Chad Moses, Director of Outreach and Experience at TWLOHA Inc., joins the program to discuss his journey and how he came to the work that he does collaborating with musicians, festivals, and entertainment companies to cultivate conversations about mental health. Discover the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in when it comes to mental health, and a different way to think about suicide prevention. To learn more, visit https://twloha.com/.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
Chad Moses: The friendships that I made during this kind of dark night of this whole stretch are the friendships that enabled me to exist and to find ways to bring more people into closer proximity with resources for hope and health. To grant more of these stories a bigger microphone to make sure that when we imagine what mental health access looks like that we are imagining people that look like the person we see in the mirror each and every single day. This takes real work but this has to be work that is informed by a diverse community that we can no longer allow conversations on mental health to be dominated just by one culture or one faith context or even one stream of education or you name it but this has to be something that is effectively credible to people regardless of their upbringing.
Doug Foresta: Everyone has a diversity story even those you don’t expect. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, best selling authors and entrepreneurs as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion and now onto the episode.
Doug Foresta: Hello, and welcome back to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta and first I want to let you know that the August cohort for the DEI Foundations course starts on August 24th. You can find out more about the six week online course for inclusive leaders by going to JenniferBrownCOnsulting.com and you can enter the code PODCAST for 20% off. This episode features an interview with Chad Moses and Chad has worked for To Write Love On Her Arms since 2008, primarily collaborating with musicians, festivals and entertainment companies to cultivate conversations about mental health and I want to mention a couple things here. First of all the To Write Love On Her Arms has a campaign that they’re running called Another Day With You. You can go to their website to learn more about how you can help in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day which is September 10th. They are creating conversations that move people from hopelessness to help, encouraging solutions that support people through their darkest moments and working to help fight for more time so healing and recovery can happen.
Doug Foresta: Again, you can go to TWLOHA, that’s TWLOHA.com and find out how you can get involved. Also, if you missed it definitely encourage you to check out episode 179 which features a conversation between Chad and Adrienne Lawrence, principal consultant at Jennifer Brown Consulting as they talk about how we can support each other’s wellbeing in professional spaces. If you’ve missed that episode make sure to check that out as well and in this episode Chad shares more of his own story and his own journey and how he came to work that he does as well as the importance of diversity, equity inclusion when thinking about mental health. Now onto the episode.
Jennifer Brown: Chad, welcome to The Will To Change.
Chad Moses: Hi Jennifer, thanks so much for having me. It’s great to reconnect with you.
Jennifer Brown: I know, it is and we are reconnecting because you joined Adrienne Lawrence whose one of our senior folks here at Jennifer Brown Consulting for an amazing webinar where you all discussed mental health in the workplace and for those of you that have not joined our mailing list to hear about programs like this, please do at firstname.lastname@example.org or just go to our website but Chad, learning about To Write Love On Her Arms, I won’t say the acronym because I think I’m going to get it wrong but learning more about your organization, your work, whom you serve and your personal story was all really very impactful. Left a lasting impression on me and the hundreds of people that came and my hope is with all the programming we do that features you and others that are advocating for a better more inclusive world it was very important to me that organization think of you as a resource and think of this topic as something that has been very under resourced and really like very little understood.
Jennifer Brown: We are at a wonderful potential baseline I think with what we’re going to talk about today and I know I as a learner am also a [inaudible 00:04:41] baseline level so I may ask you some questions to help educate me and I think I’m probably a proxy for our audience as well to learn. Then of course we have folks in our audience who struggle and we will all struggle at some point with loved ones, within ourselves, in our workplaces so we just need to do a better job and particularly Chad with the people who build these strategies and companies, we’re the ones that I think most… I want to most assist in terms of saying, “Here’s an amazing resource and let’s get this on the radar screen, let’s get it resourced, let’s get it communicated out and then let’s remove the stigma of talking about it because that to me is sort of a non starter. You can throw all the resources in the world at something but if people are afraid, they’re just not going to speak about it and then they’re not going to get the help they need, we are not going to get the help we need and that’s a huge and costly and tragic result.
Jennifer Brown: Anyway, all of that is to say I’m excited to introduce you to our audience and so we sometimes start with our diversity stories and we all have them and often they’re invisible so I want to just open that up to you Chad and what would you like to share with our audience about what the word diversity means to you and anything about the road that you’ve traveled.
