Dennis Gillan lost 2 brothers to suicide in the span of 11 years. It took him a long time before he could talk about this loss. Now he has started a non-profit organization called HalfASorrow.org to educate people about suicide prevention.
In this episode Dennis shared how he began to address the problem initially by volunteering on a suicide hotline. It took awhile before he could talk about what happened to his own brothers.
The rate of completed suicides is higher than the national average in the 55-64 year old age range. Illness is a big factor in this group, as is loneliness. As we age we tend to lose friends, we lose groups we were once part of. We lose connection and purpose.
Dennis shared some of the warning signs a person might exhibit when they are contemplating suicide. He also gave us some tips on how to address our concerns directly to the person we suspect is having these thoughts.
The nation-wide suicide prevention hotline is 988.
- If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, ask them, “are you ok? are you thinking about suicide?”
- If they say yes, ask if they have a plan. Then find a way to get them to talk about reasons to live (like a pet, a child, etc)
- How to volunteer for a suicide hotline
Thanks so much for listening.
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You can email me with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wendy Green is a Certified Life Coach, working with people going through the
sometimes uncomfortable life transition from full-time work to “what’s next.”
Find out more about Wendy’s 6-week “What’s Next Transition” Coaching workshop
You can reach Dennis Gillan at email@example.com
Or check out the website www.halfasorrow.org
Turn a tragedy into a mission.m4a
Hello and welcome to the Hey Boomer Show. Our show is live every Monday on Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube and then available by podcast by the very next day. My name is Wendy Green and I am your host for Hey Boomer. And I am on a mission to support and inspire people in the next act of their lives. I do this through the inspiring guests that we have on the show and through the What's Next a group coaching program that I offer. We are evolving, not retiring. We are defining what this next stage of our lives will look like. So join us on this journey.
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I suspect that most of you know someone who has tried or succeeded at committing suicide. It's painful to think about how difficult life must have been for someone to reach this point. Sometimes it is chronic pain or illness that leads someone to make that decision. And in teens and older adults. It seems that loneliness is also a contributing factor. The feeling that no one cares. Feeling like you no longer have a place. In our conversation today with Dennis Gillan, we're going to talk about mental health and some of the stigma that is still associated with talking about your own mental health. We're going to talk about the warning signs that might indicate that someone is thinking about harming themselves. We may discuss how men and women face loneliness and depression in different ways. And we'll talk about how you could get involved in the suicide prevention work If you feel like that is an area where you want to put some of your energy. So let me bring Dennis on and do a brief introduction so that you can all meet him. Hello, Dennis.
Hello, Wendy. How are you?
I am well. I'm glad you were able to join us today.
Well, I'm growing a gray beard for my fellow boomers during no shave November for mental health. So there you go.
There you go. Thank you for supporting that. So Dennis Gillan is a national thought leader on the topic of suicide prevention and mental health advocacy. He travels internationally speaking, raising awareness and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. Dennis has been deeply touched by suicide after the loss of both his brothers to suicide 11 years apart. After years of sitting on the sidelines, he jumped into helping those in need by working on the suicide prevention hotline when he lived in Chicago. And after moving to South Carolina, Dennis got involved with several non-profits that take on mental health issues, and this allows him to lobby lawmakers and raise awareness by sharing his story. Dennis gave a TEDx talk about loneliness that was received over 25,000 views. He also co-wrote a children's book about dealing with sadness and showing children how kindness can save a life. He is now the executive director of a nonprofit called Half a Sorrow Foundation. And we're going to talk about where that name came from. But for now, Dennis, I wanted to start with you giving a brief story of your life and what brought you to the suicide prevention work that you're doing today.
Sure. Wendy, thank you for that intro. And like many folks, my misery has become my mission. And you alluded to the misery. I'm one of five kids and three boys, Two girls and two of the boys died by suicide 11 years apart, which, you know, I wouldn't wish one on the devil himself. And here one family had to go through it twice. And it was when I was in college, I was 20 years old. And then Matthew was my younger brother. It was 11 years later. I was like 31 and working. And for about 16, 17 years, I didn't talk about the boys at all. I did some covert help by working on the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. But I can do that anonymously, and none of my neighbors knew it. I would just go at night, I'd go work the lines and I come home. I had one shift Thursday nights from 8 to 12, and I would just volunteer to do it and come home. It didn't tell anybody about it, but it felt like it was some of the most rewarding work I've ever done. But I could I could remain anonymous. No one had to know that. But finally, I spoke out about my brothers. Somewhere here in South Carolina, where I live, probably about 2010, 2011, I think it was 2011 when we did a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and they asked me to say a few words about what what happened to me and what they were doing.
