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
"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
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.
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
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.]
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 Davis
Davis, 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"
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