Never whisper: honesty conquers stigmas and saves lives
On October 15, 2011, my friend Tim Price found his baby brother David hanging from his computer cord in his apartment bathroom. It was the third time David, 31, had attempted suicide. Despite in-and-out-patient therapy, the darkness that enveloped David – an ad industry rising star – was too much for him to endure.
Tim and David Price growing up together
Tim used David’s funeral six days later as a platform to shine some light into a catastrophic situation. Now a vice president at Zynga leading innovation and ad strategy, Tim was determined to help others in ways no existing organization was able to help David. He asked the overflowing crowd at David’s funeral service for donations. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle.
Friends, family members, co-workers and industry observers who heard about David’s story not only donated money but volunteered their time. Thus, the Life is Priceless Foundation was born to spark conversation and awareness around loneliness, suicide and depression.
“Everything was so hush hush and quiet,” said Tim about his brother’s depression. “You don’t have the transparency to see into people’s brains even if you share DNA. I tried to participate in David’s treatment but there were so little resources. There were 1,000 people at his funeral so I decided to ask for help. Within 24 hours, the LIPF website was up and activated.”
Volunteers from R/GA joined others from Pepsi, Rodale and L’Oréal to build LIPF and engage those in need. Leveraging the Madison Avenue community was a way Tim knew would put the effort into overdrive. I met Tim while I was working at J. Walter Thompson where I founded the New York office’s social good practice called JWT Ethos. As national campaign co-chair for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of NYC (NAMI NYC-Metro), I molded NAMI’s #IWillListen campaign into a call-to-action to eliminate the stigma against mental illness. Tim and I continually worked together to help change the culture in ad agencies and the industry toward mental health.
Continuing this work, I co-founded my purpose-driven agency called Oberland in May of 2014, and three years later, LIPF officially became a client. We recently revived Tim’s heartfelt reflections from the LIPF archives and put them prominently on display on the organization’s redesigned and amazingly personal blog, outlining Tim’s journey through the five stages of grief. We also recently redesigned the LIPF logo, social channels, and messaging.
“I unabashedly wrote about my experiences through my grief process, which continues today,” Tim told me. “I haven’t been shunned by the industry. To the contrary, I’ve received tremendous support.”
I’m always moved by Tim’s words. Here are some that will likely move you too.
“When he died, a part of me died. The only difference is part of me is very literally now the walking dead. I never wanted to be part zombie, but then again, I assume nobody really wants to be a zombie. A werewolf, or vampire maybe. Zombie? Not so much. I guess I should be somewhat positive that it’s only part-zombie. It’s been four years, and four years later I can tell you: I am no closer to understanding what was going through David’s mind when he made the decision he did. I’m confident now that I never will. It really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things anyway. My point is that when David died he, without permission, altered my genetic makeup and that of so many other people around him. They, too, are now different people with this scar and wounds that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. They, too, are part zombie. I could have just let it be a private matter and carried this silently as people returned to their normal lives while I internalized this loss and tried to cope with it my own. But that’s the problem. We can’t go at this alone. We won’t heal – we’ll rot and increase the chance of infection.”
Taking conversations from hushed tones in remote corners is Oberland’s ambition for the LIPF and our other clients in the mental health space. As the agency working with NAMI – the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness – and The Scattergood Foundation, our experience runs deep. We’ve helped elevate the LIPF’s L.I.F.E. program, which is like a Kickstarter for mental health programming as grant money is given to organizations dedicated to helping our four pillars - Listen, Inspire, Facilitate, and Educate.
We’re really bullish about L.I.F.E. As so many mental health groups are strapped for time and resources, we see it as a way to help more people more quickly. It will help eradicate the stigma around depression, which is essential, especially during the holiday season when people are supposed to happy but often aren’t.
The Drum gets it. That’s why the publication hosted its annual Do It Day Hack on Oct. 10, 2017 – which also happens to be World Mental Health Day each year – to get marketers to help destigmatize mental health. On Do It Day, about 200 ad industry experts in the UK, US, and Singapore used their marketing minds to help nine charities across the globe concept creative campaigns to fight mental health stigmas and improve and save lives. Getting people to talk about the subject, as uncomfortable as it might be, is essential to any solution.
But, it’s not enough. We are still focusing too much on other people and organizations and not enough on ourselves. Look around your agencies. Look around your clients’ offices. Look in the mirror. If you look closely, you will see parents whose kids are dealing with eating disorders and anxiety. You will see people whose parents and grandparents are struggling with dementia and brain disease as they age. You will see people in recovery from addiction, people living with depression, people coping with incredible stress, people managing bipolar disorder, and many more who need support but aren’t getting it because all of this is hidden under a veil of silence, stigma and fear.
How many more need to die from suicide before we speak out?
Our friends are worth it.
Our colleagues are worth it.
Our families are worth it.
WE ARE WORTH IT.
It’s critical that if you work in the industry and need support or know someone in your office, on your team, at your client or in your family who needs support (hint: that’s everyone reading this article) that you aren’t afraid to speak up. Advocating for yourself and others is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness, especially on this topic. It’s a chance to lead a critical change in our industry. And most importantly it’s a chance to save the lives of people you know and care about.
Email me to be part of the change - email@example.com. I will always listen. And, so will Tim.