Friday, March 6, 2015

Facebook releases new features to help friends who may be suicidal

Amber Cornwell
Hours before Amber Cornwell, 16, of North Carolina killed herself, she posted on her Facebook page, "If I die tonight, would anyone cry?"

According to Daily Mail, one of Cornwell's friends said, "(Bullies) were really mean. They’d say stuff to her face, behind her back. ... They’d message her on Facebook."

Cosmo magazine reports that bullies would tell Cornwell she had no future and she had nothing going for her.

I feel like bullying has grown since the birth of social media. Many people, while hiding behind their computer, will say things they would never say in person.

But now Facebook is fighting back — adding a feature that may save the lives of people like Cornwell. If you see a worrying status by a friend on Facebook, there is now new tools on the social media platform to report this.

Buzz Feed reports that Facebook has teamed up with a number of suicide prevention groups. If you flag a post by a friend, you are given the option to message that friend, ask another friend for support, or chat with a trained helper at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The friend will also receive a pop-up that says, "A friend thinks you might be going through something difficult and asked us to look at your recent post."

Next, the person will be given the options to talk to a friend or helpline worker or get tips and support. They will be able to chat online with a prevention volunteer who is on Facebook at that moment and can also view a video which talks about overcoming the urge to kill oneself.

I think it's great that Facebook is doing this. And it makes me wonder — if this option was available three months ago, when Cornwell died, could this have saved her? Maybe if a friend would have reported her Facebook status, she would have realized that people actually did care about her. She would realize that they would cry if she died.

StoneCrest, a psychiatric service provider in Detroit, released this statement about Facebook's new feature: "The idea behind this new Facebook feature is to be able to improve how they respond to threats of suicide and to be able to provide better information to those in need."

"Furthermore, by providing people with more ways to identify those who are in danger, we can all be more successful at preventing suicide. Suicide is a tragic act, but it can be prevented."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Academy Award winner Graham Moore: 'Stay weird'

I thought the best part of Sunday night's Academy Awards was the very brave acceptance speech by "The Imitation Game" writer Graham Moore.

When he accepted the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, Moore said, “When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I am standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. Stay weird, stay different. When it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person that comes along."

I also felt "weird" when I was a teenager, and I got chills as he gave his speech. It felt like he was talking directly to me. And I'm sure of the 36.6 million viewers, many other people felt the same way.

The 33-year-old said at the Governor's Ball after the Oscars that he never publicly talked about his depression before. Moore said that he was a computer nerd when he was growing up and looked up to Alan Turing, the subject of "The Imitation Game."

Moore, who previously served as First Lady Michelle Obama's chief of staff, told Entertainment Weekly, “Unlike Alan, I’m not the greatest genius of my generation. Unlike Alan, I’m also not gay, but I have my own things that make me feel different. ... It’s always what drew me so much to Alan’s story—the outsider’s outsider, the guy who will never fit into his own time, but precisely because of that, was able to accomplish what he did.”

The thing as a teenager that kept me going was knowing that many accomplished people were considered "weird" when they were growing up. And, now, Moore is another person to add to this list. I am so thankful that Moore's suicide attempt didn't work. His speech was not only moving but I wouldn't be surprised if it saved at least one person's life, someone watching the Oscars who was considering suicide who changed his or her mind right that second.

If you feel different and think death is the only way out, instead take on Moore's challenge. Work that much harder to accomplish your dreams so, one day, when you are honored and when you are up on a stage giving your speech, you can pass on Moore's message.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

'Fifty Shades of Grey' doesn't romanticize abuse

I went to see the movie "Fifty Shades of Grey" over the weekend with my friends, and I, honestly, felt guilty going. I have read several articles stating that the movie promotes domestic abuse and that going to see this movie is detrimental to modern relationships.

Read a review of the film on Yes/No Films.

Now, I am glad that I went because I am able to give my actual opinion on it — instead of assumptions most people give by just watching the commercials.

When the movie was over and the credits were rolling, the first thing out of my mouth was, "I don't understand how that promoted abuse at all!"


I know multiple people who have been abused in relationships, physically or emotionally. And I honestly feel like, when people say that "Fifty Shades of Grey" romanticizes abuse, this belittles what abuse actually is. If anything, I think the film shows what it wrong with abuse, not the other way around.