Chad Moses: Absolutely. I’d like to start by saying just a quick word of gratitude. Thank you for making the time and the space for this conversation not only with me but to bring this conversation to the ears of so many others. Beyond that, everything you just said in that introduction, that’s it. That’s the podcast right there and the hope is that anything else that we would share throughout this time together would really just serve as a proof text of everything that you just outlined. Hello audience, my name is Chad Moses. I’m the director of outreach for To Write Love On Her Arms, we say TWLOHA when we’re trying to shorten it. We don’t know how that makes it much easier but it is TWLOHA nonetheless. I use he/him pronouns and just thrilled to be here. When you started by asking about my diversity story, that is something that has been a piece of my identity, identifying more so not with my direct lived experience with diversity but rather how diversity has made me a more complete person. I am a white, cis, heterosexual male. I am the living embodiment of privilege. I was able to attend a four year college with very minimal financial risk. I was able to achieve any sort of goal that I had desired whether that was making the soccer team or pursuing some dabbling in music.
Chad Moses: I’ve lived such a sheltered and privileged life and that is a huge testament to my family of origin, that did a number of sacrifices, my parents and their parents before them to set me up to succeed and also to fail with limited consequences as it were. For me, growing up in a Christian household with a strong nuclear family, I was only kind of surface level aware of pain in the lives of my classmates, in the lives of friends or family or people that would attend our same community of faith and as I got older there were inevitable points of pain, inevitable points of stress. When I was in third grade my best friend’s father died by suicide and I remember that was a conversation that was discussed instantly and immediately but then never again really until I became an adult myself. This was a moment in the life of my friend and I and our tight knit residential community but it quickly became a topic that was taboo, that we didn’t discuss.
Chad Moses: A couple years later is when I started, and I’m only now becoming aware of this but started having suicidal ideation. These weren’t active thoughts of suicide, these weren’t plans that were written out but these were thoughts about how great it would be to not wake up, how great it would be to just rest for a while, how great it would be to check out early. Not really having a sort of framework around what that even meant or how that would be accomplished but I was becoming aware that life could be unbearably heavy and that was something that I did not feel comfortable talking about so I internalized a lot of that. Now, in the midst of that, I was still having kind of a thriving existence through elementary, through middle, through high school. I had friends. I had romantic relationships, I had the respective peers and of mentors and teachers and all of that and I really felt like so much of my young life was just punching the clock really was just putting in time until I could get to college and then get on with the rest of my life.
Chad Moses: Now, there’s so much of my life that I just glossed over there but for the sake of further conversation and understanding that my story is not necessarily totemic for everyone out there. I don’t mean to put my life on a pedestal ahead of anyone else’s but it wasn’t until college that I really started struggling with mental health. This was a time where I… Oh man, where to start this story. I thought that it was my life’s calling to serve my community of faith post college so I was really going to school to get a degree to eventually go to seminary to be a pastor one day and halfway through college, the summer between my sophomore or my second and third year of college rather I had an opportunity to serve my community of faith as a youth pastor, as an interim intern of youth ministry and in the first couple weeks it felt like I was hitting everything right. It felt like I was well on my way to living my adult life of my dreams.
Chad Moses: Third week rolls around and I encounter some really heavy stuff. One of my friends who was also a member of the youth group tragically died in a car accident. This was someone who was objectively a better human than I was. She was someone who I was convinced who one day put Mother Teresa to shame, that this was a woman who had the world at her fingertips and just because she didn’t look both ways leaving the parking lot on her last day of school, her story was cut short. I thought that my role of being a pending pastor was to have all the answers to all situations. I thought that that was my role in the community, that I could be there to alleviate any doubt but then what happens when my world is just doubt and the rest of that summer was incredibly difficult. I thought that it would be a sign of weakness to step down, to exercise a sense of self care, to tend to some of these wounds and instead I kept showing up to work because I thought that’s what I had to do. I thought that if anyone saw me struggle then maybe that would cause some deeper pain that I wouldn’t be able to put back in the box.
Chad Moses: I rather became the monster that I was afraid of facing in everyday life, that if I were to fight anything then I’d let that thing be myself. That was a long couple months of filling a role that I no longer subscribed to. I went back to school and I burned just about every bridge I could. I tried to go back as alone as I believed I deserved. I broke off a multi year relationship with the woman I thought I was going to marry and I purposely closed the door on several friendships and I pretty much left town without telling anyone. I went back to school to serve in another capacity that was all about having answers as an RA, as a resident advisor for first year students on campus. This is when I became aware of a lot of mental health challenges. I learned what depression looked like, I learned what anxiety looked like, I learned what post traumatic stress and what surviving sexual assault and what self injury and what thoughts of suicide looked like on paper.