A walk out of the darkness walk and what the walk has meant to me. I said, Oh, I could do 5 minutes. And I barely got through that talk. It was brutal. And I sat down and I remember this woman coming up to me said, You need to tell that story more often. And I remember kind of laughing and going, I'm done. We're done. One and done. You heard it. It's over. And, you know, we make plans and God laughs. And next thing you know, I got a call from a school and they said, Hey, we heard you at that walk. Can you come speak? I'm like, All right, let's try this. I bombed horribly. I cried the whole time. And then I heard in other school, called up and said, Hey, we heard you did a good job at that school. I'm like, I don't think I did a good job. And then I only cried half the time. And then it was here in a down in Charleston, South Carolina, where the third time I spoke, I started to hit my stride. And it really it all came together. So, you know, there were some really bad presentations. There are some really good ones now. And it's it's it's become my my calling of sorts.
Yeah. So maybe not bad, but you were uncomfortable sharing the emotion. I'm curious as to why the suicide prevention hotline, why that was so important to you to stay anonymous on that?
I don't think I was ready to share my story at the time. I had moved to Chicago, like you alluded to in the intro. And when I got there, I told everybody, you know, people would ask, Hey, Dennis, how many kids in your family? I'd say, you know, two sisters back in New York. I wasn't ready to share. I was in my proverbial man cave with my emotions, and it's a terrible place to be. I should have been sharing it. In fact, one time I was lamenting the fact that I waited so long with the local pastor and he said, Dennis, that was your time in the desert. You weren't ready. And he was right because the first time I tried to speak about my brothers in a setting where I was the highlight, I was a keynote speaker. I didn't do so good and maybe I wasn't ready and I was, you know, life prepares you for this journey. And I always I'm always amazed when you when you see someone who's been afflicted with a tragedy and they get right out there and they start helping people, I'm like, wow, And that's cool. That's how they heal. Different strokes for different folks. I couldn't do that. I wasn't ready to help anybody because I was not in very good shape myself.
Yeah, yeah, totally understandable. And and like you said, as men, you know, hiding your emotions, that that's kind of what y'all have been taught. But I did a show a couple of weeks ago about something that happened to me, and it was years ago. But it was hard to talk about. So yeah, and those things happen. So let's talk about the stigma around mental health. I mean, it's hard to talk about to other people that we're having problems or that someone in our family is having problems. Why? What can we do about that?
Well, you know, if you look at the last couple of years during the pandemic, I there's some positive. I always try to look like a silver lining kind of guy. The pandemic has helped us in the mental health field where it really bubbled up to the top and said, hey, we need to talk about this. For years, we remained silent talking about mental health, and there was a stigma. Like if I showed up on your show today, Wendy and I had a say, an insulin pump that was visible. Your audience would know right away, Hey, Dennis, you're probably diabetic. And everybody that's fine is his pancreas isn't working. But with what? Mental health? It's kind of like those invisible wounds. I could show up and be fine, but I wasn't fine. And I. And I did that for years. After Matthew died. I showed up. I was. I looked okay. But inside it was a was a disaster zone. But we just need to get over it. I think the pandemic has helped that. And doing shows like this and podcast, maybe ten, 15 years ago, people wouldn't even book me to do something like this. Hey, we're going to talk about suicide prevention. Like I'm not doing that now. They're like, Hey, what time you get in here? It's a different it's a different era. And for the boomers, we're a proud generation. You know, we tend to hold it close. My dad, who was above it, he couldn't even talk about my brother. So it was, you know, we didn't we didn't talk at all about the boys. It was awful. So I have hope. I look back, you know, look down to my sons now. I have two boys. They talk about mental health. That generation is pretty cool about it and it's getting better. But the stigma still exists to your to your point. And we we all need personally. We need to get over that.
