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Mental Health experts to hold frank conversation about suicide at Soka University

Orange County Register - 4/12/2019

April 12-- Apr. 12--The trajectory of Alison Malmon's life changed on March 24, 2000 -- the day her brother, Brian, took his life at age 22.

For Malmon, who later learned how deeply her brother had struggled with mental illness during his four years in college, facilitating open conversations about mental illness and suicide on high school and college campuses became a life goal. In 2003, she launched Active Minds, a Washington D.C.- based nonprofit, which now has 500 student-run chapters in all 50 states, primarily on college campuses.

"We've been able to create a culture and climate in school where it's OK to talk about mental illness and it's OK to reach out for resources," she said.

Malmon will bring the conversation to Soka University in Aliso Viejo on Tuesday, April 16, during a program titled "Suicide: A Conversation," alongside Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Jamison will bring a different perspective. She will speak as a clinician and as someone who has struggled with bipolar disorder since she was 17, and "nearly died" from a suicide attempt.

Her specialty is studying and treating mood disorders. And you can't do that, Jamison said, "without being interested and involved with patients who are suicidal."

This conversation about suicide and mental illness comes at a time when Southern California has seen clusters of suicides, particularly among high school students. In August, three Rancho Cucamonga high school students and an elementary school student died by suicide.

More recently, on March 5, a 13-year-old boy died by suicide at the campus shared by Don Juan Avila elementary and middle schools in Aliso Viejo, barely a couple of miles from Soka University.

This conversation about suicide was planned in the summer, soon after the high-profile suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade, said Mary Patrick Kavanaugh, Soka's director of special projects.

"It's important to have the conversation because there is a huge resistance to having it," she said. "We need to get to the heart of the issue. Talking about it is important to normalize the conversation about it, because it isn't going anywhere. We not only need to talk about it, but also hold each other up as a community. And that's what we're trying to do."

The good news, Malmon said, is that studies are showing a decrease in stigma when it comes to seeking help for mental health issues among younger people.

She says mental health should be treated as a public health issue.

"It should be something coaches and teachers on campuses and resident advisers or anyone who interacts with students should be trained on," she said. "Students themselves are first responders in many cases. They should be taught about resilience, seeking help and coping mechanisms long before it gets to a crisis stage."

Having conversations about mental health and education are critical first steps, Jamison said.

"It's important for parents to educate themselves about what is depression, who gets it and if it runs in families," she said. "Depression is a big risk factor for suicides."

One of the biggest misconceptions is that suicide is rare and not preventable, Jamison said.

"If you treat the underlying illnesses, it's preventable," she said. "People think if they talk about suicide, the person might commit suicide. That's simply not true."

If you go

What: Critical Conversations: Suicide, a Conversation

Where: Soka Performing Arts Center, 1 University Circle, Aliso Viejo

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 16

Tickets: General admission is $18.

Information: Free tickets can be requested by organized school groups, community organizations, or individuals who cannot afford the price of admission by emailing conversations@soka.edu

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(c)2019 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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