Chad Moses: Beyond that, I learned what resources existed on campus for people struggling with real life problems and so my life became this dichotomy of knowing what existed and not believing that what existed existed for me, for my benefit, for my continuation of life. I learned also that people are not meant to live in isolation, that we are social creatures. When you shut out other people you’re going to try to find other ways to fill a void. For me, that started with alcohol that quickly turned into alcohol abuse. It turned into drug abuse, it turned into self injury and it turned into this returning passive pattern of thinking of not waking up anymore. As that year came into a landing I started taking a peek at what the summer would look like and I was terrified to go back home. I thought I didn’t really have a home to go back to. I was convinced that I was unrecognizable as someone that I lived this role as the do as I say, not as I do RA and really struggled with mental and behavioral health and I was yeah, just so afraid to go back home and have someone see a version of me that would scare them off. I’d rather stay away so that you wouldn’t run away.
Chad Moses: In the process of this, I decided to take a few summer classes and as an excuse to not go home and I would attend class by day and nurse some substance abuse habits by night. There was one night that this all came to a head. I had just finished a several week long alcohol binge and I remember sitting on the curb outside of a bar looking at my phone wondering who in this device would recognize me, who here would be proud of me? Who here would even answer the phone if I called. There was one number that stuck out to me, my friend Kim and I decided to make this my essentially hail Mary moment that if Kim picked up the phone then maybe that would be proof that I still had a place on this planet. Sure enough she did and she picked me up where I was and she took me back to her apartment and she said, “Hey, we really ought to talk.” I said, “All right, about what?” She said, “I think you know exactly what.” She says, “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in so… I haven’t seen you smile in so long. I feel like I don’t even know you and I’ve known you since sixth grade. Can you let me in? Can you tell me what’s going on?”
Chad Moses: I really took that as a dare that this would be a time to tell her about the drinking, about the painkillers, about the self injury, about the suicide notes that I’ve written and ripped up and written and ripped up and written and maybe this last one might just stick. I remember yelling at her, asking her can I be too much for you now? She said no. She said friends don’t leave friends in places like this. Beyond that she said, “We will make it through this together.” It was that we that really stuck out to me. It wasn’t a, you can do this, it was a let me be a piece of it. It was, “Call me on your best days so I can cheer you on and call me on your worst days so I can pick you up and call me just because you don’t want to drink coffee alone. Call me because you’re bored. Just let me be a piece of this.”
Chad Moses: I wasn’t fixed overnight but that conversation gave me courage to continue to reach out for help, reach out for hope, reach out and invite more people into my story, to allow myself to believe that this world is not built on what I can offer it but rather this world does exist contingent upon my participation in it and I was being reminded of that by friends and by some carefully chosen members of my family and that really set me on a trajectory to be here today, 16 17 years later. 16, 17 years after the night that I thought that I was due for an early exit.
Chad Moses: In all of this, I was still radically struggling with my identity, with my faith identity, with my role in society, with all this and this was a time that I leaned heavily on people that did not share my faith context, that did not share my upbringing, that did not share my a shared ethnicity or skin color or socioeconomic status and I was able to find acceptance as the walking embodiment of privilege among people who had lived radically different lives than I had. I am still on this planet because of people that I believed I was perhaps… Gosh, I struggle even saying this but people that I had grown up believing that I had an upper hand on, people that I believed my objective truth was better than and realizing that these are still people who believe in me despite what I believe. These are people that believe in me despite what I was walking through. These are people who were more excited about my ability to ask better questions than my reciting of scripted answers and that changed everything. I did not have queer friends before this moment and they’re the ones that kept me on this planet.
Chad Moses: I didn’t have a ton of friends that were outside of my socioeconomic status but now I did and these were people that taught me so much about resiliency, taught me so much about community and God, I would never opt to live my college experience again but I would never change it. The friendships that I made during this kind of dark night of this whole stretch are the friendships that enabled me to exist and to find ways to bring more people into closer proximity with resources for hope and help. To grant more of these stories a bigger microphone, to make sure that when we imagine what mental health access looks like that we are imagining people that look like the person we see in a mirror each and every single day and this takes real work but this has to be work that is informed by a diverse community that we can no longer allow conversations of mental health to be dominated just by one culture or one faith context or even one stream of education or you name it but this has to be something that is effectively credible to people regardless of their upbringing.
