Paul Newman has dedicated his career to helping couples and families find and maintain happiness in their lives, a choice due in part to his own struggles with depression.
“I’ve been sad to the point where I wanted to take my own life,” Newman told a group gathered to listen to his perspective at an event last Thursday in Tremonton. “I choose not to dwell on that. I’ve developed coping skills.”
As local health professionals and others continue their ongoing work to address the growing problem of suicide in the Bear River area, a coalition of volunteers organized an event for the community to to see what support systems are available, and to give feedback about what is still needed to address the issue.
The Northern Box Elder County Suicide Prevention Coalition held a town hall meeting in the evening last Thursday, Sept. 26 at the Box Elder County Fairgrounds. Held under the theme “From Hope to Cope: Come Curious and Leave Empowered,” the meeting covered a variety of topics including suicide prevention, hope squads, grief, yoga, community health centers, focus groups and sand therapy.
Newman said he gives all of his clients in therapy two homework assignments, which he said can help people who are struggling and may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. First, he has them keep a “gratitude journal.”
“You write down three things you’re grateful for every day,” he said. “If you start to seek positive things, things that make you happy, it actually changes your brain. It makes you look for those things.”
Newman said there’s an important difference between being grateful and being thankful.
“Gratitude is something you work for, that you are invested in,” he said. “I’m thankful that I’m able to go out to lunch with my mom, but I’m grateful for the relationship we have.”
The second homework assignment he gives is meditation exercises.
“When the mind starts to wander, you gently bring it back,” he said.
He said there are numerous smartphone apps available these days to assist with guided meditation. He specifically suggests Virtual Hope Box, a popular YouTube channel and app that has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.
Newman said it’s important for people who are struggling to realize they’re not alone.
“Nobody’s immune from this,” he said. “I’m a therapist, and my kids are still struggling. I’m still struggling.”
Newman also gave a presentation on sand therapy, a technique that uses sand trays and miniature objects for people to express to emotions that can be difficult to talk about.
Tiffany Palmer, who became a suicide prevention and awareness advocate after her brother took his own life three years ago, shared her experience in the hope of breaking down the stigma associated with suicide.
“I was surprised to feel the stigma from my own family after (my brother’s) death,” Palmer said. “They didn’t want an obituary or a funeral. They just wanted to bury him quietly.”
She joined the coalition to fight that stigma.
“Stigma is an ugly thing. It blinds us to what is truly important in this life,” Palmer said. “One of our goals is to take the stigma away from suicide and all mental health issues, so more people feel comfortable seeking the help they need.”
Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness was there to talk about support for people in the long-term recovery process from addiction, a major contributing factor to suicide.
Jason Williams, a psychiatrist based in Brigham City, was on hand to talk about helping people cope with grief, which can be especially challenging for those affected by suicide.
“It’s tough under normal circumstances, but with suicide, there’s an addition stigma that goes with it,” Stever said.
Tim Keaty of USU Extension led focus groups for people to brainstorm and give feedback about what resources are still needed in the community.
Also in attendance were representatives of local “hope squads,” groups made up of community members who go into local junior and high schools and provide a safe place for students to talk about their feelings and problems.
Jordan Miller of the Bear River Health Department was there to provide information on available resources.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of what’s out there,” Miller said.
Dorene Stever, a member of the coalition and one of the event organizers, got involved in the cause of suicide prevention and awareness through her own work experience as emergency coordinator at Bear River Valley Hospital.
“We had people come in and family members asking ‘where do I get help?’” she said. “It’s always been hard in our community, and we thought it was important to get a coalition going. We started inviting people from the community, and we had such a good response. We have a good core in our coalition now, and I’m happy it’s still going after 10 years.”