Speaker’s Forum

Welcome to the Speaker's Forum. We welcome mental health and wellness professionals and writers to be our featured Blogger of the Week/Month. Maximum word count for submissions is 750 words. Contact us here if you are interested in being featured.

To comment on a blog post, click on "comments" below the blog title.

Honoring Memorial Day & Mental Health Awareness Month Heroes: Veterans, First Responders and Artists

The Memorial Day holiday is a time to honor our armed services veterans and first responders – those
who died, those who survived, and those currently on active duty defending our national security at
home and abroad.

As May comes to an end, so does Mental Health Awareness Month – an opportune time to honor mental health heroes. It’s a time to thank brain science researchers searching for mental health breakthroughs, diagnostic capabilities and patient-specific remedies; first responders who are trained in crisis intervention and know how to safely defuse a volatile mental health crisis; and the many grass-roots mental health advocates and non-profits striving locally and nationally to deliver effective mental health programs and services. Equally important are the courageous veterans, children, teens, adults and seniors who embrace life to the fullest while living with mental health challenges.

Since launching The Surviving Suicide and Sudden Loss Project in September 2014, in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, I have met many such heroes. In sharing their personal stories, they demonstrate levels of commitment and resilience that inspire me. Our project includes a creative arts website, www.WriteOnMyMind.com – “A safe place for the mind to speak, giving mental illness a life-affirming voice.” We encourage people impacted by mental illness and their caregivers to express their emotions through art: drawings, paintings, photography, poetry, prose and music.

For too long, the stigma of mental illness and impairment has kept it cloaked in darkness and denial. This places an additional burden on those who live with it every day plus their caregivers, families and loved ones. Many of these adults, teens and children are seeking to live full, productive lives. They are successfully integrating their mental health challenges into their daily lives but don’t wish to be defined by them.

Anthony Azmitia is one of our NAMI artists and one of my heroes. He is in his late 30’s and is a talented artist. He’s articulate, highly observant, and has a wonderful, warm sense of humor that often surfaces in his art. The mediums he uses as “canvases” for many of his pieces are creative and unique: old LP records, bricks, wood blocks and cassette covers, to name a few. He is anchored by caring parents and sustained by his strong religious beliefs. When he lived in New York City, he participated in a structured program that matched him with a roommate and helped him find a job, allowing the two men to live in an apartment with support services available, when needed. Anthony loved the autonomy and he thrived. He dedicated himself to honing his artistic skills and was rewarded when some of his paintings debuted at Pure Vision Arts (http://www.purevisionarts.org/).

Unfortunately, the living arrangement didn’t last and Anthony was forced to move back home. When his parents retired to SW Florida he came with them. It’s been an adjustment for the family. Thankfully, he has found a welcoming home away from home at the NAMI-Collier Sarah Ann Adult Drop-In Center. That’s where I first met Anthony and viewed his artwork. I was very moved by his warm heart, his sensitive, caring nature, and his leadership capabilities. This spring, Caroline Ridgway, a third-generation SW Florida business leader and philanthropist, and a handful of sponsors and supporters hosted the Old Naples Arts and Entertainment Event, featuring artwork by artists similar to Anthony. It was juried by Kristine and Juliana Meek from Harmon-Meek Gallery. Anthony sold two pieces and received the Best in Show Blue Ribbon. His self-esteem soared and he told me, “This is my dream come true.” Anthony’s artwork is displayed at http://www.writeonmymind.com/the-art-gallery/.

The visual arts can be a powerful communicator, beyond words. It can send a message and teach us if we are open to it. Working together, coupled with adequate financial and human resources and effective life-skills programs and services, we can make our communities safer and welcoming for those living with mental health challenges. There is so much untapped potential – let’s give it a life-affirming voice and wings to fly.

Thanks to BetterAfter50.com and NaplesNews.com for publishing a shorter version of this article. Click here to view the BA50 article. Click here to view the Naples Daily News article.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =  
We welcome artwork, photos, poetry, prose and multi-media works created by children, teens and adults
for display on our website galleries.
About The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project: After losing her youngest adult son to suicide, Deena Baxter launched The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, in September 2014. The project’s mission is to promote life-affirming mental wellness. It includes a book, a creative arts website, www.WriteOnMyMind.com, and outreach presentations. The book is titled, SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor: All profit from book sales flows to NAMI of Collier County, FL. Hard copy books are available at major booksellers while supply lasts. The eBook is available on Amazon and the Apple store. The book has been endorsed by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc. (TAPS).