Chad Moses: I’d say that I learned that the hard way but if I use the past tense of learn that makes it sound that I have all the answers again which I abhor that sense of entitlement. I don’t want to be the answer guy anymore but I do hope to be a safe place for questions. Questions that were taught to me by people who don’t look, think, act, speak, insert your own verb, like me because at the end of the day this isn’t all about me. This has to be a we scenario. This has to be based on us or else it’s going to fall apart.
Jennifer Brown: Chad there’s so much in there. It sounds like you found your ministry in a different way to me, right? One kind of ministry switching into another that now deeply resonates and you’ve been changed by maybe even more than you’ve been able to give that to others, right? Your role in all of this has shifted to this it seems to me in listening to your story shifted to this different… This listener, this observer, this space holder but it’s so important to understand as you outlined your journey, it’s so relevant where you’ve been to what you do now. It fuels you, it’s healing you but it’s sort of the evolution that we go through to find the right role for ourselves and versus the role that we were socialized to think was right for us and also having the answers and then evolving to realizing that asking the questions is more powerful so I love that you said that. It was so beautiful that you described the community that held you as those whom you hadn’t had in your life up until that point and that somehow that transformed you to be able to see things differently and it was such a generous moment for people to hold you and extend that to you even people that had been not been held by the world still sort of reached out to you and held you.
Jennifer Brown: That is the ultimate beautiful, selfless I think thing and you were worth it. It’s a breathtaking story and so now I guess how did you decide then to… It sounds like you just organically moved into making this your life’s work is literally doing this and I know it’s what you do now. Tell me where you think the biggest pain points and unmet needs are in this conversation still in the world of today. I can’t imagine it’s better than I don’t know, than it used to be when you were coming of age and feeling so isolated and so alone. I hope you’ll say it is but I don’t know, I’m a bit pessimistic about that. Yeah, tell me about I know, I think it’s World Suicide Prevention Day is coming up too and I wanted to make sure we talked about that on September 10th but wow, this must be a really heavy time of year for you, to be going back to all that and I’m sorry to be taking you there but I think it’s important.
Chad Moses: No, no. I really appreciate it. You’re right, let’s start there that World Suicide Prevention Day is indeed on September 10th. It’s September 10th of every year and this is, we just started our journey as an organization on our 10th annual campaign in honor of World Suicide Prevention day and for us it’s kind of a really subtle shift from what we do every other day of the year into specifically talking about suicide. As an organization we exist to really build a better bridge to connect anyone that’s looking for help to that help as it pertains to mental health challenges like depression, addiction, anxiety, eating disorders, self injury, thoughts of suicide but for the next month leading up to September 10th and actually leading through the rest of the month of September we’re focusing specifically on suicide prevention. Suicide prevention is something that I feel like it doesn’t take a lot of energy to get people to nod their head and say amen, that this is important but so many people when we talk about suicide just that word can derail the entire conversation. That is a terrifying word. There’s this sense of poetic justice that really kind of runs away with this word. Just right now Jennifer, when I ask you to recall the last time you heard a news bulletin on suicide what people group were initially referenced?
Jennifer Brown: Veterans.
Chad Moses: Cool, yeah so veterans. You have a lot of people that say, “Well I’m not a veteran so surely the VA can do better work there. I believe in the VA to help out but automatically you combine this scary term of suicide and attach it to a people group that you immediately try to create some distance from. That’s normal. It is normal to want to stay away from something that seems like a threat, something that seems risky. In the same way, I’d say a close second to veterans is a lot of people would say, “Oh yeah, when we talk about suicide the youth. Man, this is such a hard time for the youth.” What a lot of people don’t realize is that the risk of suicide actually increases with age, that this is a public health crisis that hits on every demographic of existence. Suicide is not a white people problem, it is not an affluent problem, it’s not a veteran status problem. It’s not a student problem. This is a human problem. Worldwide, we lose 700,000 people to suicide each year. That’s one person every 45 seconds. These are numbers that rival deaths due to war, deaths due to natural disasters, deaths due to murder combined don’t hit the 700,000 deaths by suicide each year.
Chad Moses: This is… Man, we are so burnt out of this word pandemic but this has been a pandemic since before this word pandemic had entered our collective consciousness, right? We know that the COVID epidemic, pandemic has done even more lasting damage on topics of mental health. We know that just in this past year that one out of four young adults have thought about suicide because of the pandemic, because of the difficulties associated with finding a job, with graduating, with finding housing, with starting families, with starting career paths. All of this goes into the conversation of suicide prevention. Backing up, what we do as an organization during this time is really try to address two pillars of the conversation. So often when someone talks about their journey with mental health a common response is, “Why didn’t you ask for help?” Normally we hear one of two different responses.
