From teenagers to military vets, the specter of suicide

haunts thousands of Hoosiers. Support for those affected takes many forms.

One of the loveliest forms is Brittany Mason, who as a model and actress

has worked with the likes of Project

Runway, Naomi Campbell's The Face

and Yves Saint Laurent. As a kid growing up in Anderson, Ind., she was bullied

to the point of attempting suicide.

"Now people are talking about it because there have

been so many suicides and children who have died," said the 2008 Miss Indiana

USA in a phone interview from LA Tuesday. "It's sad it takes that to get


"That's why I started competing in pageants. I knew

people would listen to me if I had a crown."

Mason said she has worked with more than 100,000 students,

educating them about bully prevention and awareness. And though she has

traveled to schools all over Indiana, a visit next week marks the first time

she has returned home to Anderson to revisit the two hellish years she spent at

Anderson High School.

Daily abuse for two years: Her picture posted around school

emblazoned with phallic symbols. Literally hosed down in front of the entire

school. Car vandalized, destroyed. Parents' car vandalized, destroyed. Death

threats. Stalking.

"I had nowhere to turn," Mason said. "I

attempted suicide; I failed, thank God.

"In that moment I realized I would try to help other

people going through what I was — to give them a voice."

She will offer private student workshops during her visit

Oct. 2-3, which will be held in conjunction with homecoming —

an event she recalled missing as a student because she was chased away.

Mason will host a fundraising concert at 8 p.m. Oct. 2 at

the high school, headlined by pop singer Macy Kate, who, Mason said, works with

"Beiber's people and Rhianna's people" and "is so talented it's

unbelievable, like the next Christina Aguilera."

Macy Kate's cover of Sara Bareilles Brave is Mason's favorite; she plays it during each student


The funds from the $5-a-head gig will support an anonymous

suicide prevention hotline at Anderson High School. Mason notes that new law

mandates each school must have a hotline, but that Anderson did not have the

budget to cover the expense of training.

"It's awesome for me to be able to help provide the

services," Mason said.

Speaking out also presented the opportunity for Mason, as a

successful survivor, to face her primary tormentor, who showed up at one of

Mason's speaking engagements and asked Mason out to dinner.

"I never knew; I didn't know: Why am I so awful,"

Mason said. "She told me everything. She cried and apologized a million

times. She said, 'I was jealous. I thought my boyfriend liked you.' I didn't

know him."

The apology was genuine and real, which Mason thought spoke

well of the girl's character, to have enough depth to ask for forgiveness. The

episode ended with a hug. Generally with bullies, Mason said, "they're acting

out because something else is going on."

September is suicide prevention month and many examples of

outreach and action are evident.

Take, for instance, the Out of the Darkness Walk

More than 1,700 people filled Celebration Park on Sept. 14,

Lisa Brattain, the Indiana/Ohio area director for the American Foundation for

Suicide Prevention, wrote in a recent email exchange.

The 128 teams made up of families of loved ones lost by

suicide, mental health providers and community groups such as the Indiana Youth

Group, managed to raise more than $130,000 to fund national research and local

advocacy, training and survivor support.

"It was amazing to see the community come together for

a cause that is so hard to talk about," Brattain wrote. "With

depression being the No. 1 cause of suicide, and more than 22 million Americans

living with some form of a depressive illness ... this is a conversation we cannot

afford to have in a whisper any longer.

"Suicide deaths

in Indiana are almost triple the number of homicides

in Indiana.There are more than

38,000 deaths by suicide annually in the U.S., with an attempt estimated to occur

every 38 seconds."

In addition to the walk, Christian Theological Seminary

hosted the Indiana Suicide Prevention Summit on Sept. 10, World Suicide

Prevention Day.

An estimated 300 people gathered to discuss the state's

suicide prevention plan, including two AFSP-sponsored researchers to speak on

at-risk LGBT youth and complicated grief.

"One of the key quotes of the day was 'Every suicide is

preventable!' by Alice Jordan-Miles from Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne. She works with local

suicide prevention councils in all parts of Indiana," said Matthias Beier,

an associate professor of pastoral care and CTS Counseling

director, in a Sept. 18 email.

"I emphasized in my closing talk: 'Everyone can help

prevent suicide, and we are not alone in this effort!' The first step is to

learn about facts and resources." [See sidebar for hotline details.]

Summit organizers

noted that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Hoosiers between

the ages of 15 and 34; and the third-leading cause of death for adolescents aged


"Depression is a REAL illness, there is physically

something happening within your body when you have a form of depression,"

Brattain wrote, noting that the mental health issue "affects every aspect

of someone's life when they are struggling — their job, their social and

family relationships, their physical health, and so much more."

The military shoulders heavy exposure to the

all-encompassing effects of depression.

Indy's VA Hospital, the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical

Center, located Downtown along the White River, has 50

beds in its mental health unit with an average daily occupancy of 43.

Nationwide, 13 percent of the nation's homeless population

is comprised of veterans — approximately half of the nation's homeless

vets are mentally ill, according to the National Coalition for Homeless

Veterans. A January 2013 point-in-time count found 320 homeless vets in Marion County; experts estimate the annual number at three to five

times that number.

More and more veterans are coming back from combat zones

with head trauma, thanks to countless shellings and improvised explosive

devices. Doctors link this type of trauma with depression — often

associated with alcohol and drug use abuse, violent behavior and suicide.

The older vets are not immune though. A fact sheet

distributed in March by Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., noted a February Reuters

report that more than 69 percent of veteran suicides were by people aged 50 or


He also noted that 2012

had the highest rate of suicide since the Pentagon began close tracking in 2001

and that the 349 active-duty service members who committed suicide in 2012

outnumbered the 229 killed in combat in Afghanistan.

The nation's living Medal of Honor winners have come

together to produce a video project encouraging people in need of help to reach


"If there's one thing that I can say or do that will

help just one of our troops coming home today, it's part of the obligation I

feel in my heart," Indiana's Sammy


, who won a Medal of Honor for his Army service in Vietnam, said in a

video explaining the project. "I want to help the young men and women that

are coming home today. I want them to be strong."

The VA's "2012

Suicide Data"

report found: "Among cases where history of U.S.

military service was reported, veterans comprised approximately 22.2 percent of

all suicides reported during the project period. If this prevalence estimate is

assumed to be constant across all U.S. states, an estimated 22 veterans will

have died from suicide each day in the calendar year 2010."

In a video for distribution to vets Davis says: "The

tools are available now — make use of them and don't let the enemy defeat

you at home."

Reflecting on how she made it through her toughest times,

Mason said, "At the end of the day, no matter what challenges you face, it's

all about how you handle yourself."

Over time, she said she has found her challenges to be

blessings; she calls her outreach work "a healing process," noting "when

I get feedback and know I've helped or encouraged them to come forward, then I

know what I'm doing means something — what I went through was for a



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