Upcoming Presentations & Events: Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter is making presentations at venues throughout SW Florida – and beyond. See below for upcoming presentations. If you have a professional organization, company, civic, social or church group who would be interested in a mental mending presentation, contact her at DeenaBaxter2@gmail.com for more information. View a summary of past presentations and photos at: http://www.writeonmymind.com/whats-news/.Recent May 2017 presentations:
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Time: 1:00 – 2:00pm, Lunch Speaker
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Missouri
NAMI-Missouri Annual Conference
Holiday Inn Expo Center
2200 I-70 Drive S.W., Columbia, MO 65203 
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: SURVIVING SUICIDE – Mending the Family Tree with Heartache, Art and Humor
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Friday, May 19, 2017
Time: 12:30pm Luncheon Speaker
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Michigan
NAMI-Michigan Annual Conference
Detroit Marriott Livonia
17100 Laurel Park Drive North, Livonia, MI 48152
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: OUT TO LUNCH – Searching for “Normal” After Suicide
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Conference Time: 10:00am – 3:00pm
Presentation Time: 10:15am – 11:15am
Survivors of Suicide (S.O.S.) Macomb County, MI, Annual Conference
Macomb Intermediate School District Building
44001 Garfield Rd., Clinton Township MI 48038
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: MENTAL MENDING – Searching for “Normal” After Suicide

Here are some upcoming presentations. 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Time: 3:30pm – 5:00pm
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL
Crisis Intervention Training (C.I.T.) Consumer Panel Presentation
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter will be a panelist

6216 Trail Boulevard, Building C
Naples, FL 34108-2835
This is a closed event.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Friday, August 4, 2017
Plenary Presentation: 10:30 – Noon
Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity Biennial Convention
Convention Theme: “Preserving our Future”
Naples Grande Beach Resort
475 Seagate Dr, Naples, FL 34103
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: UNDERSTANDING SUICIDE – A Lived Story of Sudden Loss & Search for “Normal”
For members only. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, November 11, 2017 
Presentation Time: Noon – 1:00pm
The Silent Epidemic: A Conference on Suicide
Hosted by The Kevin’s Song Foundation
The Inn at St. John’s, 44045 Five Mile Road, Plymouth MI 48170
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: TBA
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Best regards,
Deena Baxter and Team NAMI-Collier
The Surviving Suicide and Sudden Loss Project
A Partnership with NAMI of Collier County, FL

Spring 2017 Updates – Blue Ribbon Art Honor, New DLC Art Project, Outreach to Our First Responders, Songs that Mend Broken Hearts, Upcoming Events

As we leap into spring, we’ve got inspiring news to share.

Anthony received Best In Show Blue Ribbon Honors
Old Naples Art Event, Apr. 1, 2017

Oscar “Anthony” Azmitia was among several NAMI of Collier County, FL, Sarah Ann Center Artists whose artwork was displayed at the Old Naples Arts and Entertainment Event, March 31 – April 1, 2017, hosted at Trinity-By-The-Cove Episcopal Church, Naples FL. Judging was by a committee led by Kristine and Juliana Meek from Harmon-Meek Gallery. Congratulations to Anthony: He won Best In Show and sold two paintings!!        

       New Artwork Debuts at www.WriteOnMyMind.com: We proudly welcome nine talented children from the David Lawrence Center Art Therapy Program. They are using art to constructively explore their feelings, fears, and hopes and learn valuable life skills, including conflict resolution, emotional intelligence and stress relief. Included below are two of the fifteen pieces on display. More can be viewed at   http://www.writeonmymind.com/the-art-gallery/

Music: We are thrilled to premiere the first two songs submitted to our website Multi-Media Gallery: You Blew Away, music and lyrics by Dammit Eugene; and No Resolve, music and lyrics by Dennis Liegghio, founder of KnowResolve, and performed by The Student Driver Band. Listen to these two moving songs dealing with loss by suicide: http://www.writeonmymind.com/the-video-gallery/

We welcome artwork, photos, poetry, prose and multi-media works created by children, teens and adults for display on our website galleries.  

We welcome Guest Blogger Mary VanHaute. Mary is a suicide prevention educator, trainer and author. She reminds us of the human dimension of our public safety personnel and provides important and helpful advice for First Responders at risk for suicide in her article titled, The Fire that Burns Within. Read her article on our Speakers Forum: http://www.writeonmymind.com/speakers-forum/

Upcoming Presentations & Events: Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter is making presentations at venues throughout SW Florida – and beyond. See below for upcoming presentations. If you have a professional organization, company, civic, social or church group who would be interested in a mental mending presentation, contact her at DeenaBaxter2@gmail.com for more information. View a summary of past presentations and photos at: http://www.writeonmymind.com/whats-news/.