Chad Moses: One, I didn’t know who to ask or two, I didn’t even know if it was okay to ask. Everything that we do over throughout the year but specifically for suicide prevention over this next month is geared towards answering those two pieces. Where can I ask for help? Where are the helpers as Mr. Rogers would say. Look for the helpers. How can we make clear access? How can we break down barriers to accessing this sort of help that would honor your upbringing, honor your family of origin, honor your faith context, honor if you are a person of color or if you identify with LGBTQIA+ communities or what have you. If you are awake right now, if you are hearing this right now that means you and everyone that you love and everyone that you come across deserves to have another day with you in the picture. That is the theme of this campaign is Another Day With You.
Chad Moses: What that does, what focusing on that statement does is remove the onus from professionals, removes the conversation from just theory and classrooms and brings it into the everyday. If suicide is too difficult of a word to broach then let’s just talk about you Jennifer. Let’s talk about the things that make you excited to still be here. What are the moments of your sense of truth that deserve to be revisited as often as possible to remind you that hope is real, that help exists, that you are not in this alone. I love this statement of Another Day With You because that means it has to be bigger than just me as we engage mental health challenges.
Chad Moses: This also brings it out of the conversation of just crisis intervention, that suicide prevention is not just dialing a hotline on a really stressful moment but suicide prevention looks like daily check ins. It looks like making sure your office space or your classroom or your family dinner is a place where questions are welcome, where we can talk about real life, where I can ask you how are you doing and follow it up with yeah, but really? That is… It sounds trite but that is suicide prevention is creating a sense of proximity, of admiring the weight that you have, the gravity that you have in your community that draws people together, that keeps this world turning.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, the you are valued, you’re important, somebody’s expecting you somewhere, right? Somebody’s counting on you, counting on your friendship. I love that. That’s so beautiful Chad. This is so important because we do, you’re right as you were describing the everyday interventions we can do and the ways that we talk about it, think about it as a crisis and that’s the only way we see it, I love the language that you’re being very intentional around which to me is educating us about the prevention before it becomes the crisis. The check-ins, the early detection if you will and also you brought up a point that folks around us to trust the folks, they need to look like us or identify like us too so there’s this interesting thing too that reminds me of the importance of whether it’s caregivers or mentors or friends or support systems that we trust because we’ve had this a marginalized experience for example, right? We don’t trust institutions or we don’t trust somebody who is checking in with us because we don’t believe that they understand our lived experience so you said it quickly but I picked up on it because it struck me that because we just listen to different people differently.
Jennifer Brown: We hear them differently, we trust them implicitly or not differently and this is why we’re part of what we work on in my world Chad is of noticing that implicit trust that we give certain people just based on what they look like and then but thinking back to your story the people that came to your aid didn’t identify like you did. Didn’t look like you so there’s something very beautiful in the way that who showed up for you and how different they were from you and are from you. Then thinking about how can we love on each other? How can we make sure that all of us of all identities are being reached and reassured or checked in with I think by a variety of all of us because I’m just so mindful that this is such a risky thing to share and to be honest about anyway that we don’t stand a chance of winning somebody’s deepest most fearful thoughts if we’re not sort of a messenger that’s trusted so I don’t know. It’s a little bit of a rabbit hole I’m going down but what do the helpers need to look like? I would say when I think about the workplace and checking in with each other it takes the right helper I guess to unlock the truth in somebody.
Jennifer Brown: That means we have to have a lot of different kinds of helpers that are vigilant, that are paying attention, that are showing up and to me, that means the call to action, it reminds me a lot of Allyship Chad which we talk about a lot on this which is that the variety of the different kinds of allies that I need to see if I’m in a place that is unfamiliar to me or is the systems that I don’t understand or that I’m facing challenges every single day because of my identity, the sheer number of us of all identities that need to step forward and identify ourselves and say, “I’m here and I’m checking in,” and I know that someone out there needs to hear me doing that and see me doing that because I think that speaking about it publicly and this is part of the process of normalizing or usualizing this in systems is that it becomes something we’re all comfortable doing with and for each other. We’re so far away from that but that honestly that’s what I hear you going after which is really beautiful to equip us all with that hey, reach out and express that help is available and you matter before you ever get asked. [inaudible 00:37:34] to be asked is kind of late in the game.
