In honor of Witt’s Mental Wellness week organized by Student Senate, Josh Rivedal was invited to speak about Suicide Awareness on Thursday, April 12. Josh Rivedal is a performer and entrepreneur who has been traveling and speaking on suicide awareness since 2010. He is also a published author who wrote “The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah,” published in 2013, and “The Impossible Project: Reengaging with Life, Creating a New You” in 2016, among others.
A suicide attempt survivor and someone who directly experienced suicide in his family, Rivedal used his experience as an actor to give speeches, seminars and the occasional one-man show to educate and provide hope to his audiences on the topics of suicide prevention, mental illness and adjusting to college life. At Wittenberg, Rivedal gave an abridged version of his performance to give students some tools to help anyone they know who might be suicidal.
Rivedal came into the event in a jacket and jeans, and the whole event had an air of casual seriousness. He told the story of his childhood and what led to his decision to begin speaking on suicide awareness, using jokes and goofy imitations of his family and friends, but also giving a brutally honest account of the suicide of his father and how he reacted to it. He expressed his anger and resentment, but also his love and grief. The humor mixed with the depth of the emotions he portrayed made the experience feel incredibly real.
After his performance, Rivedal transitioned to a brief talk on how to identify a suicidal person and what the audience, as friends or family members, can do for that person. One of the things Rivedal stressed was the importance of language. Saying “they committed suicide,” for example, instead of “they died of suicide,” implies that that person committed a crime rather than suffered an illness.
“The way [people] talk about [suicide] reminded me of how many of us probably talked and learned about sex,” Rivedal said. “Myths and misconceptions and rumors on the playground; with suicide and prevention, it’s really uncommon to speak about it in general.”
High schools or organizations may feel uncomfortable educating students on suicide because of the possibility of that school or organization becoming liable for a suicide attempt, when in fact, Rivedal said, they are more liable for not taking any action at all.
Because of his personal experience with suicide and lifelong depression, Rivedale was able to use those feelings and use what he needed at that time, combined with close research on depression and suicide, to educate the audience on what they ought to do if they know someone who may be or is suicidal. Rivedal encouraged attendees who knew someone who was suicidal to listen; listening is always more important than trying to fix that person.
“You can’t fix anybody,” he stressed, but you can actively listen to that person and look for clues as to how you can help them recover from suicide. And it was equally and literally vital to tell that person that they are important, and that they have value.
“I don’t even consider [my depression] as a shortcoming, sometimes I use it as my superpower, because I’m able to use my story to help other people,” Rivedal said. “It’s not a death sentence.”
There are tens of thousands of people each year who are lost to suicide, and awareness and education needs to happen to protect future victims.
“I fell and nearly shattered,” he said, speaking of his own suicidal thoughts, “and I wanna be able to bounce and not break.”
And he wants others to learn how to do the same.
Rivedal gave the audience various resources that anyone can access if they or someone they know may be suicidal. The suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255, a 24-hour hotline for anyone in crises who can call and receive immediate counseling from trained professionals. If talking on the phone is uncomfortable, there is also a crisis text line. Text ‘GO’ to 741741 to receive SMS counseling, also 24/7. He also gave his own resources, both changingmindsstrong.com/spresources, which provides resources for signs and symptoms of suicide as well as ways to prevent it, and elevatr.com, a site that provides support circles, anonymous video chat, and an app to help gauge mood and advice-giving.
Wittenberg has its own counseling services as well in Shouvlin 210. The hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and if you want to call to schedule an appointment, you can call 937-327-7946.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who may be in need. It’s always better to ask and be rejected than to never ask at all, and you may be the person who shows that someone that they do have value and that they do deserve to live.