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Monday, October 29, 2012

4 Ways You Can Prevent Suicide in Your Community



After losing my father and grandfather to suicide I suffered with my own bout of depression and suicide ideation, and thankfully I was able to get help from my mother, a school counselor, and friends. And it was during my recovery that I realized I could use my one-man play, The Gospel According to Joshwhich talks a little of my father’s suicide, to help people who are clinically depressed, suffering from mental illness, or having suicidal thoughts—people who don’t know how or where they can get help or that suicide is indeed preventable.

Because suicide affects millions of Americans annually, one of the questions I always get when presenting the show is, “How do we take extra steps to prevent suicide in our community?” 

There are a great deal of different ways and I’ll list a four of them here.

1) Talk about it: Talking about suicide with the right amount of education and research is completely harmless. Asking someone if they’re thinking about suicide will not make them complete a suicide. Asking the question is simply a gauge to see how strongly someone is thinking about suicide, if they’re even thinking about it at all. By not asking and by not speaking about suicide, we create an invisible stigma that says it’s not okay to talk about and receive help for suicidal thoughts. Clearly we want to help everyone thinking of taking their life. 

2) Be a support: Offer or give your time to community events like a bake sale, a suicide awareness week, a cook-off—things that promote inclusion of everyone and the idea that your community’s members will support their own tribe. Isolation and non-inclusion can be the kiss of death for people thinking of taking their own life. Remind people that we’re all in this together and we care what happens to every person in our world—black, white, physically disabled, gay, or straight. And the gift of time you give to others is often the best gift you can give of yourself.

3) Be Aware of your Language: Language plays a huge role in how we talk about and conceptualize ideas around a variety of social issues. Words can build up and support or they can break down and add to stigma. Replace the phrase “committed suicide,” with “died by suicide.” Using the word “committed” makes the death sound like a crime when in fact it was something enacted by someone who was in terrible emotional pain who needed support to stay alive and not the feeling of guilt or shame that keeps them from getting help. 
Try not to carelessly throw out the phrase, “if ___(I fail a test, if Aunt Bessie makes another fruitcake for Christmas etc.) ___then I’ll kill myself.” You’re trivializing the serious nature of a suicide and don’t always know whose company you’re in who might be dealing with suicidal thoughts.

4) Know your local and national sources of help: Find out who your local psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists are; where they’re located; and how to contact them. Know their policies about taking insurance. Know where your local emergency room is. Memorize the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number: 1-800-273-8255. Find out if there are local suicide survivor (those who have lost a loved one to suicide) support groups in your area.

These are simply a few of things we can do as communities to ensure the safety and well being of our members. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org), The American Association of Suicidology (www.suicidology.org), and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org) all have wonderful resources and further dialogue on this matter. And it goes without saying, you always have my support and I’ll help in regards to this topic or any other at any time. Thanks!



A blog post from Mr. Clarence Washington


Hello friends of Joshua

Some of you may or may not know who I am. My name is Clarence Washington and I am one of the characters Joshua has written into his one-man play, … According to Josh. I have to admit that when Joshua first approached me and asked if he could base one of his characters on me, I was a little hesitant to say yes. 

A white person playing a black man? We haven’t seen that since Bill Clinton was president. 

He also told me that my character was only going to be a minor role in the play and I’d only get one or two scenes. But let me tell you I am no second string quarterback. I’m a starter. I’ve got personality and panache. I was the best jazz flute player in Raleigh, North Carolina three years in a row when I was a young man. I almost got a chance to play with Jethro Tull till I learned they were playing for the Devil and not for Jesus. I still pray for those boys every day.   

But anyway I’m happy to help Joshua with his play. I’ve known him since he was a little boy, always running into things, wearing food all over his face, and getting into trouble. He never seemed too bright and I felt sorry for him. So I said he could put me in his play.

And he does a good job with how I’m portrayed. I’m still wearing my double breasted banana suits and patent leather shoes every Sunday for church. The only thing I’m not happy about is this thing he wrote about me looking so good on Sundays, “that some weeks I looked like the church’s pimp.” I’ve never looked like a pimp a day in my life. I don’t have a bunch of strung out white women hanging on my arm. And the only pimping anyone should be doing is for Jesus. You let everyone know that He’s your daddy and nothing’s going to change it and you make sure to get them to work for Jesus too. 

But overall I’m happy to share a little of the spotlight with Joshua and I’m glad to meet you all and I look forward to seeing you at …According to Josh sometime in the future.