Jennifer Brown: I talk about pronoun sharing a lot and I tell leaders about sharing your pronouns. They’re like, “Why would I do that? That feels awkward and maybe I don’t have a trans or gender non binary person on my team,” and I say, “You have to talk about it anyway. You have to talk about it before and as if somebody on your team is in transition or someone in your team does not want to go by he or she pronouns.” I tell people that to say there’s so much we can’t see. There’s so much we’re not trusted with.
Chad Moses: Right.
Jennifer Brown: Right? To go first and go forward and to just be like, “I don’t even know who needs to hear this and I’m going to continue to talk about it.” Anyway.
Chad Moses: No, I think you hit on some really important points there. What I hear from what you said there what occurred to me was that love is only credible to the degree that it’s consistent, that valuing our friends and family and coworkers is only going to be believed if we have the receipts to back it up and that looks like small things, right? That looks like not laughing at a joke where mental health is a punchline, that looks like expressing pronouns to break the ice, to enable other people just a glimpse that this is a safe place. This is something that I am actively thinking about even though this isn’t something that I normally have to think about, you know? I think so much of it is about building a broader perspective. Someone years ago, I was sitting on a panel for suicide prevention and someone from the audience asked me a really intriguing question. They asked me to define what suicide is. I don’t know what context they were asking that question out of but it was the first time I had to think about this.
Chad Moses: I think it brings up another question, what are we talking about when we talk about suicide prevention? We just established that it can be little things. Little things can be incredibly proactive in keeping our friends and family safe but for me in that moment I had decided to stick with this and this has stuck with me for five years now, that suicide is the fatal result of a restricted perspective, that if it’s only my mental health challenge, my mental illness, my depression, my anxiety that is driving how I view the world around me then I am not operating from a place that has all the information at my disposal to make a proper decision based on the world around me. I need other perspectives. I need a community. I need friends that have different life experiences to remind me of true things or to give me different angles of that truth to help me make a decision that results in a world that still has me, in a world that still has you.
Chad Moses: If I’m going to get super like metaphysically philosophical here. For you, listener whom I’ve never met, ever since you came into this world I’ve never known a day without you in it. For all I know this world quits spinning without you here. I don’t want to imagine a tomorrow without you in it. Even if that is something that can be convincing just to give it one more breath, to give it one more night, to give it one more day or week or one more therapist session or you have it then that’s worth it but even then that only means something if the rest of my life is consistent with that belief, right? It doesn’t mean a lot to hear chief executives or politicians or anyone else that exerts a sense of authority over us socially. If they are only talking about mental health or suicide prevention during this one time of the year then it becomes harder to believe that they believe this mission to be important.
Chad Moses: The hope is that, God, Jennifer, I would love it if we didn’t have to have World Suicide Prevention Day anymore, if we could just solve this but the only way that’s going to happen is through these microscopic interactions that 700,000 deaths annually is a big number to have to combat but it gets a little more manageable if we’re investing the majority of our energy not on the 700,000 but rather on the seven minutes that I have each day with the barista at our favorite café or with the hugging a friend or family member for seven seconds to make sure that they know that I am capable of holding them together throughout whatever they’re walking through or if I decide to send seven texts today to seven people that I haven’t spoken to in too long just to remind them of the gratitude that I have for them for the role that they played in keeping me together over these years.
Chad Moses: The numbers are daunting but we can make them more manageable and when we make them manageable we can do that on a more consistent basis and when we do that on a more consistent basis we are empowering conversations around mental health instead of waiting for the right moment to have a difficult conversation, you know? Depression, addiction, suicide, they don’t care what month of the year it is. Suicide doesn’t tremble at the thought of us coming up on World Suicide Prevention Day because the reality is there’s going to be thoughts of suicide before and after this day for every day but if we can try to walk through this world with a bit more grace, with a bit more invitation. If we can invite more voices into this conversation then we’re going to make sure that more people have more access to these resources, to these conversations, to these life saving interventions that don’t even feel like interventions.
Jennifer Brown: We warehouse it all and we wait somehow for this moment, right that doesn’t come. That doesn’t come so I love the consistency, the incremental, the little gestures and adding up over time and you just gave us some beautiful practices of a long hug. Hanging on a little longer, right? To make sure somebody really you get deeper than the superficial greeting and you really feel that somebody’s there for you. I’ve had those kinds of hugs and it surprises you because you’re not ready for them. I know I’m trying to eradicate certain words that probably reference mental health or illness like crazy. It’s amazing to notice how often we refer to things with this language. I wondered if you had any other things that are right in front of us that we can do that we can change, that we can sensitize ourselves to?
