Recently I had the opportunity to meet with Debi Roberts. She is the CEO of the OLLIE Foundation, a non-profit organization that works in suicide prevention. Not too long ago, Debi came on our Givey Community podcast. Our host, Fiza SurhiyoI and Debi sat down to talk about how the charity came to be, the training they offer, and how to get involved. Check out that podcast to learn more about the OLLIE foundation:
Podcast link here
In my conversation with Debi, I got to ask some questions about suicide. I have come out of it with a much better understanding of how suicidal ideation occurs and how we as a society need to go about it. Debi is incredibly knowledgeable and experienced on the subject. So, read on to join me in understanding this critical issue at a deeper level. This article will look at some of the main misconceptions people have about suicide, how suicidal ideation happens and how we can all join in the efforts of suicide prevention. OLLIE stands for One Life Lost is Enough.
About the OLLIE foundation:
The foundation was started by three parents who had all lost a son to suicide and met in a bereavement support group. Chris, Stuart and Jane started the OLLIE foundation in 2016. They wanted to do what they could to prevent any other parents and kids from going through what they had. OLLIE stands for One Life Lost is Enough.
The founders identified a gap that required attention: youth spend most of their time around teachers, who are not adequately trained to address suicidal ideation. So their foundation started by delivering training to educators. Initially, Debi Roberts, who I had the pleasure of speaking with, was a trustee on the board. As a support worker and mental health first aid trainer with a master’s in emotional literacy in educational settings and much more, Debi was able to bring her knowledge and experience to the OLLIE foundation. She pointed out that doctors and nurses also don’t have suicide training. So the foundation broadened its reach to train various professionals alongside parents and anyone else interested. Stuart passed on the CEO role to Debi. She has now written and designed much of the online training that OLLIE offers.
My conversation with Debi
Q: What are some popular misconceptions about suicide?
Below I will explain the two most common misconceptions as Debi explained them to me.
The first is that suicide or suicidal thoughts mean someone has a mental illness.
This is a really important misconception to debunk. It deters people from reaching out for help or reaching in to help. For instance, an individual with suicidal thoughts who is aware that they are not mentally ill may refrain from speaking up due to the fear of being stigmatized as mentally ill. Similarly, parents may hesitate to disclose their child’s struggles to someone due to the apprehension of their child being labeled as mentally ill. On the other hand, some individuals are afraid to offer help to someone in need. They assume that only a trained professional, such as a psychologist, can provide assistance.
In reality, while mental illness can sometimes cause suicidal ideation, it is typically not the culprit. Moreover, anyone can reach in and have those conversations and ask if people are ok. The training that the OLLIE foundation offers, lays the groundwork for how to go about having these conversations. Taking the training is a great way to be ready to support a friend or family member. It does not take a trained professional to reach out to someone who is having suicidal thoughts. The majority of suicides, or people with suicidal ideation, are not due to mental illness.
The second main myth is that suicide is a predominantly male problem.
Debi brought up the statistic that I am sure many of you are familiar with, that three out of four suicides are committed by Men. In reality, for every suicide, there are 20 attempts, and three out of four attempts are made by Women. In focusing on that first statistic, programs and policies end up focusing only on Men. This is only helpful for half the population, if that. Policies are not directed at the right place and may not even be effective for many men with suicidal ideation. Suicide is a complicated and multifaceted problem that affects all different types of people. Focusing on only one facet does not address the issue as a whole.
Q: Are certain people more vulnerable to suicidal ideation than others?
As mentioned above, suicidal ideation is not symbiotic with mental illness. It typically arises when a situation becomes too much to cope with. People under added stress, such as healthcare professionals, blue light professionals, armed forces, and female nurses, have a 23% higher risk compared to the general population. People in the LGBTQ+ community are at greater risk, same with indigenous people and, black individuals. Especially black women, as they are at a significantly higher risk of cyberbullying. Bullying is associated with a higher risk of suicide.
So typically, it’s not that anyone is born more vulnerable to suicide, but rather their situation and the tools they have to cope with it.
For specific identities, the world can be a much harsher place. “We just aren’t prepared to change things to be more inclusive.” Workplaces and schools are not set up to cater to the brains of Neurodivergent individuals. Gay, lesbian, queer, gender fluid, trans individuals etc., are constantly targeted and not accepted in many communities. Indigenous peoples and Black individuals face racial discrimination and histories of colonization. People in these groups have to face unique struggles that, compounded with the regular burdens of life, like financial struggles, can lead to suicidal ideation.
Anyone can fall into suicidal ideation when they don’t have the tools to cope with their current situation. Long Term health problems that aren’t acknowledged or dealt with properly, or the loss of a job, or a loved one, can result in suicidal ideation. Of course, mental illness like bipolar and severe depression can cause suicidal ideation and can be genetic. It is also essential to acknowledge and reduce the stigma around mental illness, along with being aware that suicide does not always stem from mental illness. On top of delivering suicide prevention training, the OLLIE foundation offers courses on goal setting for youth to give them tools and strategies to help cope with stressors and difficult situations.
How to get involved with the OLLIE foundation
Suicide is a big multifaceted and tragic problem that is often misunderstood. The OLLIE foundation works to prevent the loss of any more lives. This is done through clearing up myths about suicide, offering support for individuals who are struggling, and prevention training. Equipping more and more people with the tools to have those hard conversations can make all the difference. “Thoughts are not actions, and that’s why suicide prevention is so important.”
Here are a few ways you can get involved to support the OLLIE foundation and its mission:
Share the cause:
Follow the foundation on social media, reshare, comment and like their posts. Reposting about upcoming training is extremely helpful in getting the word out. You never know who in your community is struggling, and sharing OLLIE’s messages and training lets them know that you are open to those conversations and that they can access OLLIE’s training. Anyone can participate in training as long as they have access to wifi.
Bring them into your community:
OLLIE delivers training to anyone, sports groups, high school, college/ university, religious groups etc. The more and more people trained in suicide prevention, the better. They have an honesty jar policy, so if your school or group has a budget for it, they can pay for the training, but if they can’t afford it, OLLIE will come and deliver training for free. Go to their training as an individual, they also offer different sessions like Zentagle. Zentangle sessions are 90 minutes of mindful drawing. They are online every fortnight, and you can either give a 5 dollar donation or get a free ticket.
Of course, donations are what keeps OLLIE up and running. They allow the organization to continue offering free sessions to everyone. If you are in a position where you can donate, whether it be upfront or a legacy donation (leaving them something in your will), this is a great way to make an impact. Here is where you can go to donate to the OLLIE foundation:
You can also get involved through volunteering. You can fundraise for the cause by organizing an event or through online crowdfunding. If you have a few hours of free time to give a week, you can reach out to them with whatever skills you have, and they will find a way for you to help, whether it be admin tasks, gardening, social media etc.
Thanks for taking the time to learn more about suicide and the OLLIE foundation. Share this article with friends and family, participate in a training course, or have a conversation about what you have learned so that we can collectively change the discourse around suicide. In the words of Debi Roberts, it’s “one conversation at a time, and slowly, more and more people will think more critically about this.”