Yeah. And David just shared with us as you going into class a little while ago, one of his students was leaving in tears because she had just heard that one of her friends attempted suicide. So it covers all age range. Are you addressing a you are addressing different ages as you talk about this or are you focusing on. One area.
Now, if you look at me, I'm I'm a boomer. I'm right at the end there. I'm 1963 and it goes up to 64. I for some reason, I've hit a stride. Hit a sweet spot for the half of our nation's colleges. I don't know. I feel like Bernie Sanders. The college kids love me. They just they keep bringing me back, which is great because they have high suicide rates and a pandemic. The new numbers came out and those those folks, between 15 to 24 were impacted. But the group that I really want to get a hold of are my people. You know, if you look at someone 55 to 64, we have a higher rate of suicide per 1000 than those 15 to 24. I just have trouble. Go ahead.
Yeah. So I read that statistic. It was like the the kids attempt more. But don't succeed. The adults succeed more. Is that what You're Saying?
Here's a yeah, I'm going to give you a coaching moment when we talk about suicide. And right now you've not heard me say the word commit because we don't talk about we don't say the word commit. They died by suicide. My brothers died by suicide. And the other term, when we don't use a success because there's no success in a suicide, well, that's.
There is no success.
Everyone loses. So it's a coaching opportunity there. More attempts? Yes. Women have more times, by the way. Men are 79% of all completed suicides. Women have 3 to 4 times more attempts. For some reason, guys and I, I normally don't talk about means when I do my talk live, but guys use lethal means and it's over. There's no coming back and it's awful. They go in the woods, they don't come out. But if you look at 55 to 64, 16.9 per 100,000, the kids are at 14.2, the nation's at 14. And then if you look at 65 to 74, it gets a 14.5 and then 75 to 84, it's 18.4 per 100,000. And that's how we measure this per 100,000. So in 100,000 people on a national average, we can expect to lose 14 to suicide in 65 to 74, we can expect to lose 14.5. So it's above that average. And that's not that's not good. In the world of suicide, you want to be below average. And gosh darn, we want to be at zero, if we could. You know, a man can dream, right?
Yeah. So help me understand. You know, they have that you curve of happiness where it shows that when people are in midlife and raising kids and all the responsibility like that, their curve of happiness goes down. And then they say, they say that this curve goes up as we get older. So help me understand why the rate of suicide is also going up or why do you think it is.
When I went to school, I was an accounting major and not a psychologist psychiatrist. I want to get that out to the audience. I'm just the guy that was bopping through life and had these two events and delved into this world. I think there's when you come to midlife and I you know, I went through a divorce midlife and that was brutal. And, you know, that was the first time I ever thought about checking out. And I look at the work look at the work I do. And that that idea popped in my mind and I quickly chased it out of there. I thought about my two boys, like, Oh, come on, that's the stupidest thing you could do right now. But I was shocked that it got in there. I think at some point this is a theory of mine. We get lonely at the top, You know, as we get older, we tend to get lonely and we lose friends. I'm speaking about guys, and there's a book behind me called Lonely at the Top. It's about men. As they get older, they just tend to lose friends. They just less social opportunities when we need those kids. Gosh, you know, football games, practices, travel, whatever you did, you were. I was Martin and Brennan's dad. That's what my identity. And I was fine. I was fine with that then because it got me out of the house. I was doing stuff. It was funny with them when they left the house and I became an empty nester. Everyone's like, Aren't you excited? Like, No, I hated it. I love that guys around.
Yeah, I love that. I couldn't go to a high school football game. I look like a creeper. Like, Hey, what's your kids? Yours? Oh, I don't have one. They're in college. Like, Get out of here. You know, you got to move on. And I think some some guys, this is just a theory of mind that you look back and, you know, we just did a whole study in our. Church about ecclesiastical level. It's all meaningless. They look back and they go, This is it. I did all this work and everything and this is it. And it's I do believe when you get to a certain point, maybe you retire something. You're looking for a purpose. This is why what you do, Wendy, and we try to reinvent ourselves. We have to find that connection to something. And there are times in our lives we have to reconnect because the connection was broken. My connection to Blackfoot High School with my boys was broken the day they graduated. It's gone. You know, maybe I could've stuck around and coach a little bit, but it was over. So I got to reinvent myself. I got to reconnect somehow. And believe it or not, this this whole thing I'm doing with suicide prevention is giving me like a great connection to all groups. You know, I talked about the college kids earlier. You know, I'm trying to figure out how to get my boomers in a room because they're tough crowd, especially men, to get them in a room and say, we need to talk about this. So any tips you can give me? Volunteers.