 Reasons this movie does not promote abuse:

• Before he does anything, the character Christian Grey asks permission, usually multiple times.
• He and Anastasia Steele discuss, in-depth, what she is comfortable with.
• Anastasia also stands up for herself when she feels she is mistreated.
• And when Ana gets hurt, she yells at Christian, asking him if he enjoys seeing her in pain.
• Christian never once forces himself on her, and, when she says "No," he listens.
• Christian never puts her down. Instead, he compliments her all the time. He tells Ana she shouldn't be ashamed of her body. I think this is even something men in relationships could LEARN from.

I know that the character Christian Grey is on the controlling side, and I personally wouldn't want to date him. I am definitely not saying they have a "healthy relationship. But I think saying this movie "promotes abuse" is a little extreme. And, when Christian is controlling, Anastasia does a good job at telling him off. The viewer can see the pain she is going through by being treated this way, and, in no way, does it look "romantic."

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the following are tactics of physical abuse:

• Pulling your hair, punching, slapping, kicking, biting or choking you
• Forbidding you from eating or sleeping
• Damaging your property when they're angry
• Using weapons to threaten to hurt you
• Trapping you in your home or keeping you from leaving
• Preventing you from calling the police or seeking medical attention
• Harming your children
• Abandoning you in unfamiliar places
• Driving recklessly or dangerously when you are in the car
• Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol

These are tactics of emotional abuse, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

• Calling you names, insulting you or continually criticizing you
• Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive
• Trying to isolate you from your family and friends
• Monitoring where you go, who you call and who you spend time with
• Demanding to know where you are every minute
• Threatening to hurt you
• Humiliating you
• Blaming you for the abuse
• Accusing you of cheating
• Serially cheating on you and then blaming you for his or her behavior
• Attempting to control your appearance
• Telling you that you will never find anyone better

People who are experiencing these things may not even realize it because their partner is brainwashing them and making them think it was somehow their fault. It is not your fault and you do not deserve to be treated this way. If someone doesn't respect what you want and how you want to be treated, then it is abuse.

Resources can be found by calling 1-800-799-SAFE. There are also chat services available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline's website for those who do not feel safe using the phone. For people who live in Oakland County, Mich., HAVEN offers help to those suffering from abuse. For 24-hour support, call 248-334-1274.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What 'The Imitation Game' teaches about the history of LGBT rights

Alan Turing in 1951 (left) and actor Benedict Cumberbatch (right)
as Turing in 'The Imitation Game'
Imagine if it was illegal to love the person who you love.

That's exactly what it was like in the United Kingdom until the late 1960s when homosexual acts were considered criminal offenses.

Under the Buggery Act 1533, same-sex sexual activity was outlawed and punishable by death (and later changed to life imprisonment by the Offences against the Person Act 1861). By the end of 1954, there were 1,069 gay men in prison in England and Wales, according to the Oxford Human Rights Hub.

The Oscar nominated movie "The Imitation Game" gives a look into the treatment of homosexual men in the 1940s and 50s with legendary mathematician Alan Turing's story.

It's been estimated that Turing's work shortened World War II by at least two years after he determined a technique for breaking Germany's ciphers.

How was Turing thanked for saving the lives of countless people by ending the war early? After all he did for the country he loved, Turing was chemically castrated. And if he refused to take these estrogen injections, which reduces libido and sexual activity, he would have been sent to prison.

Because of the government taking away such a significant part of his identity, Turing ingested cyanide and died. His death was determined a suicide.

Obviously, the world has come a long way since then. But, still, gay men and women are not treated as equal to straight men and women. And this is proven by research which shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are twice as likely to report being physically assaulted at school than their heterosexual peers, in a survey of 10,000 teens by the U.S.-based Human Rights Campaign. They are also four times more likely to attempt suicide, according to the nonprofit, the Trevor Project.

There is an important quote in the movie "The Imitation Game" that anyone who is considering suicide should remember — "Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." No matter your race, gender or sexual orientation, you do have the ability to change the world, despite how others may treat you.

If still alive, Turing would be turning 103 this year. But, instead, he died at age 41 — 16 days before his 42nd birthday.

Who knows how long he would have lived if he wouldn't have died from cyanide poisoning. But, with all Turing was capable of, this world certainly would be very different if just this one man would have lived.

