TARZANA, Calif. — Sitting in a room of performers and producers, the reverence of a painful truth reverberated when the question, “How many of you know someone who has either attempted or died by suicide?” was prompted and a room full of people raised their hands.
Following the string of suicides last year that garnered widespread publicity from mainstream news outlets, British performer Leya Tanit recognized the need for better mental health care in the industry and thus founded Pineapple Support.
In the past year, the nonprofit has been able to provide care for over 100 performers and the numbers are only growing.
“We’re currently getting about one person a day applying for therapy,” Tanit told XBIZ. In addition to offering therapy placement, Pineapple Support has also teamed up with 7 Cups, an online therapy service, to provide 24/7 anonymous text support and currently has a team of 100 volunteers available for “active listening.”
While the Pineapple Support team has plans for expansion, yesterday’s event was an eye-opener. If one thing was clear, it’s that this is a community in crisis. While the event provided suicide prevention and self-care training, it was perhaps more importantly an open discussion on the root causes of depression, anxiety and suicide.
While untreated depression is officially the leading cause of suicide, we have to look closely at the factors that have contributed to it within the industry.
Perhaps the most obvious and most controversial factor has been the rise of social media.
“It used to be that everyone got together — there were only a few production companies and everyone knew each other,” said Tanit. “Now, you’re shooting stuff individually or you’re at your house camming. People don’t get together any more. There’s no longer that community kind of feel and it’s very isolating.”
However, the loss of a physical community to the online world has had ramifications beyond increased feelings of isolation.
“I’ve had enough people in this industry that I’ve been close to that have tried to commit suicide or have succeeded and you see how social media affects them and it feels like there’s no way to help,” commented adult performer Nathan Bronson.
Twitter has, for better or for worse, become indespensible tool and while social media has made the industry a vastly more accessible one, it has also opened a Pandora’s Box of arguably disastrous proportions.
“It’s cutthroat out there now,” said Tanit.
Indeed, it is.
“There’s a lot of cannibalism and competition within our industry,” said Lotus Lain, a performer and Free Speech Coalition industry relations rep. “Seeing how excited everyone is to focus on the negative stuff as opposed to uplifting more of the positive things really shakes me. We’re all in this together, why are we eating each other up?”
In a world where one misguided comment online could ruin your entire reputation, Bronson commented, “Every day is just walking on eggshells.”
Lain responded, “You don’t want to be the next one who makes a mistake and [that] the group then piles on."
What became painfully clear throughout the conversation was the desperate want for genuine connection in an industry which instead seems to be rampant with competition and faux camaraderie.
Jonny Gash, owner of Fist Pump Films, and the outreach coordinator for Pineapple Support bluntly asserted, “The frustrating part of the situation that happened last year was that after August Ames passed away, four more people passed and the cycle continued."
Fellow performers echoed the sentiment that it’s difficult to meet and make true friends and trustworthy allies. “It’s easy to meet people because it’s a social environment — there are parties all the time,” continued Gash. “It’s hard to meet real people.”
The feeling of intolerable loneliness in spite of endless online connection, feeling inferior when we compare our lives to the lives of others and feeling unable to speak freely amongst peers for fear of criticism and ridicule has created an environment that has pit the community against itself. The "every man for himself" model is an excellent one in terms of capitalism but a truly detrimental one in terms of humanity.
Licensed marriage and family counselor and doctor of human sexuality, Hernando Chaves, whose presentation was in part dedicated to Ames, reminded the group that the need for a sense of belonging is integral to our sense of self-esteem, as outlined in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He suggested, “It’s like a domino effect — if you knock over the little self-esteem domino, what are the other ones that follow? If something inhibits your ability to be vulnerable and transparent, maybe you start to pull away from relationships, and then you find yourself alone and isolated and then you feel depressed or anxious…”
He continued to present the concept of “Ikigai,” the Japanese philosophy offering guidance on creating a sense of purpose with regards towards self-fulfillment. “If you find a balance between what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for and what you’re good at, you’ll be able to find more meaning in your relationships and work,” offered Chaves.