Yeah. So that's interesting because women are used to talking about our feelings and we get together with other women and, you know, that's the conversation. And men get together and they. I don't know. They talk about sports. What are you all talking about? So. So maybe you have to have something to entice them. Anyone in the audience, You have some ideas on how you can get men into the room?
I do have I do have an idea. And I started it when I was in my apartment building. When I went through a divorce, I moved from a big house to a small apartment, and a bunch of us started going to breakfast and we call it the Camo Hat Club because ten men tend to camouflage their emotions. So every first Thursday, I want guys to do this. It's so simple. This is so simple. And we barely pull it off, but we pull it off every first Thursday of the month. At 8:00, we meet at one location, the same location, and we have breakfast. Some days there's eight guys there, some days there's two guys there. It just depends what life happens, what hits you. And we were literally it's hilarious. Well, literally texted each other on that Wednesday. I'm not talking about a full blown club with officers and Robert's Rules. We just get together to eat and Wednesday we'll go, Hey, is that thing tomorrow? Yeah, it's always the first Thursday. And we just. Whoever shows up shows up, But it's a touchpoint. And recently I had that little organization and it was about five or six of us around the table, and a new guy showed up. And he was in the boomer generation and he was going through a divorce. Little did he know that he was surrounded. About four out of the five guys at that table had gone through a divorce, and we just looked at them and said, Brother, do you have any questions? Because we've all been there and it sucks. It just sucks. But we're here. We're still alive. We are resilient. What can we do to help you?
Yeah. So. So you all do talk about. Life stuff, think, feelings and fears and yeah, I.
Think it's because I'm in the group. One of the one of the one of the caveats of the group at the end of the day, at the end of the meeting, we just say, how's everybody's mental health? That is that's the only rule we really have is. How is your mental health? And that's the only thing we ask. And. That's that's simple. We can just we try to check in each other. Well, we kind of administered that guy. It was awesome to watch that we were helping this guy out. And that's the only thing we're saying. How's everyone's mental health? And I think it's because I'm in the group because they know what I do, but I like it's not that hard for other This thing is not hard to replicate. You pick a day, you pick your crew and you just keep through it. We went through COVID, we went right through it. We started meeting outdoors, but we just kept it going. And I don't want this I don't want this to be funny. It's funny because it's, you know, I don't want to be a bunch of old guys and McDonald's talking about our prostates, you know that I don't want it to be right. So if it can go into generational, that'd be great. It's harder when you're younger and you've got kids. It's hard to get out, but we all need to do it. And I told the idea I stole the idea from you ladies, The Red Hat Club. That's an awesome organization. You all get together, you've given your whole life of service and you're like, You know what? Let's just go out to lunch and you all deserve it.
And it's all about the connection. It's about building the connection, having your sense of community. You use the word resilient. Dennis Is there part of your program, The Half of Sorrow Foundation, where you help people look at resilience, build up their resilience when they're faced with these issues?
I think one aspect that we do when we improve our mission is to improve mental health for individuals and organizations by promoting real conversations. I think the real conversation starts helping build resilience. When I get up on stage and talk about the two worst days of my life. And also the room becomes safe. They're like, Well, if that guy can talk about it, I can talk about it. And what we're doing, in fact, I'm doing it. Tomorrow we're going to talk about what the group some aspects of what we call post-traumatic growth. I've been following this group from afar, and I do a lot of work with veterans, and they talk about post-traumatic growth. Now, when we all are familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder, like when you went through a trauma and a lot of mental health and. As manifested from a trauma negative mental health. There was a trauma involved. But does the trauma have to affect me negatively, or could it make me stronger? And that's what they try to emphasize in their post-traumatic stress growth. You know, your spirituality can get deeper, your relationships get better. Maybe there's new opportunities. And we all know someone like this. We all know someone like this. They tell you their story and you go, how are you still standing? And not only are they just survive and they seem to be thriving and they've faced unbelievable trauma in their past. So I'm really trying to push that hard. The post-traumatic growth stuff.
