Thirteen reasons to embrace life
Isabelle Cole tried to be the perfect daughter, the one her family didn’t have to worry about.
For years, the family’s focus was on her older sister who had cancer. Even though she survived that, the cancer was hiding a deeper illness, depression and an eating disorder. When her sister tried to commit suicide, she was hospitalized again, and would be several times more.
So Cole learned how to take care of herself. She learned how to put on a happy face to hide the emptiness she felt inside.
“The sadness crept in and on Dec. 9, 2016, I had had enough,” Cole told an audience of about 100 at Wesley United Methodist Church, where she was the featured speaker for “13 Reasons to Fly SEK,” a suicide awareness event.
Cole spent about nine months in a hospital after attempting suicide. For the first few months, she struggled.
Six months into treatment, she was sitting alone in a corner of her room, feeling trapped while “everyone else is out there living.”
Isabelle Cole helps Macie Hoag dissolve a piece of paper that represents something in her life she wants to let go. REGISTER/VICKIE MOSS
She saw the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why,” in which a young woman explains why she killed herself. Cole felt the show glorified suicide and bought into the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding mental health.
So she sat down and wrote her 13 reasons to live. She shared her ideas with others at the hospital, and eventually started a foundation to educate and inspire others to talk openly about mental health.
Cole brought her message to Kansas City this past summer, where members of Wesley UMC heard her presentation. Church members were still reeling from the suicide of 19-year-old Matthew Miller, a longtime member of the church. They wanted others to hear Cole’s message and start a conversation, not just for those in Iola but for those across the region.
More than 100 people registered for this past weekend’s event, from 17 zip codes, organizers said.
Mental health professionals joined Cole to lead a series of breakout sessions on Saturday, followed by a question-and-answer session Sunday. Videos of the sessions are on the Register’s YouTube and Facebook sites.
In one group activity, Cole gave participants three pieces of paper. On one, she asked them to write something they could do to spread kindness. Those papers were formed into a chain.
On another, she asked them to write something they want to “let go,” such as a negative thought or habit. Those pieces of paper were placed into a jar of water, where they dissolved to symbolize the physical action of letting go.
The last exercise proved to be the most trying. Cole asked participants to write a letter to someone “who’s always there for you,” to thank that person. The task was an emotional journey for many.
Isabelle Cole, of Washington, D.C., and founder of 13 Reasons to Fly, holds up a “chain of kindness,” with each link representing suggestions from the audience on how they can show kindness to others. REGISTER/VICKIE MOSS
THE WORKSHOPS covered a variety of ways to improve mental health and address problem areas.
One workshop focused on developing coping skills, such as using meditation and mindfulness, or using a journal to express thoughts and feelings. Coping skills teach ways to get back control of your situations and emotions, Lisa Holloway, adolescent case manager at Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center said.
Another workshop used short activities to teach kindness and understanding, led by Michelle Hoag, outpatient therapist at SEK Mental Health. Participants took a quiz to gauge their level of empathy. Most said they were surprised to discover their score was lower than expected, and realized that was an area they needed to improve.
The session also covered social media, and the dangers it poses to mental health. Adolescents who use social media are five times more likely to feel sad or depressed, Hoag said. Studies have shown a link between social media and depression, anxiety, sleep problems, eating disorders and increased suicide risk. She talked of the dangers of addiction to social media and cyberbullying.
She also taught a meditation exercise that had participants let an M&M dissolve in their mouths.
The point was to take time to appreciate the moment, instead of being focused on the past or future.
Janalin Taylor, school-based therapist for SEK Mental Health, taught the other workshop, “Recognizing Signs and Symptoms.”
“It’s like Isabelle Cole said this morning, depression has that big, negative voice that says you’re not enough,” she said.
Everyone feels down sometimes, but the question is how much does it impact your daily life?
“Everyone can have a pajama day and watch Netflix every now and then,” Taylor said. “But when it’s a pajama day five days in a row, that’s a problem.”
She offered a list of warning signs of suicide, such as suicidal threats, increased depression, anger, sudden lack of interest in activities, dropping grades, a preoccupation with suicide (looking up suicide-related topics online), and giving things away.
“By themselves, none of those things are signs someone is about to kill themselves, but they are signs that a person is struggling with something,” Taylor said
It’s important to take time to listen to someone who’s struggling, she said. Ask if they’ve thought of how they would actually kill themselves, Taylor said. Despite a persistent myth that talking about suicide might “put thoughts into someone’s head,” the opposite is true.
Asking someone how they would do it will show just how serious someone is, Taylor said. They may reveal methods you can safeguard against. For example, if someone says they would use pills, you can take better precautions to secure medication in the home.
People, especially youth, worry about betraying a friend by telling authorities when someone threatens to harm themselves. Children should be taught that it’s better to risk upsetting someone than to risk the chance of harm.
“Kids should say, ‘I care too much about you to risk it. Let’s go talk to your mom or let’s go talk to a trusted adult,’” Taylor said.
It’s important to be able to talk openly about struggles with mental health, and to listen to those who share their struggles, she said.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in those age 15 to 24, she said. She offered a list of resources for those struggling with mental illness or thoughts of suicide:
Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center’s 24/7 hotline: 1-866-973-2241
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273- TALK (8255)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Chat: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
Crisis Text Line: crisistextline.org or text HOME to 741741
Also, you can call 911 to report yourself or someone who is suicidal, or you can go to the hospital’s emergency room.