Here are some upcoming presentations. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Time: 6:15pm – 7:15pm
Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Stephen Ministry Monthly Meeting
777 Mooring Line Dr, Naples, FL 34102
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: SURVIVING SUICIDE – Mending the Family Tree with Heartache, Art and Humor
This is a closed event
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Time: 3:30pm – 5:00pm
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL
Crisis Intervention Training (C.I.T.) Consumer Panel Presentation
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter will be a panelist
6216 Trail Boulevard, Building C, Naples, FL 34108-2835
This is a closed event.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Time: 1:00 pm – 2:00pm, Lunch Speaker
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Missouri
NAMI-Missouri Annual Conference
Holiday Inn Expo Center
2200 I-70 Drive S.W., Columbia, MO 65203
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: SURVIVING SUICIDE – Mending the Family Tree with Heartache, Art and Humor
Book signing with all proceeds flowing to NAMI-MO
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Friday, May 19, 2017
Time: 12:30pm Luncheon Speaker
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Michigan
NAMI-Michigan Annual Conference
Detroit Marriot Livonia
17100 Laurel Park Drive North, Livonia, MI 48152 
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: OUT TO LUNCH – Searching for “Normal” After Suicide
Book signing with all proceeds flowing to NAMI-MI
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Conference Time: 10:00am – 3:00pm
Presentation Time: 11:00am
Survivors of Suicide (S.O.S.) Macomb County, MI, Annual Conference
Macomb Intermediate School District Building
44001 Garfield Rd., Clinton Township MI 48038
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: MENTAL MENDING – Searching for “Normal” After Suicide
Book signing with all proceeds flowing to S.O.S. Macomb County, MI
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Time: 3:30pm – 5:00pm
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL
Crisis Intervention Training (C.I.T.) Consumer Panel Presentation
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter will be a panelist
6216 Trail Boulevard, Building C, Naples, FL 34108-2835
This is a closed event.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Friday, August 4, 2017
Plenary Presentation: 10:30 – Noon
Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity Biennial Convention
Convention Theme: “Preserving our Future”
Naples Grande Beach Resort
475 Seagate Dr, Naples, FL 34103
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: UNDERSTANDING SUICIDE – A Lived Story of Sudden Loss & Search for “Normal”
For members only. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, November 11, 2017 
Presentation Time: oon – 1:00pm
The Silent Epidemic: A Conference on Suicide
Hosted by The Kevin’s Song Foundation
The Inn at St. John’s, 44045 Five Mile Road, Plymouth MI 48170
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: TBA
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Surviving Suicide - Searching For Normal with Heartache and Humor

About The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project: After losing her youngest adult son to suicide, Deena Baxter launched The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, in September 2014. The project’s mission is to promote life-affirming mental wellness. It includes a book, a creative arts website, www.WriteOnMyMind.com, and outreach presentations. The book is titled, SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor: All profit from book sales flows to NAMI of Collier County, FL. Hard copy books are available at Amazon while supply lasts. The eBook is available on Amazon and the Apple store. The book has been endorsed by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc. (TAPS).   


Helpful Advice for First Responders At Risk for Suicide: The Fire that Burns Within

The Fire That Burns Within

Mary VanHaute, Author

Suicide Prevention in Public Safety:  The Human Dimension

            “Is he OK?” I pleaded with my brother on the other end of the phone after he told me our brother Charlie had jumped from a bridge. “Is he OK?” I demanded when he didn’t reply.

            “He’s dead,” my brother cried.

            So it began like it has for so many survivors of suicide loss. This marked the first day of my long, informal education about the complex world of grief after suicide and the gargantuan task of preventing any one else from entering this world.

            All of my life, I have lived among public servants—firefighters, medics, and police officers.  Those who didn’t pursue these careers found themselves drawn to another helping profession—nursing.  I chose neither.  Following my brother’s suicide, though, I was enlightened as to how my career as an educator and counselor could be melded into the growing field of suicide prevention. His life would not be defined by the way it ended.  He lived to help others, but could not help himself.  What a gift he left me:  a newfound perspective on what it means to help others and a whole new set of tools to use in the process.

            Helping people in helping professions is an arduous task.  For the last ten years, I have accepted the challenge.  It has introduced me to a huge population of at-risk individuals who validate what I believe contributed to my brother’s untreated depression which ultimately lead to his suicide death.  Of the many risk factors for depression and suicide, the two I see most frequently in this population are the incompatibility of courage and being vulnerable and the insatiable desire to help.

            For many public servants, the thought of needing help is a huge threat to their persona.  Becoming vulnerable and admitting they need assistance with some mental mending is perceived as weak, useless, and not courageous.  Things are changing and through education and training, more people are getting the message:  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but rather a life-saving, courageous step that can enhance your skills on the job.  Yet, it will take a multi-faceted approach to breaking down age-old thinking about the incompatibility of courage and vulnerability. 

            When I’m asked if my brother sought help for his depression, I admit that I don’t know.  Anecdotal information tells me he did, but as I hear from others, it was not an appropriate fit considering his personality and profession.  More needs to be done to bridge those gaps and to educate gatekeepers (front-line personnel) on recognizing signs/symptoms of both depression and suicidal thinking.  Educated, empowered people can make a difference in less acute stages thus minimizing a time when the cry for help is fatal. 