With blessings,

Clarence Washington

Stay the Course and Find Your Waterfall


Recently I had the opportunity and the honor of performing and presenting The Gospel According to Josh : Suicide Prevention Program, for four hundred and fifty teens at a leadership conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Since I’ve never been to the Hawaiian islands, I took a few extra days before and after my presentation and indulged in a much needed vacation in this tropical paradise.

Early one morning I took a thirty minute flight from the island of Oahu to the island of Kauai—made famous by the George Clooney film The Descendants and where a good portion of exterior shots were filmed in Jurassic Park. 
The first thing I made sure to do was drive from the southern tip of the island and up the western coast to view the three thousand foot deep Waimea Canyon, often called “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

After spending a few hours exploring some of the lookout areas in the lower part of the canyon, I drove up to the top to take in some of the aerial views. I got to one of the highest points (where parking lots still existed), parked my rental car, and made my way to what I thought and hoped was the edge but was actually a man made pathway that led somewhere other than where I wanted to go. I looked back and saw a few more well-worn paths on the other side of the parking lot but this one felt strange and exotic and something like “the road less traveled.” 

As I began my hike down this path, the canopy above started to get thicker and only let in a moderate amount of sunlight. Tree roots served as natural steps and the path got steeper and started swerving in every which way. I wasn’t prepared for a proper hike in my water shoes and swimming trunks, but I’d never know the next time I’d be in Hawaii and told myself to keep going. I traveled for about thirty minutes, till I got to a fork in the road. I looked at the time on my phone which was nearly dead and saw that I had about two hours till I had to make it to the other side of the island for a Luau that I paid for in advance and didn’t want to miss. If I turned back now I’d be safe and able to get to the Luau with about thirty minutes to spare. I had to make a decision—should turn around or take a risk and continue traveling through this rainforest on the side of a four million year old canyon. 

Just as I was about to turn back, a family emerged from one of the converging paths and told me that if I continued hiking, I’d come across signs that would either lead me to a picturesque view at the edge of the canyon, the bottom of the canyon, or a waterfall. My decision was easy: go find the waterfall, because it’s not every day I’d get to see one. 

With great excitement, I hiked for another forty minutes and passed trees and species of small birds that I’d never seen before. The smells and the views were absolutely incredible and finally led me to the edge of the canyon that consisted of loose red rock. I must have taken the wrong path and didn’t have the extra time to turn around to find the waterfall because I wanted to make my reservation for the Luau. 

Before I headed back though, there were two male/female couples a closer to the ledge than I but who stopped about twenty feet short of the edge. When I got closer I saw that the actual edge was a little further down, and though pretty steep it was possible to get down there to look down into the canyon. 

I gingerly stepped down the steep incline toward the cliff’s edge, lost my footing, and started sliding and stopped only a foot short of certain death. As I regained my composure, I looked to my left and saw a little manmade staircase made of pieces of railroad ties. I took that staircase down the side of the canyon and curved my way down a little further until I ended up at the fifty foot waterfall I had been searching for. 

I made my way through some big rock formations and a small stream and put my shirt and phone off to the side on a rock and jumped into a natural pool of water about four feet deep and swam to where the waterfall was spitting into the pool of water and let it splash onto my head and chest. I then swam to the side of the pool where there blackberries growing off of a rock formation and picked some for myself, ate them, and swam around as the chilly water eased my sunburn and helped cool me off after a long hike on a hot day.

And that my friends is one of the reasons why after almost three years, I’m still doing The Gospel According to Josh—but not for the Hawaiian waterfalls. I started on a journey and at various points I’ve hit obstacles, ran into forks in the road that could’ve taken me anywhere, cut myself walking through heavy brush, and at times have nearly slid down the side of a three thousand foot canyon. But I stayed the course and have since discovered numerous waterfalls. I’ve learned so much about myself, and life, and business throughout this three year process. I’ve traveled to new places across the country and performed for conservative Jewish, evangelical Christian, teenage, preteen, and Historically Black College audiences. I’ve been able to make my living as a practitioner of the arts as a working actor, playwright, and producer. I’ve hugged people who are still healing from their loved one’s suicide and made lifelong friends in Ohio, Hawaii, and Colorado. And I’m in the process of editing a memoir that I’ve written based on the show and the show will be opening Off-Broadway in September of 2013. 

All of this would never have happened if I’d listened to the voices along the way—real or in my head—that I was crazy because the trail ahead was scary or dangerous or an unsure thing. 

Keep traveling along your path. There’s no guarantee that you’ll find what you’re looking for but the real fun (and the test) is allowing yourself to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells around you while you’re on your journey—mine were/are new friends, realized dreams, and self discovery. What’s yours?