Talking with Megghun Redmon

A conversation with Megghun Redmon is a startling reminder of how little training many mental health professionals get in working with suicidal people. She once had a therapist and psychiatrist who not only were uncomfortable with suicidal thinking but told her, “I don’t know anyone who is.”

She then studied social work at a school where there was no teaching on how to deal with suicidal people. “It’s kind of funny, but not really,” she says.

But Megghun finally came across a Chicago-area organization that’s one of a few in the country to create and run a support group for suicide attempt survivors. She “came out” to the group while observing it as an intern and now works with the organization. One of their latest ideas is taking the support group into local hospitals to create a bridge to further care once people are released.

Who are you? Please introduce yourself.

OK, my name is Megghun, I’m 23. I work for SPS. I just graduated with a master’s degree last May as a licensed social worker. I don’t know what else. I have two brothers. My parents are still together. I live on my own. I have my two cats, I love my boys. Yeah, I don’t know, I’m really devoted to working on suicide prevention and attempt survivors. I co-lead the SOSA (Survivors of Suicide Attempts) group at SPS. I don’t know what else.

How did you come to talk to me?

Well, Stephanie suggested I join the AAS attempt survivors group. And I think I reached out to you before that, because I saw your blog and was super-interested and sent that to the SOSA people. And I said yeah, I would tell you my story.

How did all this come about?

Well, at first it was really by accident. I always wanted to be a helping professional. And so, like, before I even get into my story: I always help my friends, I’m always the person they listen to. As part of my social work training, I had to do an internship and I was like, “You know what? I dealt with suicide in the past and with people who’ve been suicidal.” So I interviewed at SPS and had to observe a support group. I had already observed a suicide loss support group, so I asked Stephanie if I could observe the lived experience support group. At the time, she asked if I was an attempt survivor, if I had experience. At that time, I was not quote-unquote out, but during the meeting I did disclose to the group. And I have come to, from that it kind of developed. I made it my mission to combat the stereotype of adolescent attempt survivors because of the reaction at that meeting and the reaction I always get from people: “What’s so bad during adolescence that you tried to kill yourself?”

That was a real long tangent to say that I got inspired from Stephanie, from her loss and all she’s done because of it. I wanted to do that same thing because of my attempt.

Stephanie asked you if you were an attempt survivor, but you disclosed in the group. Why?

I felt so comfortable, even though it was the first time I had attended that group that … I came from a family where you don’t talk about feelings, and what happens behind closed doors. So when Stephanie asked me, I was so good at saying, “I’m fine,” but then during the group I felt that warm, welcoming atmosphere that I wanted to participate. I wanted to be an active member.

What were the reactions?

They thanked me for being honest. They congratulated me on my courage to actually talk about it. And I did, a couple of the people did say, “You were so young, what was going on in your life?” Yeah. Age has always been, no matter what part of my story you tell, “You’re so young” or “You’re so mature for your age.” Age has always been a big factor to my story, no matter what part of my story I tell.

This was in opposition to my parents’ reactions when I had the chance to disclose anything to them. Their reaction was always threatening to take away privileges or telling me to “Knock that shit off.” This is probably why I was hesitant at first to disclose to the group.

And what do you say when you do disclose?

It depends on the audience. If I have the time, and if I think it’s appropriate, I tell them I had a childhood for which I wasn’t an adolescent. I had many responsibilities that adults or teens who are in high school have. So I was making adult decisions with an adolescent brain. You know, and if they ask me further, I will tell them exactly what that means. I’m an open book now. It’s helped that I’ve moved out of my house. It let me become more comfortable, telling all sides of the story. I do feel that my parents weren’t supportive of my mental health. Without going into all the detail, my parents continued to tell me the “problems” I was having were “just a phase” and it was “normal.”

But if I don’t think the audience is appropriate, I make the general statement that you don’t know what people go through behind closed doors. Not everyone’s experience is the same. Yeah, that’s how I kind of refine my answer.