            At my brother’s funeral wake, the fire chaplain for his department spoke words of love and compassion that have sustained me throughout my grief walk.  The most poignant of those words came when he described how my brother died from a fire that burns within rather than from a fire outside his body.  The tyranny of hindsight verifies this statement.  My brother’s life and career was not a proliferation of accolades and achievements.  Rather it was measured by the lives he touched, changed, and ultimately saved.  His insatiable desire to help others not only stoked but also fueled that fire within.  Ultimately, it grew out of control suffocating him and scorching his soul.   

            When I’m asked what (if anything) would have stopped my brother from jumping that beautiful spring morning, I do have an answer.  “Someone needing help.”  I truly believe my brother’s insatiable desire to help was with him even as he felt helplessness.  I believe a stranded motorist on the bridge or even another prospective suicide attempt would have caught his attention activating that innate helping mentality.  No one knows for certain what could have deterred him that day, and I have come to peace knowing he took those answers with him.

            While there are no hard statistics on the number of suicide deaths among the public safety professions, it is widely accepted that more officers, firefighters, medics, and correctional officers die by suicide than die in the line of duty.  The risks they face are far more than what meets the eye of those they serve.  In our suicide prevention efforts, we cannot exclude the unique risks and training needs of this population.  We must value the attributes they bring to the career and help ensure that the fire that burns within does not become deadly. 

About the Author: A suicide prevention educator/trainer, Mary VanHaute has 30 years’ experience in adult education. Her avocation includes years of service to law enforcement related organizations including the coordination of National Police Week ceremonies in Green Bay, WI, where she spearheaded a campaign to build a local tribute to law enforcement. She and her husband Allen, a retired Green Bay police commander, volunteered for both COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors) and the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, DC. Mary was the recipient of the Todd Ricks award from National COPS as volunteer of the year and held the position of support coordinator on the Wisconsin COPS Board. She has been a regular presenter at Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) sessions throughout Wisconsin speaking on the subject “taking care of our own.” She is also experienced in suicide prevention training for EMS and fire personnel.


A New Year, New Updates – Mending A Broken Humpty Dumpty

We’ve been busy since late autumn with mental mending presentations and advocacy outreach, adding new artwork on our website galleries www.WriteOnMyMind.com and fulfilling book orders.  

Thank you BetterAfter50, Florida Weekly Naples, and the Naples Daily News for helping us encourage folks to put mental health at the top of their Bucket List for 2017: Click here to view our Mending Humpty Dumpty articles: BA50.comFlorida Weekly, Naples Daily News     

Artwork debuts at www.WriteOnMyMind.com: We are happy to announce new life-affirming artwork by Oscar Anthony Azmitia and several other expressive and creative members of the Sarah Ann Adult Drop-In Center, Naples, FL. The artwork by Anthony, Melissa, Sara and others can be viewed at  http://www.writeonmymind.com/the-art-gallery/. We welcome artwork, photos, poetry, prose and multi-media works created by children, teens and adults for display on our website galleries. Two new art projects will debut in the spring.

Book Update: This fall we completed the fulfillment of 45 orders for 2100 hard copies of SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humorby author Deena Baxter. Hard copy books will be available at Amazon while supply lasts. The eBook debuted on Oct. 11, 2016 and is available on Amazon and the Apple store.  

Upcoming Presentations & Events: Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter is making presentations at venues throughout SW Florida – and beyond – for The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project, a partnership with the NAMI-Collier. Since the fall she has given presentations at two NAMI-Collier Crisis Intervention Training sessions for law enforcement first responders; gave the keynote presentation at the November 19th FGCU/AFSP International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day conference at Florida Gulf Coast University; and presented to the Hazelden Family Support Group and to a Stephen Ministry Continuing Ed. group on Feb. 1st, 2017. See below for upcoming presentations. 

If you have a professional organization, company, civic, social or church group who would be interested in a mental mending presentation, contact her at DeenaBaxter2@gmail.com for more information. View a summary of past presentations and photos at: http://www.writeonmymind.com/whats-news/.