Yeah. So tell me about the Half A Sorrow Foundation, how you got started and found the name, what you do.
It's funny you say that because I crowdsource the name, I put, you know, someone. I was about to start a nonprofit because people wanted to help me, which is really kind of them. And they say, Dennis, we love the work you're doing. It's needed. How can I help? Can I write you a check? And at the time it was just me and my website. Dennis Gillan. You know, Dennis, you think much of yourself, you know, it was me that the website. So I started thinking if I became a 501 C three and I could add people in other speakers and do more programs, this thing could be my legacy. This thing can take off. So I put it out in their Facebook. One time I said, Hey, what should I name this thing? And I got a piece of advice from a good friend of mine from college. His name is Dave mogahed. He said, Don't name it after your brother's. All right. I've come to learn that's a best practice because my brother's name, it has some value. But as time goes on, the value diminishes. So I was in my presentation. I was talking about this thing as a Swedish proverb that is shared joy is a double joy. A shared sorrow is half a sorrow. And it just resonates with the audience. I will people will come back to me later on and tell me that it meant a lot to them and it meant a lot to me.
When I first heard it, I remember I thought, I think I heard it when I was 50. I'm like, Oh my gosh, this thing's been around forever. How did I not hear this? So that's where we got our name. The Half A Sorrow Foundation. And it's it's interesting when when you start sharing your sorrows like you did with your audience, you shared a trial, a rough day, a traumatic event. You'll cut it in half. They say, based on this proverb of shared joys, a double joy, shared sorrows, half of sorrow, a half of one, half of a half. I'll always have something, a remainder. It never gets to zero. And you know what? That's okay. Because that means my brothers were significant to me. That means they meant something to me. And if it gets to zero, I have to check for a pulse. I may turn around and the Grim Reaper is behind me going. Dennis. It's time. Right. But right now, I still feel I'll never get to zero. And nor will anyone in your audience. It's just the grief. Let the grief do its work. And I get to honor my brothers by doing this work. So it's a win win for everyone except when I have to go through the slides where I talk about our brothers. It's brutal.
It's still very hard, I'm sure.
Yeah, it is. And it's funny you say that because when I do my regular talk, I call my my keynote talk. I talk about him in the beginning and I get him out of the way in the TED talk I did on loneliness, I left them to the end and you literally could see me dying on stage. I'm like, I know what's coming. The audience doesn't know what's coming, right? Because I started that talk saying, I know two guys had died alone. And at the end there's the big reveal. It was my two brothers. I'm tearing up just thinking about it, but I'm up there on stage. I'm like, Oh, man, here they come, Here they come. That's why. I like my regular talk because I get him out of the way and then we go on to warning signs. Risk factors, protective factors. And we go into living.
Yeah. So we did mention that we wanted to talk about warning signs. So what are some of the warning signs and what do you do if you see some of those warning signs?
Sure. And most times we try to break it down into three buckets with warning signs. Some talk, behavior, mood and talk is someone will verbalize that. They'll say something like, Oh, you'll be better off without me, like time out, not cool. Or, you know, people will joke about, Oh, I'd rather be dead, you know, but they don't do it in front of me because they know what I do. Or if they do and they don't know my story, you know, I privately pull them aside and say, Hey, you may not know my story, but you said something there. Are you okay? So they talk about it, they text about it, they'll say, I'm a burden. You're better off without me. Behaviors are like people start giving stuff away. They start withdrawing. Someone who's hurting mentally will withdraw and isolate. So if you have, say, my little club, my little camo hat club, if we notice that Jack stopped, a guy named Jack was there all the time and all of sudden he's not there, somebody needs to go check on Jack because they will isolate, they'll pull away or they may give away their stuff. And then there's behaviors. I kind of laugh at behaviors because I did them increase use of alcohol or drugs. When my older brother Mark died, I went on a bender.
When my younger brother died, I sobered up and I'm 28 plus years sober now, and that's probably a good way. And then you'll see them be moody, apathetic. You just know. You'll know when, you'll know when something's off. If you're a really good friend, you have to go with your gut. Your gut will say something is not right. And the second part of your question was, well, what do we do about it? I think you run to the bear. There's an old thing like if a bear's coming at you, you're supposed to lay down and play dead. And someone said, No, run to the bear. Run to your problem, because he won't expect it, you know? So this is one of those situations where you run to the bear, you go right at it and say, are you okay? You know, I've noticed these things and you just step it in. You're coming from a place of love. It's not it's not confrontational, nor should it be. You can say something like, you know, you have a lot going on. Someone who who's been through all you've been through, maybe thinking about suicide. Are you thinking about suicide and the way the way you were that.