Chad Moses: Totally, yeah. I think it is fair to say that we can police language and we can adjust our vocabulary to be safe, to be sterile but that alone wouldn’t undo a lot of pain, right? The goal in this is not to get a gold star that you speak pretty about mental health but it’s about making sure people who are desiring access, maybe not even to resources but just access to a safe environment these are little cues to prove that you are a safer place. One of my favorite substitutions is rather than crazy is confusing. Man, how confusing was this today? Which in my mind is going to be nine times out of 10 far more appropriate than crazy for anything. This traffic getting to work wasn’t crazy but it was very confusing. I don’t know why everyone decided to come to a stop at this point. Let’s call it what it is.
Chad Moses: I think so much of it regarding suicide deals with a lot of language that we’ve inherited and because conversation around suicide is so rarely discussed, that’s not something that comes to the forefront often we haven’t had the opportunity to expand that vocabulary. As an organization we default to died by suicide as opposed to committed. We’re not talking about a robbery here. We’re not talking about a crime. We’re talking about someone that is in a vulnerable state so let’s talk to them, talk about them, reference them with dignity, not as a criminal, not as someone who is doing something that is morally, ethically, legally wrong but someone that is at a crossroads of crisis where their ability to cope with something around them has overreached what is their normal or what is their acceptable.
Chad Moses: I think in all of this it’s removing mentally this word and inserting a face, inserting a name because when I say words like depression, addiction, self injury, suicide, odds are there are people in your life that have struggled with one or more of these things, or people that you are aware of like when my best friend’s father died by suicide I took on kind of this protective older brother role and I tried to keep my friend safe on the school bus when I heard any whispers about his family, I wanted to step in and tell them, “Watch your step. You’re talking about my best friend here so tread lightly.” I think that as a third grader I didn’t have a working vocabulary on mental health or proper language around suicide but I did know that we were talking about a person, talking about a loved one, talking about a void. I think that that is the posture to take moving forward as we discuss any of these mental health challenges.
Chad Moses: That’s another… You’ve heard me drop that several times throughout this conversation. I tend to default to mental health challenge because you don’t need a diagnosis in order for a day to be difficult, right? That we all have these challenges that we interact with, whether it’s mental health or physical health or behavioral health. We’re faced with challenges every day. A challenge is not a morbid term. It’s something that can be addressed with community, with care, with a treatment plan. Man, I don’t know if I fully addressed your question but I guess the basic theme in here is that the posture is going to be more important than the terms that are used and I think probably the best tool in forming a corporate culture around proper mental health language is about asking questions so when someone brings up in conversation a mental health challenge maybe they just say, “Wow, how crazy was that? Or this person was totally insane,” or whatever you can ask another question. Hey, I heard you just say this. What did you mean by that? That’s a community building experience because we’re proving that we’re actively listening to what our friends and coworkers are saying and we are trying to grow together in finding a better term moving forward or just learning more about how this person is seeing this circumstance, seeing this scenario, seeing the world around them.
Chad Moses: This makes for a tighter community so I’d say in all of these things the better way to go about tightening up our language around anything diversity related is by asking follow up questions. When you said this, when you laughed at that, when you mentioned this, what were you talking about? What were you responding to? Can you help me see this through your lens because that hit me in a very different way. Would you mind if I shared what I heard when you said that? This is an opportunity for us to come closer together and yeah, I believe that’s far more dependent on posture than the specific phonemes that we say to make a word.
Jennifer Brown: That’s so good. I love Chad how you handled that question because you’re right, language can be incredibly important but you reframed it. I think you created bigger call to action than just saying the right word or the wrong word or whatever we do with our words but the questions you just role modeled what were you responding to? Can you help me see this through your lens? Would you mind if I shared how I interpret it. Those are really so non threatening and coming from you, you deliver them also in a gentle way and you can hear it in your affect but that’s a lovely way I think to enter what can be a really fraught conversation about language because people defend their language often and they feel attacked or called out or criticized so yeah, back to the pronouns questions, I share mine and then I talk about why I did it and I love the why I did it piece because that is like the same kind of door opening to have others not just listen to me do it but investigate what they do and the choices they make and why maybe they agree with me that our wording, the assumptions about cis genderness or gender identity that we’re making can be wrong and painfully so.