Here are some upcoming presentations. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Time: 10:30am – 11:45am
Naples United Church of Christ
Stephen Ministry New Ministers Training for NUCC and First Presbyterian Church
5200 Crayton Rd, Naples, FL 34103
Nelson Hall, 2nd floor, room 207
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: Understanding Suicide – A Lived Story of Sudden Loss & Search for “Normal”
This is a closed event
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Time: 1:00 pm – 2:00pm, Lunch Speaker
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Missouri
NAMI-Missouri Annual Conference
Holiday Inn Expo Center
2200 I-70 Drive S.W., Columbia, MO 65203
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: SURVIVING SUICIDE – Mending the Family Tree with Heartache, Art and Humor
Book signing with all proceeds flowing to NAMI-MO
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Friday, May 19, 2017
Time: 12:30pm Luncheon Speaker
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Michigan
NAMI-Michigan Annual Conference
Detroit Marriot Livonia
17100 Laurel Park Drive North, Livonia, MI 48152 
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: OUT TO LUNCH – Searching for “Normal” After Suicide
Book signing with all proceeds flowing to NAMI-MI
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Conference Time: 10:00am – 3:00pm
Presentation Time: 11:00am
Survivors of Suicide (S.O.S.) Macomb County, MI, Annual Conference
Macomb Intermediate School District Building
44001 Garfield Rd., Clinton Township MI 48038
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: MENTAL MENDING – Searching for “Normal” After Suicide
Book signing with all proceeds flowing to S.O.S. Macomb County, MI
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Friday, August 4, 2017
Plenary Presentation: 10:30 – Noon
Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity Biennial Convention
Convention Theme: “Preserving our Future”
Naples Grande Beach Resort
475 Seagate Dr, Naples, FL 34103
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: UNDERSTANDING SUICIDE – A Lived Story of Sudden Loss & Search for “Normal”
For members only. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thursday, November 9 – Saturday, November 11, 2017 
Presentation Time: TBA
The Silent Epidemic: A Conference on Suicide
Hosted by The Kevin’s Song Foundation
The Inn at St. John’s, 44045 Five Mile Road, Plymouth MI 48170
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: TBA
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

About The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project: After losing her youngest adult son to suicide, Deena Baxter launched The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, in September 2014. The project’s mission is to promote life-affirming mental wellness. It includes a book, a creative arts website, www.WriteOnMyMind.com, and outreach presentations. The book is titled, SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor: All profit from book sales flows to NAMI of Collier County, FL. Books can be ordered on our website (http://www.namicollier.org/surviving-suicide-order-page/) and from major booksellers. The book has been endorsed by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc. (TAPS).   

We wish you good health and a belated Happy 2017,

Deena Baxter & Team NAMI-Collier


Happy New Year – Mending Humpty Dumpty

MENDING HUMPTY DUMPTY 

We learned as children that Humpty Dumpty shattered after falling off the wall. The king and his horseman couldn’t fix him. Luckily for Humpty, the queen and her court patched him up but realized he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD. In addition to mending his body they helped him mend his mind. 

As we launch into another new year, may mental health rank high on our list of New Year’s resolutions to improve our well-being. Why is this important? Because one out of four people suffers from mental illness during their lifetime and it has far-reaching impacts. I experienced it personally when we lost our youngest adult son Kevin to bipolar mental illness in 2012 – death by suicide. 

In our case, Kevin was in denial. Let’s talk about anosognosia – a prominent feature of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It’s a sick person’s unawareness that he or she is ill. That was Kevin’s greatest obstacle. Sadly, some members of my family and our society suffer from it too. How else to explain why my home state of Florida ranks 49th out of 50 in per capita spending for mental health services? 

Bipolar mental illness rocked Kevins world. It was like living with the Peanuts character Pigpen–unending cycles of highs and lows, out-of-control spending, risky behavior and job losses caused by paranoia, aggressive behavior and angry outbursts. Kevin’s erratic behavior started when he was six years old, but he wasn’t definitively diagnosed with bipolar disorder for 25 years, at age 31, five years before his death. 

People often ask me about medications. Yes, Kevin was prescribed psychotropic medications but they all came with significant side effects. He was especially unwilling to live with the sexual side effects. Often, a person needs to try different meds for several months to find the most effective type and dosage. It can work wonders for many who are committed to doing that. However, prescription meds don’t work for everyone. 

Additionally, we are a society that embraces over-medicating and self-medicating. Musician Damon Albas said it well: “In the 60s, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird, and people take Prozac to make it normal.” 

Kevin contributed to his problems by self-medicating. He binged on illegally obtained Ritalin during high school and college; through grad school and beyond, he chose pot and alcohol, a highly toxic brew for someone with bipolar disorder. Once he reached 18, legal adulthood, we were limited getting him into treatment: The stigma of mental illness added another obstacle. 

Kevin’s illness wove its way into our blended family’s DNA, destabilizing the Baxter family love boat. It kept us in a constant state of heightened alertness that was exhausting. We love all three of our sons but Kevin received significantly more financial and emotional support.

Left untreated, mental illness and addiction often isolate the patient and the family. That’s why I’ve partnered with our local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to shine a bright light on this topic. We’re working together to keep our community safer and welcoming for those living with mental illness and impairment as well as those who are not. The focus isn’t on zero-tolerance, an impossible goal. We can’t guarantee 100% safety but safer is definitely better. We can do that by teaching children, teens and adults of all ages about awareness, personal responsibility, safe practices, and watching out for each other.