Oh, you would be that for forthcoming.
Hey, in my line of work in this business, you can't afford to take any chances. You have to be all the training. I do. And I do a lot of trainings, by the way, be it assist, training, safe talk. These are QPR. These are well known in the business. But all those trainings get us comfortable. Wendy, saying the S-word and the S-word is suicide. Are you suicidal? And if the person is, here's the deal. The audience might be thinking in yourself, like, wow, that's a tough thing to say. If the person is suicidal, it would be often it's met with relief. They go, Wow, you picked up that vibe. Thank you for picking up that vibe. It's never I've never had to see confrontational. I've done that. I've asked people, Are you suicidal? And it was interesting. One guy said, Yeah, and then I was. The next thing is like, What is your plan? Oh, and yeah, so you have to disarm the plan. So one, you have to see if they are suicidal. And then two, you have to figure out why have you thought about it? And you have thought about it. What were you thinking? And in this case, it was a firearm. And I'm on the phone with the guy. And I said, Do you think it would be okay if somebody came over and got that firearm and held it for you for a while? And I was expecting this huge battle like, you know, Second Amendment, it's my rights. You know, I was expecting that. And the dude said to me on the phone, he goes, That's probably a good idea.
Wow. I was like, wow, okay, this stuff works. You know, I had to put it in play. Not only do I teach it, I had to do it. And it was really work. And I was like, All right, here we go.
Huh? All right. So you see some of these behaviors or you hear some of these terms, and it's not just, are you okay? Do you want to talk? It's. Are you okay? Are you thinking about harming yourself? Are you thinking about suicide? And that can be that your plan? Have you thought about it?
Yes. And have you thought about a plan? And then in your head, you're thinking about this arm and the plans they say they said, you know, I got all these pills stockpiled. You just say something like, Well, why don't I hold them for a while till we get through this? It's tough work. It's not easy, folks. It's not easy. Especially saying the S word. It's not an easy it's a tall order, but with practice. And if you want me to train you, I'll train you. If you want to get a hold of me, we'll do it. We're role play, and it's it's a life saving question. You can't save a life.
Okay, So let's talk about the children. We want to get it so that the children feel like they have a safe person to talk to. They have a safe way of expressing their feelings. And you've addressed that partly in your children's book, too. Can you tell me about that?
Wow. I just happen to have a copy right here. Wow. Nice shoes. That's interesting book. We wanted to go lower. You know, I want to hit all ages, and I spoke at a middle school, high school, and I never went lower than that. And I know for a fact when my work here locally on the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. But the youngest caller when I left that work was seven years old. Seven. They dialed the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is now 988. By the way. It's a shorter version of the old number. It's 1988, so we know that. So. I wanted to figure out a way to go lower. And I spoke at the University of Delaware, and sometimes I bring students up on stage with me. Now we vet them and we do safe messaging and they tell their story and they come up and it's unbelievable. And at University of Delaware, my co-author, Steven Peel. Came up. There's Stephen's name right there. He came up and told the story about when he was in, like, junior high and he was having a rough day and he was thinking about suicide. He was literally thinking about it. And on the way out of school, one of the cool kids looked out and saw that he had new sneakers on and said, Stephen, I like your shoes. Now, Stephen was waiting for like a punch line, you know, like he's been picked on all day and he's waiting for the other shoe to drop, literally. And the guy goes, No, really, I like your shoes. And that's how Stephen left the building. So we decided I couldn't get that story out of my head.