You too have the ability to change the world, just like Turing did. You just need to keep on living.

To watch inspiring videos on how, unlike in Turing's time, victimization is shown to decrease as LGBT adolescents grow up,  visit www.itgetsbetter.org.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What it's like to live with anxiety

Photo: newhealthguide.org
This isn't something I talk about very often. And I'm not sure why. With all my preaching about how mental illness is a disease that you shouldn't be ashamed of, I spend an awful lot of time being ashamed.

So, here it goes, I'll just say it. About five years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. And when I found out, I was actually relieved. Suddenly I knew that it wasn't my fault that a lot of times my heart would race and my palms would sweat even though the logical part of my brain was screaming at me, "You have nothing to be nervous about!" Suddenly it all made sense why there were times I would feel alone and like no one loved me -- even though this was the furthest from the case.

But, even though I now understood why I acted the way I did, I still found that most people didn't understand it. They didn't understand how a chemical imbalance in the brain can make you think and act in a way that you can't help.

Or they would think that I was using a disorder to explain away how I was feeling. But I know that's not the case. I work at a newspaper, and I come face-to-face with moments on a daily basis where most people would find themselves feeling anxious. I know the twinge of fear that comes when you're calling the mother of a child who just died, waiting for her to pick up the phone. I know the panic that comes when you walk up to a podium to give a speech in front of hundreds of people. Those are "normal" reactions. And I know that this feeling is completely different than when I'm in my apartment, watching TV, reading a book, doing dishes, etc. and that random feeling of anxiety hits me out of nowhere. And no matter how much I try to "think happy thoughts" or slowly breathe in and breathe out, the feeling won't go away until it's good and ready.

Through medicine and counseling, I have been able to regulate these panic attacks so they happen less often than they used to.

But it still happens. And I have met people in my life who don't accept this fact about me.

I recently read the best article I have ever read about anxiety. It was as if the author was inside of my head. And maybe sharing this will help others understand what it's like to have anxiety.

The article is titled "7 Things People with Anxiety Want Their Loved Ones to Know" by Sammy Nickalls, a contributing writer on hellogiggles.com.

  • It doesn't have to do with you. People who have seen me during my anxious moments will ask, "What did I do wrong?" You didn't do anything wrong. Sometimes this just happens for no reason at all. 
  • Never try to talk us out of our emotions. I know this too well. Don't tell someone to "Calm down" or "Relax" when he or she is having an anxiety attack. I once had someone tell me, "If you keep worrying about it, then it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy." Don't ever, ever say this to someone with anxiety. This will just make them worry about worrying, which can really make a person feel like they're going crazy. And, speaking of that, never tell someone "Stop acting crazy" (which is another thing I have been told. As you can probably guess, it didn't help).
  •  Part of us knows that our fears aren't rational, but we can't shake the part that doesn't. "I'm not good enough," "I'm going to get fired," "Why did I say that, I'm so embarrassed," "He or she is going to leave me."  Even if, deep down we know that this isn't true, these are thoughts that run through the brain of someone with anxiety. 
  • We're not pessimistic. I can completely relate to this. I may seem pessimistic during a bout of anxiety. But between these bouts, I'm probably one of the most optimistic people you've ever met. Don't tell me that I'm a downer. That's not me. Don't characterize me by my anxiety. 
  • We appreciate you trying to see things from our perspective. Not all people are willing to do this. But Nickalls writes, "Every time you answer our fearful texts with reassurance and kindness, or pull us into another room to ask us what we’re worrying about, or are simply there, steady, supportive, without questioning the way we operate, we can’t even express how much that means, because it’s rare to find." I am so grateful for all of the people who have done this for me and who never made me feel like being my friend was "hard work."  
  • We wish we could turn it off but we can't. 
  • And, most importantly, it doesn't define us! If someone has cancer, "cancer" isn't the kind of person they are. It's something they can't help. It's the same for someone who has anxiety. Like I said before, my anxiety isn't the kind of person I am. When all is said and done, I think I'm a pretty damn brave person. My anxiety isn't me. It's just something I have to deal with from time to time.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Leelah Alcorn's suicide note goes viral: 'The only way I will rest in peace is if one day, transgender people aren't treated the way I was'

Last week, a couple of my friends and I started binge watching "RuPaul's Drag Race." But my newfound love of this reality show isn't because of the extravagant dresses, the wigs and the makeup. It's because men who have been treated differently for their entire lives now have a place where they not only belong but where they are celebrated for who they are.

