and understand the individual with compassion and gentleness.
Mr. Shawn Silverstein provided information on a special service and group offered by Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center for those that have attempted suicide and survived. He discussed how these individuals could feel stigmatized, embarrassed, lost and alone. Through an eight week model designed to provide coping skills, a sense of community and instill hope, individuals have successfully begun their healing process.
Mr. Robert Gamboa of West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board discussed how gender and sexual identity can increase risk of depression and suicidality. Through his own life experience, and drawing upon the narratives of others in the GLBTQ community, Mr. Gamboa demonstrated how intersectionality (considerations of variables such as ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, etc.) can be factors which “silence” the self’s identity, leading some to attempt conformity, which after desperate attempts to no avail, suicide can become for them their most immediate way to cope. His message encouraged understanding, compassion and acceptance for the essential self of every human being in efforts to support their own acceptance of self and their choices to be and live in our world.
Adding to the voices of diversity was a special treat by Lisa Klein, writer and director of “The S Word." Last year, she introduced us to her film on suicide. This year, we had the privilege of viewing “The S Word” it in its entirety. It draws upon diverse voices of individuals who struggle with depression and suicidality. It will raise consciousness and I highly recommend its viewing.
Very interesting, the keynote speaker, Dr. Victoria Arango, former professor of neurobiology in the Dept. of Psychiatry at Columbia University discussed the role of a “diseased brain,” arguing that while there are several factors in individuals who have lost their lives to suicide, research has demonstrated fewer neurons in the orbital cortex of the brain. Thus, she presented some findings on the neurobiology of suicide, and through questions posed and answers given at the conference, a multi-factor model of understanding suicide was offered as most comprehensive, which makes sense..
As we turn our attention this month to suicide awareness and prevention, may we hold a special space of deep compassion, understanding and care for all impacted by the loss of life. May we pause a bit longer, to listen, to be present, to extend compassion and care. And, may we courageously “shatter the silence” around depression, suicide and mental illness.