And it was I was in Delaware in 2018. So during the pandemic, I called Stephen up. I said, I cannot get that story out of my head. Can we do something with it? So we decided to do a children's book. Now, in the book, we do not mention suicide. We just say that the lead character's name is Derek, and we say Derek was sad and he thought every day would be like this. So that's what Steven Stephen thought every day was going to be like this. This is how it's going to be. This sucks. And that's as far as we go in the book. So the educator or the parent could take it from there. We tee it up, so to say, and then we put that out and we launched it in July. And it's been a wild ride. I got to do a book signing at a local Barnes and Noble. We flew Steven in. It was kind of neat and the kids came up and it was really cute. And then a lot of grandparents came up. Some of our boomers came up and they wanted to buy it for their grandkids, but they also had a story to share where a suicide touched their lives. So not only did we sign books that day, when we hugged a lot of people that day, we came around the table and they told me their story and it's back to the vulnerability piece. They knew what I did. They knew what happened to me and they knew Steven's story. So we hugged a lot of people that day, which was kind of cool.
Yeah, the book are great.
Hugs are awesome.
Right? Yeah, the hugs are even better, aren't they? Yeah. So I'm curious, Dennis, you were talking about the suicide prevention hotline. I would suspect, and out of my ignorance, I would suspect that somebody would only call the hotline if they really don't want to go through with it. They want help. I mean, I can't imagine I would call the hotline if I was gun in hand, ready to go. Is that true?
Well, that scenario has happened, but here's why. Most people are suicidal, whether they call or not. There's a part of them that wants to die. But there's also a huge part of them that wants to live. And we call that ambivalence. Right. You know, I want to go, but I want to stay. I want to go. I want to stay. So a lot of people are on the fence, period. And we're so grateful when they call, because then we speak to the part where they want to live. And there are people on this planet when, you know, I remember at one cause like, you know, who's going to take care of my dog, you know, And there are people on this planet because of their pets. And then you go, Hey, what's your dog's name? You just get them talking about it. Oh, Mr. Freckles, what kind of breed is he? You know, you speak to the life part, and I remember, you know, taking those calls and people just want someone to talk to. And I was on a call for about an hour and a half, and we went full circle.
But eventually the people on the call are smart. They know the solution. They just need to hear themselves process it out loud. And at the end of the call, you hang up and everything's you know, I'd say it's all Skittles and unicorns, but they have a they have a way forward or at least hope for tomorrow. And that's what I've become in a sense. Now, with this whole ministry. It's not a dope dealer. I'm a dope dealer. I'm trying to say, you know, dope dealer. Yeah. I try to get people and there may be an opportunity, by the way, with our boomers for for opportunities to volunteer these help lines. You know, I was a volunteer there, always looking for people. Now, there are some paid professional positions. Like I remember when we had someone who covers from 12 to 6, 12, you know, midnight to six in the morning. We had to pay that person because that's a tough shift, you know, But during the day and stuff for the boomers who want to help. This touches a nerve with anybody. Every call center could use more bodies.
That's I was going to ask you about that. How would somebody go about getting started? I mean, they don't have the mental health counseling degree or anything. How would they get started?
Well, it was interesting. And when I got started, I'll just use my story. I found out where the center was and I found it, the director's name. And I called her and I said, My name is Dennis Gillan. I was an accounting major. But this is what happened to me and I want to help. And she said, Dennis, get your butt in here. You know, just like, come on in. Now, for everyone who's worried about that, you know, I don't think I can do this. You really listen a lot on the helpline and you can learn how to listen. But they also train you. They will never put you out there. I went through 12 weeks of training, you know, at night doing this. I had a day job, but I also had to go at night to these Wednesday programs. And Saturday, one day was all day. So they really do train you for the scenarios. And it was some of the most, you know, heartwarming work I've ever done. So if anyone's thinking about it, you're nervous about it. Don't worry. They will guide you. And it's it's I say it's not that hard because there were never like those really, really intense calls. Now they do exist, but most calls were people just needed to talk to someone. And they came to the conclusion themselves that, you know, life is worth living. And I appreciate you being there on the help line. My name was Marty, which is my middle name, and a lot of calls ended with like Marty, thank you for listening. And boom, off they went. So there's a real great volunteer opportunity for someone looking to find their purpose, like we talked about earlier and reconnect. This is a great way to reconnect with people and volunteer.
I think I think it absolutely is a great way. I just have to ask, though, how do you protect your own mental health, not take all of that home with you after a shift on a hot line like that?