For the second time in the day, the entire room raised their hands, this time in a more positive affirmation: “How many people are doing what they love.”
“Some people struggle creating that sense of purpose,” said Chaves. But beginning to work on finding that balance could exactly be the key to solidifying ones’ self-esteem internally as opposed to relying on external validation. “Social comparison can be very harmful,” said Chaves. “It’s risky because what happens when that’s not there?”
Chaves’ number one piece of advice: “I’m a big believer in checking in with people — it means more than we realize.”
Amanda Clemens, licensed crisis prevention counselor and national suicide hotline prevention volunteer further encouraged Dr. Chaves’ challenge to check in more with people. “We tend to want to be soft and gentle and skirt around the truth. Don’t do this. Be direct. ‘Do you want to kill yourself? Have you thought about suicide?’ It sounds grotesque but you have to go there.”
Clemens went on to dispel several rumors about suicide. “A lot of the things we’re told in 7th grade health class, like giving away all your possessions or telling people you love them at weird times, don’t usually happen. It’s the things that are really indirect and subtle.” She suggests to look for behavior that is out of character for someone and to look closely at the nuances and subtleties of their online interactions.
Furthermore, she debunked the myth that someone who is suicidal will always remain so. “The magic number is 30,” stated Clemens. “Active suicidal ideation is short term and usually lasts up to 30 minutes. If we can keep someone on the phone for 30 minutes, 9 out of 10 times I can deescalate the crisis. It doesn’t mean the depression stops or that the pain ends, but they’re way less likely to make the decision to take their life.”
Clemens continued to make the potentially life-saving distinction on expressing empathy when attempting to deescalate a situation. The instinctual response is often, “I understand,” but in this case, it can come off as a minimization of their feelings. Clemens suggests offering affirmation with, “I can’t imagine the pain you’re going through.” It’s their pain — recognize it, don’t internalize it and let this moment be about them.
Finally, she offered a quick yet comprehensive list of do’s and don’t’s when dealing with a person in crisis:
- Assess their desire (Are you thinking of suicide?)
- Assess their capability (Have you ever attempted suicide before? Do you have access to a gun?)
- Assess their intent (On a scale of 1-5 how likely are you to act on your suicidal thoughts at this moment?)
- Offer buffers (Does anyone know you’re thinking of killing yourself?)
- Take their thoughts and intentions seriously
- Practice active listening
- Ask open-ended questions
- Build rapport
- Express concern and empathy
- Minimize their pain
- Move away from painful topics
- Offer immediate assurance
- Give advice
Survivors of suicide include everyone touched by the event, not just the person themselves. It’s a broad term and rightfully so. There is a helplessness that goes hand-in-hand with being a survivor. “It kills you inside because you feel like you’re an X Men character with no real powers except for you’re sucking up all their sadness until it kills you yourself,” revealed Gash. “You can’t be with someone 100 percent of the time and like in relationships, regardless of how much you love someone, if they don’t want to be a part of you then that’s never going to change. So in the same sense with suicide, you can do everything in your power to help someone but if they’re going to do it, they’re going to do it.”
“People who die by suicide don’t kill themselves because they want to die, they kill themselves because they want to end the pain that they’re in,” offered Clemens. “There is something we can do to help a person in every step of their decision-making process however, as human beings, we must accept the fact that we cannot control another person’s actions. We can only do so much. It is not your responsibility to save people’s lives. It is only your responsibility to be as good of a human as you want to be.”
In conclusion, suicide is preventable. Let’s say the word and normalize talking about suicide. Let’s check in with our loved ones.
But also let’s be honest about our commitment to creating stronger and more supportive communities. Let’s do the work. Our survival is inextricably linked to the connections and relationships we build with one another. We all need each other.