When we’re feeling overwhelmed in situations that seem too much for us to handle all we need to do is ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness to seek professional help. NAMI’s mission is to improve the quality of life of persons affected by serious and persistent mental illness and their caregivers through support, education and advocacy. My local NAMI helped more than 16,000 children, teens and adults in our community in 2016 and trained more than 1100 law enforcement officers and other first-responders in crisis intervention. NAMI of Collier County, FL, can be contacted at 239-260-7300 or online at http://www.namicollier.org/They provide all services at no cost. To find the NAMI nearest you, click here: http://www.nami.org/.

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Deena Baxter launched The Surviving Suicide and Sudden Loss Project in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Collier County in 2014. The project’s mission is to promote life-affirming mental wellness. It includes a book, a creative arts website (www.WriteOnMyMind.com), and mental health advocacy and outreach. The book is titled, Surviving Suicide – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor. All profit flows to NAMI of Collier County and other non-profit mental health organizations.  


Mental Mending Project Launches New Artwork, an eBook, and Mental Health Presentations

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-5-27-25-pm-copy

 

We’ve been busy over the summer and early autumn with a new artwork project on www.WriteOnMyMind.com, successful distribution of more than 2000 hard copies of SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor by author Deena Baxter, launch of the eBook today, and mental health presentations and events scheduled for the coming program year. 

Artwork debuts at www.WriteOnMyMind.com: We are thrilled to announce new life-affirming artwork by Oscar Anthony Azmitia and several other talented members of the Sarah Ann Adult Drop-In Center, Naples, FL. The artwork by Anthony, Melissa, Sara and others can be viewed at  http://www.writeonmymind.com/the-art-gallery/. We welcome artwork, photos, poetry, prose and multi-media works created by children, teens and adults for display on our website galleries.

Book Update: This summer, we fulfilled 45 orders for 2100 hard copies of SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor, by author Deena Baxter. The books were ordered by 38 NAMI State and State Affiliates plus 6 other mental health non-profits and we were unable to fulfill 4 additional orders due to low inventory. Hard copy books will be available at Amazon while supply lasts. We are delighted to announce the Oct. 11, 2016, debut of the eBook on Amazon!

Upcoming Presentations & Events: Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter is making presentations at venues throughout SW Florida – and beyond – for The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project, a partnership with the NAMI-Collier. On Saturday, November 19, she will be the guest speaker at the FGCU/AFSP 2016 International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day Conference at Florida Gulf Coast University. See below for details.

If you have a professional organization, company, civic, social or church group who would be interested in a  mental mending presentation, contact her at DeenaBaxter2@gmail.com for more information. View a summary of past presentations and photos at: http://www.writeonmymind.com/whats-news/.

Here are some upcoming presentations.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Time: Registration 9:00am. Walk starts at 9:45am
AFSP Out of the Darkness walk for Suicide Prevention and Awareness
North Collier Regional Park
15000 Livingston Road, Naples, FL 34109

NAMI-Collier will be hosting a booth
Author Deena Baxter’s book will be gifted to those who make a contribution to AFSP
Open to the public.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Time: 3:30pm – 5:00pm
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL
Crisis Intervention Training (C.I.T.) Consumer Panel Presentation
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter will be a panelist

6216 Trail Boulevard, Building C
Naples, FL 34108-2835
This is a closed event.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Time: 10:30am – 1:30pm
FGCU/AFSP 2016 International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day Conference
Florida Gulf Coast University
Benn Hill Griffin Hall, Room 109
10501 FGCU Blvd. South, Ft. Myers, FL  33965
11:45am Presenter: Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: SURVIVING SUICIDE – Mending the Family Tree with Heartache, Art and Humor
Author Deena Baxter’s book will be gifted to those who make a contribution to AFSP
Open to the public. Registration required.
R.S.V.P.: Jill Harrington, jharrington@afsp.org, Tel: 561-392-7877 and jrego@fgcu.edu.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Time: 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Naples United Church of Christ
NUCC Stephen Ministry Continuing Education Training
5200 Crayton Rd, Naples, FL 34103
Nelson Hall, 2nd floor, room 207
Presenters: Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter & NAMI-Collier CEO Pamela Baker
Topic: Understanding Suicide – A Lived Story of Sudden Loss & Search for “Normal”
This is a closed event
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Time: 10:30am – 11:45am
Naples United Church of Christ
Stephen Ministry New Ministers Training for NUCC and First Presbyterian Church
5200 Crayton Rd, Naples, FL 34103
Nelson Hall, 2nd floor, room 207
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: Understanding Suicide – A Lived Story of Sudden Loss & Search for “Normal”
This is a closed event
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Time: 11:00am – Noon
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Missouri
NAMI-Missouri Annual Conference
Holiday Inn Expo Center
2200 I-70 Drive S.W., Columbia, MO 65203

Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: MENTAL MENDING – Searching for “Normal” After Suicide