Well, I smoke a lot of crack. No, that's a joke. Stop it. Stop it, Stop it. I often share the stage with someone. Yeah. No, I. Your. Your self care is not selfish. You truly, truly have to take care of yourself. And I alluded to earlier, I'm sober 28 years. That helps. But also, there's times we just got to disconnect because you cannot pour. From an empty cop, right? You've got to go fill your cup. And some of the things I do. And everyone's different. Whatever. Whatever floats your boat floats your boat. As long as it's legal and I go hiking, I try to get back into nature. My. My wife does gardening. No matter what you do to rejuvenate, you've got to do that. So there will be times like I used to helpline. I had enough time in between shifts to recharge and come back. And I remember one night on the helpline, the girl before me had a rough call and I just said, Hey, stay here while I answer the phone, so let's don't go anywhere yet. And we we charged each other out in between calls like, Hey, tell me about that shift, What happened? And there's and they had calcium available to us as well. So, yeah, it was very helpful. But you've got to do what you got to do for self care. And self care, as I said, is not selfish. You got to take care of you've got to take care of number one.
Yeah, for sure. So tell us how we can help. Half a Sorrow foundation.
Sure what you can do. Obviously, there's a financial. Now we're a 501c3. If you can make a financial commitment, Great. The other thing is let people know I'm out there. If you can do if you bring me in to speak your any function, you're part of any group. I do a lot of church groups, you know, civic groups, Rotary clubs. If you're part of any group that needs to hear, I've spoken at a CrossFit gym. You know, you get a group of people together and you want to talk about mental health. I'm your guy. So financially, yes. Gigs. Get me speaking engagements. Just let other people know I'm out there. We do a thing. A church is called Soul Shop. It's to help train church leaders. Let your pastor know that we're out here. Just let people know that we exist. Visit our website. Check out my TEDx talk. That will give you a flavor for how I present. It's not all doom and gloom, you know. We will laugh. I had one woman came up to me one time after I spoke. She goes, You owe me money for mascara. I was crying and then I was laughing and I was crying again. And that's the jury. That's life. So just let people know we're out there. And if you can help out, there's a donate button, of course, on the website. That always helps, but. It is greatly appreciated, by the way, and we will use it to go places like homeless shelters and places that we can't charge.
Just so you can find the foundation at HalfASorrow.org, or you can email Dennis directly at Dennis@halfasorrow.org. So that this audience should be an audience that's connected with churches and organizations that might be useful to connect you with the boomer crowd to help you reach out. So hopefully we'll hear from some of them. Thank you so much, Dennis. This was definitely enlightening to me and hopefully to other people on the call.
I want to thank you for taking on this topic, because sometimes you say we're going to bring out a suicide prevention guy on TV. When I got listen to that one and had a guy come to the Rotary Club one time and meeting, he was an older fella and he said, I saw the agenda this morning and I didn't want to come. And at the end of the talk he goes, I'm glad I came. So thank you. I'm glad you were kind enough to. Bring me on.
Well, and I'm glad you reached out, because you're right. This is a topic that is an uncomfortable topic to talk about, but I think you phrased it in a way that made it approachable and people can could hear how they might be able to work on the hotline and at least notice if something is changing and somebody that they care about. So thank you for that.
Yeah. To hear more about what we are doing on Hey Boomer, you can subscribe to our email list. You can go to our website or go to bit bit.ly Slash, Hey Boomer, subscribe, and then you'll get two emails. One that is about what's happening and and a weekly blog and you'll get the Monday links for the show. And if you have other questions that you'd like to talk to me privately about, you can email me at Wendy at Bloomberg Biz. And please support our sponsor, Rhodes Scholar dot org slash. Hey, Boomer. Sign up for a trip. Go look at their travel adventures. You don't sometimes you don't even have to leave home. They they have online travel adventures, too. So yeah, they started them during the pandemic. So that's pretty cool. Next week, my guests name is Anna Hall. Anna was a teenager when she started volunteering in a nursing home in her hometown of Hanover, New Hampshire. Throughout her career of working with senior living communities, she recognized that purpose, as we talked about today, builds resilience and improves wellness. In 2018, Anna began building what she calls the purpose equation, an evidence based framework that guides individuals to discover their unique purpose. So tune in next week to learn more about discovering your purpose. And I like to leave you all with the belief that we can live with passion, live with relevance, and live with courage, and remember that we are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream. My name is Wendy Green. And this has been. Hey, Boomer.