I wish that Leelah Alcorn, 17, whose legal name is Joshua Alcorn, would have found a place like this to be accepted.

WXYZ reports that the transgender teen is believed to have lost her life to suicide after walking in front of a semi-tractor trailer on Interstate 71 in Southwest Ohio. And the suicide note, signed (Leelah) Josh Alcorn, has gone viral.

The blog post states, "The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in because I’m transgender."

She writes that she has felt like a girl trapped inside a boy's body ever since she was 4 years old. She wrote that her parents didn't support her, told her "God doesn't make mistakes," and sent her to Christian therapists, who told her she was selfish and wrong.

"If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me," wrote Alcorn.

Alcorn said her parents treated her like an embarrassment, pulled her out of public school and isolated her from her friends for months.

She wrote, "I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already."

I am not going to pretend like I know how Alcorn feels because I don't. I was blessed that my body and the person I am inside are both the same gender. And I can not imagine what it would be like if this wasn't the case.

But, although I don't know what it's like, there are a lot of people in this world who do. And I wish Alcorn would have known that she wasn't alone. I wish she could have seen that she is beautiful and that, one day, she would find someone to love her just as she was.

There are about 700,000 people in the United States who are transgender, and there are several support groups that are available, such as PFLAG, formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network and The Trevor Project.

I know she didn't believe that life could get better, but in less than a year, she would be 18. She could have moved out and started living her own life. I wish that she could have waited for that.

She ended her blog post with, "The only way I will rest in peace is if one day, transgender people aren't treated the way I was. They're treated like humans with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better."

Although this world is more accepting of the LGBT community than it used to be even 10 years ago, there is still a long ways to go. And I wish that Alcorn could have stayed alive to help be that change. Although she has raised awareness of the subject through her blog post, think of how many more people she could have touched in the years to come?

In her memory, I challenge everyone to accept those who may be different than you are. If your child, family member or friend comes out as gay, don't ever make them feel like something is wrong with them. Instead, show that you love them no matter what. In the end, it could save their lives.

I challenge everyone to live their lives working for the change that Alcorn wanted so desperately to see.

Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach wrote on his Facebook page, "While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years ... the truth is ... it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country."

"We have to do better."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Are you respecting others and yourself?

I think one of the biggest problems of this generation is the lack of respect people have for others — and also the lack of respect people have for themselves.

Maybe I'm biased since I live in this generation, but it seems like the most disrespectful era there has ever been. And I think people forget that those around them are human beings with emotions and fears — and not just objects to be used for their professional, sexual or any other kind of gratification.

It's a vicious cycle. There are people who don't respect others. And the people who aren't respected start to view themselves that way too — that maybe that's all they're good for.

But, the sad thing is, many people are afflicted with both. When you are disrespected, it's easy to stop respecting yourself. And when you don't respect yourself, it's difficult to respect those around you.

Here's a way to find out if you are disrespecting yourself without realizing it.

Think about the activities you are taking part in. Is it something you enjoy and want to do? Or is it something you know, in the back of your mind, you are only doing because someone else talked you into it? Or, even worse, because you're afraid someone will be mad at you if you don't agree to it?

Sometimes we're so used to letting people walk all over us that the line becomes blurred of what we actually want to do and what we're doing because we want other people to like us.

When you realize that you are doing things you don't actually want to do — stop doing it. Yeah, you may lose people in your life. But, when all is said and done, those people only thought of you for what you could do for them — and not as an actual person.

Do you let people talk down to you because either a) you think you deserve it or b) you don't want to cause waves? Try sticking up for yourself because you deserve better than that.

Now, think about the way you are treating other people. Do you stop and think how your actions affect those around you? Do you care about the people in your life? Or, when you are with them or talking to them, are you thinking about what they can do for you?

If there are people you are only friends with (or dating or having sex with) because you want them to benefit you, start thinking of them as a human being, just like you are. How would you feel if you found out one of your "friends" felt this way about you?

These are questions I've started to ask myself on a daily basis. And I think if everyone started thinking this way, it really could change the world.