Does it still come up, and how do you handle it?

I battle with my down points from time to time. So, I attempted in middle school but didn’t actually get help until my freshman year of college. So I’m still on my recovery journey. I had to suppress a lot of things for a long time. I haven’t got to the point where I actually thought about attempting, but I do get in low points. I learned to put more positive people in my life, and can actually rely on, instead of people relying on me. And my cats, I’m not going to lie, they keep me going.

About disclosing, was that an issue in school for social work?

No, unfortunately, for me it was still an issue I don’t disclose. I watch the audiences I disclose to. Me even talking to you is a big deal. Because I give your blog as a reference to my clients, for the parents of my clients. I tend to get younger clients, because it’s easier for adolescents to connect. And so, that’s something I’m working on because I’m always thinking about who’s in the audience.

I work at SPS, thank goodness, and they’re very open, you know. That’s not an issue, me being open. But I always think about, “Is my future boss in the audience? Is that gonna affect my ability to get a job if I ever have to leave SPS?” As far as social work school, I didn’t talk about it. It just wasn’t … I had bad experiences with teachers, well, first about how you handle suicide, but also bad experiences with other professionals in my own therapy sessions, that I just didn’t talk about it in school because I didn’t want that negative energy directed at me because I was open with people.

The professionals in therapy sessions, was that part of the social work training?

That was one time. They said they weren’t comfortable talking about suicide and didn’t know any professionals who were comfortable talking about suicide. Stephanie labeled them as jumpy. I’m very open talking about my feelings, my story. Everyone at SPS is. Her [the therapist] and I didn’t mix because she had a totally different ideology. I then projected her ideology onto all the other professionals I was going to school with.

Other students don’t really disclose?

No, they don’t. You tend to know which classmates have gone through therapy because of their knowledge when they speak. Sometimes people did disclose, but the reactions from professors, other students weren’t always positive, weren’t always as open and affirming as a future social worker should be. So it stopped after … I learned to speak in generalities.

Doesn’t that seem strange?

Yeah. That’s kind of society, isn’t it?

Were they even teaching the right responses?

They were. I feel I’m giving totally negative impressions. The school I went to was good and had heavy emphasis on empathy. It was more, the teachers had never taught before. Many were adjunct professors. A lot of them were the first time teaching, so the teaching role didn’t always happen for them. They either were way too professional, treating us like clients, or way too lax.

Do they specifically teach how to deal with suicidal people?

No, unfortunately not. It’s kind of funny, but not really. They don’t teach you how to deal with a suicidal person in school. At least, not at mine. You ask them, do they have the means? You do a small risk assessment and send them to another professional, pretty much a hospital. They teach you you don’t want that client in your office if they’re suicidal. Stephanie and I pretty much are working with that school now. She teaches a class on suicide prevention intervention. I come into that class and speak about how I feel. We’re trying to educate the students. And I’ll be open, that I didn’t learn the necessary skills until I interned at SPS.

How do the students respond?

Very positively, very positively. There’s now two classes, on crisis intervention. Progress is being made at the school, and I can greatly appreciate that.

How did you find SPS, and had you ever known support groups existed?

No, I didn’t know groups existed like that. I didn’t know SPS existed until I was looking for an internship. Honestly, I saw them on my internship list and, as I said, I always have a soft spot in my heart for suicide prevention, that I was drawn to it. I decided that I was going to intern there, I interviewed and was accepted on the spot.

What were your assumptions, impressions, surprises about the support group?

My assumptions before going in, I was shocked that it existed. I was always taught that you don’t put a bunch of suicidal people together because they’re gonna share methods. So going into the group, I tried to put that aside because the group existed and had been going on three or four years before I got there. That wasn’t what was happening. So I was trying to go in with an open mind. I’m glad I did. You may talk about your methods, what the future methods may be, but people don’t adapt your methods, say, “Oh, that sounds like a really good idea!” No, you try to talk about that method and say why and go past the fact that they’re suicidal and talk about the environment they’re living in.

