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    How to Help Boys Thrive

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    How You Can Help Prevent Suicide

    “What in the world do you have to be depressed about?”

    “Did something happen to make you sad?”

    “Just snap out of it.”

    Susan* has heard all of these statements her entire life from friends and family as she battled clinical depression.

    “Growing up I was a very shy person in a family of extroverts,” says Susan. “My siblings all love being social and funny. I’m the one who just wants to stay home and read. Throughout my childhood I was very moody.”

    It wasn’t until law school when she was waking up in the middle of the night with her jaw clenched that she decided to talk with a counselor. During her first session, the counselor asked, “At what point in your life did you determine it was your job to be the savior to everyone?”

    “It was at that moment that it hit me,” Susan recalls. “Up to that point, I was the person everybody came to with their problems. I learned I needed some serious boundaries in order to stop letting people walk all over me. I also learned I was clinically depressed.”

    Susan knew she had much to be thankful for, but that didn’t stop her from feeling horrible on a daily basis.

    “Living with depression is like this fog that minimizes joys and magnifies hurts and criticism,” Susan shares. “People who don’t have depression see the world in color. People with depression see the world in black and white. I have dealt with suicidal thoughts for 20 years.”

    Susan recalled a time three months before her wedding. She was driving home from work, planning her suicide in her mind. She wanted the pain to be over. Clearly, she did not follow through with her plan. Susan’s fiance was out of town on business, and she could not think of one other person who would know what to do. She got the help she needed to get through that moment, but every day is still a battle. 

    “In listening to people talk about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I think people don’t understand that when you suffer from depression, it’s like every day on this earth is a living hell,” Susan says. “My depression is so severe, it often interferes with my ability to function. For me, and I think many others dealing with depression, the thought of not having to deal with the pain anymore is very appealing.”

    When asked what people say as they try to help, Susan shared that it isn’t helpful to tell a depressed person to just snap out of it, pop a pill or ask if they had a fight with their spouse. 

    “It is helpful to ask, ‘What can I do?’ or to send a text to check in or call and ask how things are going,” Susan says. “Both my husband and I suffer from depression. He knows that when I am having a hard time, the best thing he can do is give me space and let me be quiet. I know that when he is struggling, the thing that helps him most is to get out and do something.”

    Talking to a friend or family member about their suicidal thoughts and feelings can feel awkward. But if you're unsure whether someone is suicidal, the best way to find out is to ask. You can't make a person suicidal by showing that you care. Giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings, however, can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt.

    If you want to be helpful to a person who you believe may be having suicidal thoughts, here are some things you should do:

    • Be yourself. Let the person know you care and that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.

    • Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair or vent anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, its existence is a positive sign.

    • Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm and accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.

    • Offer hope. Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.

    • Take the person seriously. If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head, you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s OK for them to share their pain with you.

    • Ask them how you can be helpful. They may not be able to immediately answer this question, but asking it encourages them to think about it.

    Here are some things you should not do. DO NOT:

    • Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: "You have so much to live for," "Your suicide will hurt your family," or “Look on the bright side.”

    • Act shocked, lecture on the value of life or say that suicide is wrong.

    • Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.

    • Offer ways to fix their problems, give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.

    • Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.

    If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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    How to Be Present During the Holidays

    It’s here - that season when you throw sanity out the window and with wild abandon throw yourself full throttle into the holidays. I mean, there are things to do, people to see, places to go and only a certain amount of time to make things happen. Right?

    For the most part, we’ve gotten really good at our to-do lists. We get the coveted gifts for our family, hopefully at the prices we want to pay. We plan holiday gatherings and assign tasks to our guests. We ferociously clean and shop and wrap and eat and, if we are honest, we often complain either inwardly or outwardly about how we try to make the season merry and bright for the ones we love. When that is the case, we look a lot less like Santa and a lot more like the Grinch.

    Maybe you gave up aiming for the “perfect” holiday, but still find yourself stressed about all that you want to pack into the month. Even if you've opted for simpler moments of peace and quiet, you may find yourself wrestling with everybody else’s expectations. 

    In reality, the holiday season is full of opportunities for us to really be there for our friends, family and even strangers. Though it may be tempting to rush through it all and complete our to-do list with as little financial and emotional damage as possible, this season has the unique potential to create a mindshift, not only for this month, but on into the new year.

    A couple of years ago, a holiday to-do list went viral, probably for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the most important is that in spite of how “connected” we say we are, people are longing for the presence of people in their lives. The list is a great reminder of ways we can be present in the lives of those we know and those we have the opportunity to get to know. 

    Keeping this list in mind can set the tone for how you give what you give during the holidays and beyond. It’s kind of amazing that the gift we can give to people that means the most doesn’t actually require us to spend money, but in our minds it may be the most costly present because we can’t be completely present with someone while focusing on something else at the same time. Perhaps the best present is to be present. Time is the one thing that once it’s spent, you can’t get it back.

    Dr. Suess said, “Sometimes you never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” There will always be things to buy, but the moments when we give our best selves to people are what make lasting memories.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 7, 2019.

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    Fun Ways for Families to Connect During the Holidays

    With all of the expectations around the holidays, things can get kind of crazy. The very time that is supposed to bring families closer together is often filled with extra stress, fighting kids, awkward extended family dynamics and sometimes marital tension.

    Sometimes the craziness gets the best of us and family members start to feel disconnected. This leads to all kinds of holiday drama - the very thing we all want to avoid. 

    Want to help make sure the holidays are a time where family members feel connected and close? Here are some things you can do at home, in the car, during meals and out in the community that not only will create conversation, but also laughter, insight and memories.