Book signing with all proceeds flowing to NAMI-MO
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
May, 2017
Date & Time: TBA
Survivors of Suicide – Macomb County, Michigan
S.O.S. Macomb County Annual Conference
Location: TBA
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: TBA
Book signing with all proceeds flowing to S.O.S. Macomb County, MI
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
May, 2017
Date & Time: TBA
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Michigan
NAMI-Michigan Annual Conference
Topic: TBA
Book signing with all proceeds flowing to NAMI-MI
Open to the public. Registration required.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

About The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project: After losing her youngest adult son to suicide, Deena Baxter launched The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, in September 2014. The project’s mission is to promote life-affirming mental wellness. It includes a book, a creative arts website, www.WriteOnMyMind.com, and outreach presentations. The book is titled, SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor: All profit from book sales flows to NAMI of Collier County, FL. Books can be ordered on our website (http://www.namicollier.org/surviving-suicide-order-page/) and from major booksellers. The book has been endorsed by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc. (TAPS).

We wish you good health and a Happy Autumn,

Deena Baxter & Team NAMI-Collier

The Surviving Suicide and Sudden Loss Project

Email: DeenaBaxter2@gmail.com

Website: www.WriteOnMyMind.com

 


Honoring Memorial Day by Celebrating Mental Healing & Restoration

MAY UPDATE FROM THE SURVIVING SUICIDE AND SUDDEN LOSS PROJECT

Thank you Florida Weekly, Naples Daily News and BetterAfter50.com for helping us celebrate National Mental Health Month (May), erase the stigma of mental illness, and shine a bright light on the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Collier County, FL. Click here to read the article by Deena Baxter that ran Florida Weekly’s Healthy Living section (Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Naples editions.)  Click here to read the Naples Daily News Guest Commentary. Click here to read BA50 article.

 

We look forward to launching a new art project with members of HOPE Clubhouse in Fort Myers, FL, this week. Stay tuned for the debut of more artwork in the galleries at http://www.writeonmymind.com.

 

Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter is making presentations at venues throughout SW Florida – and beyond – for The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project, in partnership with the NAMI-Collier. If you have a professional organization, company, civic, social or church group who would be interested in a  mental mending presentation, contact her at DeenaBaxter2@gmail.com for more information. We also welcome artwork from children, teens and adults for display on our website galleries: http://www.writeonmymind.com/the-art-gallery/.

 

On April 14, Elaine Stoffer, president of the Naples Women’s Cultural Alliance (WCA), welcomed Deena as the guest speaker at the WCA Speaker’s Series. It was an honor to have NAMI-Collier’s new CEO Pamela Baker in the audience.

 

The Kevin’s Song Foundation invited Deena to be the plenary breakfast speaker at The Silent Epidemic: A Conference on Suicide, April 9, 2016, in Plymouth Michigan. Her presentation focused on helpful ways to navigate through sudden loss and shined a bright light on NAMI of Collier County’s mental health programs and services as well as NAMI-Michigan Executive Director Kevin Fischer and local NAMI staff. Click here to view a summary of the conference and photos: http://www.writeonmymind.com/whats-news/.

 

Collier Citizen (FL), the New York Times and The Washington Post published important articles on suicide in late April. Links to the three articles and Deena’s NY Times letter to the editor have been posted at http://www.writeonmymind.com/whats-news/.

 

About The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project: After losing her youngest adult son to suicide, Deena Baxter launched The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, in September 2014. The project’s mission is to promote life-affirming mental wellness. It includes a book, a creative arts website, www.WriteOnMyMind.com, and outreach presentations. The book is titled, SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor: All profit from book sales flows to NAMI of Collier County, FL. Books can be ordered on our website (click here) and from major booksellers. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) endorsed the book and has listed it on their website as a resource. The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc. (TAPS) has also endorsed her book and includes it in their Survivors Packets for military families.

 

Be safe and well as we honor Memorial Day U.S.A. this coming weekend,
Team NAMI-Collier & Deena Baxter

In Memoriam – Kathryn Leib Hunter, An Inspiring Leader

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The Surviving Suicide and Sudden Loss Project suffered an enormous loss on March 9. My project partner, Kathryn Leib Hunter, CEO of NAMI-Collier County, FL, passed away after courageously and privately battling serious health issues (see enclosed tribute). Kathryn was a tireless advocate for suicide prevention and mental health advocacy. She was inspired by our project website artwork (www.WriteOnMyMind.com) and gratified when the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc. (TAPS) endorsed the project’s book: SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor. Our mental health presentations amplify the NAMI of Collier County, FL, programs and services she worked tirelessly to deliver, all at no cost to the community.

Loss opens new doors: At the time of her death Kathryn was in the process of transitioning the CEO role to Pamela Baker – a highly qualified executive dedicated to leading Team NAMI-Collier to the next level. I look forward to working with her.