It’s not like the people are in crisis all the time, on the edge?

Oh no, because nothing would ever be accomplished, we would always be in intervention mode. Members will come in and say they’re having a real hard time, and we focus on them for a period of time until we feel they’re in a place to be in the group, then we’re able to focus on other members as well.

What’s the mood of the group, and what are the topics of conversation?

The mood of the group is typically welcoming. It’s very … friendly in that our group is/was very small. We called each other or emailed each other in between if one of us was having a hard time. And so, you know, we could have a group of people crying, but in 10 minutes we could be joking with each other a little. Suicide became a topic we discussed and brought everyone together, but that wasn’t the only topic discussed. It was what led them to suicide, what’s going on in current time that makes them think about it again. How your family is reacting to you, how it’s affecting you now. I picture suicide in the middle of a circle, then all these arms that go out like a tree. Sometimes we didn’t even talk about the actual topic of suicide at a meeting, but we know that’s what brought us together.

As the facilitator _ right? _ what’s the most challenging and most rewarding?

I did facilitate it. Right when I joined, the other facilitator who was both a clinician and an attempt survivor left. So I kind of stepped into that role. Once I was “out” with the group, it took a couple meetings for me to take that role. And I still battle with not over-sharing in trying to stay in the facilitator role and staying, not the rock of the group, but the person who helps if someone is having a hard time. I battle with staying together with myself within the group so I’m available with other members if they’re having a hard time. I don’t want to over-participate, but it’s so welcoming that I don’t want to under-participate, either. I don’t want to put anyone on a pedestal. It’s a challenge sometimes, but it’s so worth it for me. If I know I’m having a hard time, I can call up that person at 3 in the morning. They know I’m also a survivor. So that’s been a very big benefit for me.

They can turn around and help you?

Correct!

How long does the group last?

Well, this is the first time we’ve gone on sabbatical since the group was started. It was going on for six years, I think. There was the main core of people, like three or four individuals who come in and out of the group. There were always at least five or six members attending with, like, besides myself and Stephanie, with three core people. It would be OK if someone did not attend every month. We could call that person if we know they’re struggling. But it was a very, though closed group, a flowing group. People came in and out of the group.

Why take a sabbatical?

We say everyone’s cured, but that’s not … Everyone got to a good place. It became a group that the topic got so far from lived experience that we felt that we needed to get some new people. And taking a sabbatical would be the best bet to revamp it. To try to figure out how to get more people to participate.

How?

We’re reaching out to one of the main hospitals in the area, to try and partner with them. We’ve always been part of the outpatient plan for people after they attempt. We want to offer the group at the hospital, so if people are in partial hospitalization, we want to offer the group as part of the program. Eventually, we want to offer it as inpatient as well. So when they go out of inpatient they feel they haven’t lost that inpatient environment. So our ideas are really big, but we don’t think they’re huge. We feel partnering with a hospital will help us get the group out there, to more of the public knowledge.

Can others out there do this, or does creating a support really depend on a really passionate individual?

Yes, others out there can do this, and are doing this, thank goodness. I learned about some new groups out there, but it does take educated people, people willing to be open and combat stigma to get the group started. Our group would not have been started without two lived experience people. It does take that motivation.

What will it take to make it easier to combat stigma and come out?

I don’t know. I think it’s gonna, well, I feel the society is changing to a point when talking about suicide, it’s a long, long journey that needs to be had. Just mental illness in general is a very long journey, for society to be able to accept that people live with mental illness, that it doesn’t make them a worse or better member of society. So I think it’s gonna take some work on both people who live with mental illness and people who don’t, working together.

Do you see any changes in society?