    IF YOU'RE TRAVELING...

    Instead of automatically plugging into technology, what about giving your kids a limited amount of time with tech stuff? Don’t be intimidated by the pushback and don’t expect them to thank you any time soon. Get creative and offer some motivation for participation. For example, for every 30 minutes you play the game you get X number of minutes with your screen. During the down times, interact with each other by playing some of these games:

    • Categories:  Pick a category (Disney movies, popular songs, flavors of soda) and take turns naming something in that category until someone is stumped. (This person loses and the winner picks the next category.)

    • Going on a Picnic: This is a memory game for all ages! The first person starts a story with, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring...” and then lists an item. The next person says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring...” and then lists the first person’s item PLUS a new item. As the story grows and grows, each person repeats the list and adds a new item. The first person to incorrectly list all the items is out! You can keep playing until only one person remains.

    • License Plate Game: Interpret the letters in each license plate you pass. For instance, TMK could stand for “Toasty Miniature Kangaroo.”

    • Peoplewatching: Watch a vehicle traveling on the road near you for a few minutes. Make up a story about the people in the car. Answer questions like: What are their names? Where did they come from? Where are they going? Why are they going there? What are they going to do when they get there? The sillier and more detailed the story is, the better!

    IF YOU'RE STAYING AT HOME AS A FAMILY

    • Plan a walk and play “I Spy.” When you exercise together, your brain releases endorphins that create “feel good memories” you can all enjoy for years to come. Walk around the yard, neighborhood, park or find a local hiking trail, but encourage the whole family to come! To keep the kids engaged for the walk (and to keep things playful for the adults), play as many rounds of “I Spy” as you can. Then keep track of who wins the most “I Spy” rounds and award them with a special treat when you get home, like hot chocolate, a cookie or maybe watching the movie or show of their choice.
    • Make something special. Baking goodies for the ones you love is fun, but baking goodies for someone in need or someone who doesn’t expect it is even more fun. It also teaches the littlest ones in the family that holidays aren’t just about receiving, but giving! Choose one or two people, families or organizations you’d like to delight this holiday season. Then, gather together in to bake something yummy together and share. Consider giving to an elderly neighbor, a family friend, the staff of a local nonprofit your family supports, etc.

    IF YOU'RE SHARING A MEAL WITH OTHERS...

    To avoid awkward silence at the dinner table with relatives or friends you may not see very often, try a few of these conversation starters:

    • What is one way you have helped another person this year?
    • Who is someone in your life you’re thankful for and why?
    • If you could have dinner with anyone (past or present), who would it be and why?
    • If you could have a superpower what would it be and how would you use it?
    • What is the most beautiful place you have ever seen?
    • What is the hardest thing about being your current age?

    It’s possible to be in a room or a car full of people who are not interacting fully with each other, especially when routines get thrown to the side and people are tired and cranky. When people feel disconnected and schedules are upside down, chaos reigns. Instead of chaos, plan for what you know is coming, whether it is boredom, difficult conversations or unwanted silence. During the busiest season of the year, these tips may help lessen the drama and help you make memories with family and friends.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 30, 2019.

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    How Can You Show Generosity?

    A CBS piece shared the story of Dale Schroeder, a humble man from Iowa who worked as a carpenter at the same company for 67 years. He never married and had no children.

    Since he had no living relatives, he approached his lawyer about a plan for his money after he passed away. When his lawyer asked him how much he was talking about, Schroeder told him, “A little shy of $3 million.” The lawyer said he almost fell out of his chair when he heard the amount.  

    Schroeder never had the opportunity to attend college, but he wanted to help kids from Iowa who otherwise would not have the opportunity to receive a college education. Schroeder passed away in 2005, but his legacy lives on. 

    In all, Schroeder provided college tuition for 33 people who call themselves "Dale's Kids." They are now teachers, therapists and doctors, among other professions, all without any college debt thanks to Schroeder. While none of them can thank Schroeder personally, they can pass on his generosity to others.

    Certainly, giving financially to a worthy cause is one way to be generous, but that’s not the only way. You can also be generous with giving your time or lending a listening ear.

    For example, a 90-year-old woman sent a note to her next door neighbor saying she was lonely, scared and had no friends. She asked the neighbor if she would consider spending some time with her. Sometimes just your presence is an incredibly generous gift. 

    However you choose to be generous, here’s the really cool thing: not only does it benefit the person you are helping, it also benefits you.

    “Helping is love made visible in acts of generosity small and large,” says best-selling author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People, speaker and Stony Brook professor, Stephen G. Post. 

    Post says that generosity is good for our self-esteem and well-being. In a study of people over the age of 65, those who volunteered in the past scored higher in life satisfaction and had fewer symptoms of sickness. Those who did not volunteer proved to be sicker and unable to give to others. Post believes that feeling happy and connected to others are fundamental components to overall health, and that being generous with others forms bonds that are meaningful which then increases our happiness. Being a generous giver actually makes us want to be more giving in the future. 

    Post also finds that generosity is empowering. It inspires others to be compassionate and pay it forward. 

    “When the happiness and security of others is as meaningful to you as your own, you are a person of love and you will flourish,” Post says.

    Being generous is contagious. When someone else is generous to you, it encourages you to be generous to others, too. Giving of your time and resources can really feel good, and it has the potential to create a ripple effect of kindness in your home and community. Giving to others is powerful and makes for happier, healthier people.  

    As we head into Thanksgiving week, think about the many ways we have experienced blessings from others and the chance we have to bless people we know, as well as perfect strangers. The good news is, you don’t have to have saved $3 million dollars in order to be generous.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 23, 2019.