245: Frank King – Let’s Talk Suicide Prevention
TRIGGER WARNING: Topics covered may elicit strong emotions.
Suicide is a large and growing public health problem and it has been for a while. But with COVID-19, the numbers have seen a large spike.
According to the World Health Organization, almost 800,000 people in the world die by suicide every year. “For each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts. Suicide and attempts have a huge ripple effect on families, friends, communities, and societies.” But there is something that we can all do to prevent this public health problem.
Our guest for today is mental health comedian, Frank King. Frank was a writer for The Tonight Show for 20 years. He’s fought a lifetime battle with Major Depressive Disorder and Chronic Suicidality, turning that long dark journey of the soul into 6 TEDx Talks to help others.
For Frank, suicide is not a new topic. Depression and suicide run in his family. He’s thought about killing himself more times than he can count. But with help, he was able to overcome this health problem and uses his life lessons to start the conversation giving people permission to give voice to their feelings and experiences surrounding depression and suicide. He believes that where there is humor there is hope, where there is laughter there is life, nobody dies laughing. The right person, at the right time, with the right information, can save a life.
Mental health is an important topic and these are conversations we need to have more and more. Let’s start the conversation.
Frank’s career began as an insurance agent. But a few years into his career, he felt that this was not his calling. He then ventured out as a comedian. He knew that he would not have anything to lose if this new career path didn't work out.
But fortunately, it did. For 2,629 nights non-stop he and his then girlfriend hit the road moving from one comedy bar to another. From the “Comedy Condo” to the corporate side of comedy. A few years into his career, his business suddenly started facing bankruptcy, and that’s where he learned what the barrel of his gun tasted like.
But, spoiler alert - he didn’t pull the trigger. Frank used his experiences to start the conversation about suicide and mental health.
WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH COMEDY?
Who would you rather listen to for 45 minutes about mental health? A clinician or a comedian?
Mental health comedy is not joking about mental health and suicide but funny personal anecdotes. They call it comic relief for a reason.
Frank’s love for speaking and comedy mixed with his yearning to teach others about the importance of mental health is how his career as a mental health comedian began. In January 1, 2018, he decided that he would be a suicide prevention speaker. With his family history in generational depression and suicide (from his grandmother, to his aunt, to his mother), he knew that the topic for his keynote picked him - suicide prevention. He then began speaking about suicide prevention and spreading the important message around it.
WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE?
“You can be surrounded by love but the mind can be a lonely place at times”.
Suicide is on the rise in the United States, but people still don’t know quite how to talk about it. Although suicide awareness and mental health have come a long way, there is still so much stigma around them, which can make it difficult to talk about for those affected.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide has risen by 30 percent in the United States between 1999 and 2016.
It can be hard to think about suicide — much less talk about it. Many people shy away from the subject. They fear they might say the wrong thing. Those who have never experienced suicidal thoughts may even find it impossible to understand. And suicide definitely can be hard to understand, since it’s not always clear why a person makes this choice.
But in general, suicide often isn’t just an impulsive act. To people who consider it, it might seem like the most logical solution. It may not only be about dying, but about ending the pain.
WHY IS TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE SO IMPORTANT?
There’s a reason that alcoholism began as anonymous. Even until today, there is a stigma that with alcohol over-consumption, you aren’t strong enough or that you are seen as weak or that there’s a character fall. With mental illness, there’s the same stigma.
If you’ve never thought about taking your own life, you may find it difficult to understand why someone would consider dying this way. Even experts don’t fully understand why some people do and others don’t, though a range of mental health issues and life circumstances can play a role.
Because of this lack of conversation, it makes it so much more important to start talking.
We shouldn’t stay silent, because silence kills.
HOW WE CAN HELP
If your gut tells you there’s something wrong, believe it.
If you suspect that someone you know has suicidal thoughts, the more you need to ask them “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” Contrary to popular belief, you’re not going to push them over the edge with asking that question. Chances are, you might even save them. However, talking about suicide and bringing up that conversation can be difficult. If you can’t ask them this powerful question, find somebody who can.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF DEPRESSION OR SUICIDAL THOUGHTS?
Depression and suicidal thoughts look different on each person.
These are the general signs and symptoms of depression:
- Eating too much or can’t eat
- Sleep too much or can’t sleep
- Has difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, rallies in the afternoon
- Let’s their personal hygiene go
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Irritability, anger, or hostility
- Tearfulness or frequent crying
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities
- Poor school performance
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Restlessness and agitation
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained aches and pains
These are the signs of people having suicidal thoughts or behaviours:
- Talking about dying or wanting to die
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no way out of problems
- Mentioning strong feelings of guilt and shame
- Talking about not having a reason to live or that others would be better off without them
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Giving away personal items and wrapping up loose ends
- Giving away pets
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
What do you say to somebody who is admitting they are depressed or shows signs and symptoms that they are depressed or suicidal?
Well, what you DON’T tell them is to just shrug it off and put their bootstraps on. What you can do is to offer support and tell them you are there for them - and mean it.
Take the time and be patient to help them get treated. One powerful and important way to help them is to flat out asking them if they are having suicidal thoughts - if you can’t, then find somebody who can. This powerful question can help save their life. Encourage them to ask for help and talk to a professional.
“If your gut tells you there’s something wrong, believe it.” @theMHcomedian #chasingdreams
How social media plays an impact on mental health and suicide
For so many people, the number of likes, shares, followers, is a metric of their self-worth. Some parents and experts have suggested that using social media exposes kids to cyberbullying, soaring standards of beauty and performance, peer pressure, or comparison. There are also the physical effects of sacrificing sleep and exercise that can lead to poor mental health or exacerbate an existing mental health condition.
These are a few of the many effects of social media on our mental health:
- Focusing on vanity metrics: The need to gain “likes,” followers, comments, or subscribers on social media can cause teens, young adults, and even adults to make choices they would otherwise not make.
- Cyberbullying: Teens girls, transgender teens, the LGBTQ+ community in particular are at risk of cyberbullying through use of social media, but teen boys and adults are not immune. Cyberbullying is one of the causes of depression, anxiety, and an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts.
- Comparing yourself to others: Though many of us know that people share only their highlight reels on social media, it’s very difficult to avoid making comparisons. These days, everything from your personal, professional, and love life are all under a microscope on social media.
According to studies, the rising suicide rates in demographic groups such as teens, LGBTQ+, have coincided with rising rates of social media use. However, social media is not always the enemy. If used right, there is an upside to social media.
It’s important to remember that humans are hardwired for socialization, and social media makes socializing easier. People struggling with mental health issues can find support and friendship through use of social media. When we connect with small groups of supportive people via social media, those connections can be the difference between li