Oh, yeah. I mean, AAS is a huge step. The fact that people are now able to label themselves as a lived experience member, or almost to that point. And … I think that’s a large step. I know people are able to talk more about their struggles, talk more about “Oh yeah, I went through a very dark time.” I think the news is actually … Suicide is becoming a little more accepted. Yeah. Schools are actually reaching out instead of pushing the topic to the back burner.

How about the reactions of your friends and family to all of this?

Well, as far as my family goes, I actually just told my parents probably six months ago. And so they took it really hard. My friends, they’re, yeah, they accept it. Many of them struggled, and so they’re just accepting. Many of them had seen what I had gone through and so were like, “Finally, you’re talking about it.” Because I wouldn’t talk about it, so they’re like, “Finally!” So, yeah! That’s pretty much the reaction. Either shock or open acceptance.

It it easier to ask for help if you’re open?

You’re asking the wrong person. In my experience, it was extremely hard to get help, and I was at a young age. When I was open about what I was feeling, I was told, “Knock that shit off.” And so I figured, I see others when they’re open getting help, but for me it was not easy. It was a very long journey.

In the sense of being “out” about having had a suicidal experience, does that make it easier to seek help or support?

Yes, but people become a little hyper-vigilant. In my experience, I know I become a little hyper-vigilant when I have a client who comes out to me. As a person with lived experience and who works with people with lived experience, I always have it going through the back of my head. Which is not a bad thing. It’s always there.

You see that person and think you always have to be more aware?

Correct.

Does it take more attention and energy to feel that way?

Yes.

On a different topic, I’ve heard from people who speak publicly more often that they feel pressure to show that they’re “better” and never have those thoughts again. What do you think?

I don’t think I have yet, but I haven’t been doing super-public presentations. Most have been in the local area. I haven’t felt that way yet, I know. But I can see where someone would. You put yourself on a pedestal.

What has been your most helpful treatment, and the absolute least helpful?

I can tell you straight off, absolutely not was having a therapist and psychiatrist who have not been comfortable, visibly and verbally comfortable talking about suicidal ideation and thoughts. Actually saying to me, “I don’t know anyone who is.” Being that I interned at a place where everyone was comfortable, that was not helpful for me.

What’s been comfortable for me is knowing places like SPS where people are comfortable talking about past and current experiences. When I was younger in treatment, making it more known that you can have counseling without parents’ permission, but also within the school. I think we need to make it a little more acceptable and legal for school counselors to see students on a regular basis. Currently, they’re not supposed to if they don’t have an individual education plan.

Do you mean in high school, college, every level?

In K-12, that’s what I mean. And I don’t know if it’s just for Illinois or across the nation. For me, I would not be here if not for counselors and social workers who broke that rule. So that really helped me, that people were caring about me.

And not necessarily caring about the rules?

Yeah. … Even to see a private clinician in Illinois, you can only see them six times without parents’ permission.

Going back to what you mentioned about the therapist and psychiatrist not being comfortable with suicidal people, aren’t all of them supposed to get that training?

I feel like I’m bashing my profession. The training is very minimal unless you seek it out. I know some private practices around here have a “no tolerance for suicide” for liability purposes. And I know schools, too. A school district around me, if a student talks about suicidal ideation or plan, the counselor is instructed to call 911. So training is very minimal, in my experience.

What else would you like to put out there?

I feel like I should stress the importance of not judging a person by their age. And I want to put out there, it kind of sounds hokey, but not to give up when your family pushes you away. There are people out there who will listen. It’s really … Yeah, that’s what I wanted to say.

Who else are you?

I am … See, that’s like the hardest question to ask me, who else am I, because I am, have become so devoted to suicide prevention that I’m a woman still searching for her path. I may be on the path, like a version of my path, but I still think there’s so much for me to learn, so much not visible to me yet, that I don’t know fully who I am. I’m gonna contradict myself, but I know I’m still young and have places yet to go.

So I’m a woman in transition.

With no hobbies?

Oh no, I have a hobby! I’m an avid knitter. I am actually learning to garden as well.