By Jennifer Wright
We live in an era where we tend to be comfortable discussing many diseases and debilitating conditions. However, suicide – or thoughts of suicide – still remains something of a taboo topic. When people tell us they’re depressed, we’re often inclined to tell them to snap out of it, or simply brush the idea aside by saying that “everyone feels that way sometimes.” Raising awareness of the signs of depression and suicidal tendencies and developing tools to cope with these leanings is a challenge for our times. Work done by foundations like Jed, that, along with supporters such as Pete Wentz, hosted its 8th Annual Gala and Awards Dinner recently, is vitally important. Little wonder that Ask Melissa Founder Melissa Meyers and husband Michael Meyers (a recent Jed board member) purchased a table.
The Jed Foundation was formed after Donna and Phil Satow’s son Jed, a student at the University of Arizona, took his own life. Their mission is dedicated to decreasing the rate of suicide and emotional distress among college students. This is a critical age; anchorman Stone Phillips noted at the dinner that 1 out of 10 college students reports signs of mid to moderate depression. In addition to facts and figures, Stone also made the challenge of coping with depression more personal when he explained that his father suffered from the disease, and that he saw “the stigma associated with seeking help for mental illness.” Fortunately, today his father at age 90 is doing well.
Stone Phillips was hardly the only notable personality in attendance whose life had been radically altered by depression. Well known figures such as singer Pete Wentz, the most recent Gossip Girl feature Brittany Snow and actress Heather Matarazzo all turned out in support of the cause. Kevin Bacon even performed along with his brothers (their band is aptly called The Bacon Brothers) as did Kristy Cates of Wicked renown.
Brittany Snow discussed her own issues with mental disorders in the past and had advice for any people dealing with these struggles today stating, “I really think that just knowing that you’re not alone is a huge thing. It’s really scary to think that you need help and you need support, but that’s the only way. I feel like getting better means reaching out to other people. And also know that you’re not crazy, you’re not this thing that nobody can touch, you’re really normal.”
As a lesbian, Heather Matarazzo was particularly concerned with the issues facing gay, lesbian and questioning youth. She explained that “homosexual teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers,” and also touchingly and honestly recounted how her own difficulties coming out of the closet drove her to attempt suicide. Knowing that depression can afflict even those who outwardly seem to have very successful lives serves as a harrowing reminder that it can happen to anyone.
Fortunately, the Foundation is doing a great deal to help young people suffering through these difficulties feel less alone. John Sexton, the 15th President of NYU, spoke of giving out his personal phone number and offering to stop by any time students needed a hug. He was also pleased to report that while colleges average seven suicides a year, NYU has gone years without this calamity. Representatives from the Department of Veteran Affairs also spoke of – and showed videos about – the effects of post-traumatic stress on veterans returning to college.
Lesley Stahl was on hand to present an award to HBO’s Sheila Nevins. The evening provided a showcase for HBO’s upcoming documentary “Boy, Interrupted” which details the story of a 15 year old who committed suicide, and the effect it had on those who loved him. The film will air on HBO in August.
Everyone’s heart surely goes out to anyone facing these difficult issues. Fortunately, attention raising groups like Jed help us all remember to be aware, to offer help and hope, and to know that mental illness can be overcome. To learn more about the work visit them at: www.jedfoundation.org/
Photos of Stone Phillips, Lesley Stahl, Kevin Bacon, Sheila Nevins courtesy of Robin Platzer, and John Sexton on NYU.edu.