Jennifer Brown: Maybe through talking about my own process that and why I try to not use certain words or I try to use certain words, they will say, “I agree with that. [inaudible 00:53:31] actually. I didn’t think about it.” It is such a sacred opportunity to perceive the world through someone else’s lens for a minute I think you did that beautifully around so tell me more about that word for you? What does it mean? That was such an invitation. It wasn’t an erasure, it wasn’t a punishment, it wasn’t again a call out it was an invitation which I would say is a call in and then help me understand and then maybe I could share. I really appreciate that because I think maybe we look at this language thing and we say, “Well if I could just get the language right I’m going to be good.” I know everybody sort of wants this to be simple and almost like a checklist and I get asked for that all the time. What do I say? What don’t I say? Jennifer, can you just give us a checklist? Actually what you’re outlining is true… It’s not performative, it’s empathy.
Jennifer Brown: It’s slowing down and really listening and then if there is an opportunity to share a perspective. Not to educate necessarily but to share a perspective you might have really shifted something in somebody and that’s what you’ve been doing this whole conversation Chad. It’s been just beautiful. How would we wrap this up somehow because it feels like it could be… It could just continue to spool but I guess you’ve given us so many wonderful things. What would you like to leave us with remembering September 10th everybody, remembering this is a day not just a day, right? Not just a month like you said suicide doesn’t care that there is a day dedicated to the topic. It’s going [inaudible 00:55:03] your role through it and especially in these trying times we are all of us are challenged and it’s not just the folks who seem to be struggling. My friend says check in with your strong friends too, which I just love. I think that’s so beautiful so remember too that we have our own assumptions and biases about what struggle might look like and so carry that with you a bit. What would you leave us with Chad?
Chad Moses: Yeah, I would leave you with just one more invitation that we know that these topics are difficult to bring up, that we’re not used to talking about it but that is, if anything the silver lining to this time that we’re living in is that perhaps this question of how are you is no longer expected to be met with fine. We’ve lived enough over the past 18 months to know that fine is a poor placeholder for really describing how we’re doing? This is a time where I believe our collective consciousness around mental health can be shifted a bit. We definitely have some opportunities for you to continue that learning. If you visit our website which is TWLOHA.com you’re going to find a number of good things. You’re going to find our podcast, you’re going to find our blogs, you’re going to find resources, you’re going to find opportunities to find more resources at affordable costs within your own zip code just by visiting our website. If you are inspired to join us specifically on this Another Day With You campaign then you can visit AnotherDayWith.com. This can be such a great launching point to learn about numbers related to suicide but also about ways that we can affect these numbers.
Chad Moses: You don’t need to believe that you are the sole champion of mental health and the sole champion of suicide prevention. This is a place to be connected, to learn more, to rely on this sense of we that my friend Kim taught me all those years ago, that I continue to lean on today. That is AnotherDayWith.com or you can just visit our home page at TWLOHA.com. We have a number of great things for you whether that is resources, whether that’s some mental health positive propaganda, whether that is signing up to help us fundraise. We have a goal of raising $250,000 over this next month which is going to enable over 3,500 therapy sessions. We believe that these numbers are possible but they will only be possible with your help. Again the money is cool but the conversations that they will empower are even cooler. In any way that you feel able or inspired or empowered to partner with us we would be honored to spend another day with you on this campaign.
Jennifer Brown: Chad, thank you so much. I learned so much with you today and I know our audience appreciates this and I know they’ll get involved because they’re just those kinds of people and will please everybody who’s listening, help get the word out ahead of that day in September and the word out about the really good work that TWLOHA is doing, I’ll say that acronym. TWLOHA and their social media presence. I know Chad you all are just on fire in social so please jump over there if you’re comfortable and thank you so much Chad for reflecting on your story, for turning your life towards this and dedicating all of your gifts and everything you were given but also you’ve made a choice to marshal all of that privilege, point it towards this piece that is so universal to so many of us and so many different identities. It’s beautiful to see and thank you for joining on Will To Change.
Chad Moses: Thank you so much for having us and we look forward to more opportunities to conspire, to do a little more good.
Jennifer Brown: You know it. Thank you.
Jennifer Brown: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at JenniferBrownSpeaks.com. You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
Doug Foresta: You’ve been listening to The Will To Change uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown visit JenniferBrownSpeaks.com. Thank you for listening and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
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