If you or someone in your world is navigating through loss, they are welcome to attend our next presentations that are open to the public:

Saturday, April 9, 2016
8:00 – 9:00am: Breakfast Keynote Speaker
The Silent Epidemic: A Conference on Suicide
Hosted by The Kevin’s Song Foundation
The Inn at St. John’s
44045 Five Mile Road, Plymouth MI 48170
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Presentation: The Mourning Cure – One Ounce of Heartache with a Splash of Humor
Book Signing
For more information about the conference and registration – click here.
Open to the General Public.

Thursday, April 14, 2016
Time: 10:00am-11:30am
Woman’s Cultural Alliance Speaker’s Series
Place: Naples Daily News Community Room
Address: 1100 Immokalee Rd., Naples, FL 34110
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Presentation Title: Embracing Mental Mending – Searching for “Normal” After Sudden Loss
Open to the General Public (call 239-784-7734 to register)

If you have a civic, social, business or community group who would be interesting in a presentation tailored to your organization on “mental mending”, contact DeenaBaxter2@gmail.com.

Honoring Kathryn NAMI-LogoKathryn Leib Hunter Photo Honoring Kathryn Ribbon

Dear Friend of NAMI,

Kathryn passed away on March 9, 2016, after battling severe health issues. In the public eye of the Collier County community, Kathryn was well- known for being the Chief Executive Officer at NAMI of Collier County, an organization that she was responsible for building from the ground up, and for being a tireless advocate for those affected by mental illness. In her private life, she was best described as a devoted mother to her fraternal twins, Forrest and Taylor, faithful wife to her husband, Patrick, loyal friend to everyone she opened her kind heart to, and someone who felt fortunate to have a strong relationship with God through her church.

In her own words a few years ago, “I have been blessed to realize my mission in life, and constantly challenge myself to work harder in helping others.” More than 20 years ago, she helped found a Guardian ad Litem program, which trains adults to be advocates for children caught up in the court system. From there she went on to build one of the strongest affiliates of the largest grassroots organizations in the nation, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Collier County. She was passionate about breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness in every way possible. Whether it was correcting someone’s use of offensive words that describe mental health issues or making sure that her mission of treating people as human beings rather than their diagnosis, not a day went by where she didn’t take a moment to talk with somebody with a mental health diagnosis at the NAMI office with the goal of making them smile. Her personality filled the building, and the staff, Board of Directors, and the countless people she helped through her life’s work will continue to hear her signature laugh ring through the hallways.

With respect and love for Kathryn, NAMI will continue her legacy by ensuring that her mission to help the 1 in 4 families in Collier County who are affected by mental illness continues through education, support, and advocacy.

Warmly,
The Board of Directors and Staff of NAMI


Happy New Year – The Gifts of Mental Healing

Happy New Year to you and yours. May the blessings of good physical and mental health be with us all in 2016. We’re moving forward: the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, Winter Newsletter included an update on mental mending articles and presentations by Deena Baxter & NAMI-Collier.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 1.41.59 PMScreen Shot 2016-01-03 at 1.47.33 PM

Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter is publishing articles and making presentations at venues throughout SW Florida and beyond for The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project. The book-and-website  (www.WriteOnMyMind.com) project is a partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, dedicated to “giving mental health a life-affirming voice.” The book is titled, SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor. All profit from book sales flows to NAMI of Collier County, FL. To order book, click here.

Deena was invited to write a Mindful Mondays Guest Blog for Dr. Monisha Vasa, a psychiatrist and founder of The Mindful Healing Center in Orange County, CA. Click here to read the blog. Dr. Vasa’s new children’s book is titled “My Dearest One.”

Deena will be the Breakfast Keynote Speaker at The Silent Epidemic: A Conference on Suicide, hosted by The Kevin’s Song Foundation, The Inn at St. John’s, 44045 Five Mile Road, Plymouth MI 48170. Her presentation, titled The Mourning Cure – One Ounce of Heartache with a Splash of Humor, will be on Saturday, April 9, 2016, 8:00am – 9:00am. More information about the conference and registration is available here (see attachment).

Here are some other upcoming presentations.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
6:00 – 6:45pm: Social & Lite buffet dinner
6:45 – 7:45pm: Program
Community Wednesday Program
Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers, FL
13411 Shire Lane, Ft. Myers, FL 33912
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter and a NAMI-Collier representative
Presentation: A Designated Driver – Driving Like Crazy in Search of “Normal”
Book Signing
Cost: Lite Buffet, $5. Presentation: $0. No registration necessary.
For questions: Tel: 239-561-2700
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sunday, February 7, 2016
9:00 – 10:00am
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples
6340 Napa Woods Way, Naples, FL 34116
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter and a NAMI-Collier Representative
Presentation: Mental Wellness – Ways to Keep Our Local Community & Congregations Safer
Open to the General Public.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Saturday, March 5, 2016
3:00pm – 4:30pm
Unity Church of Bonita Springs
28285 Imperial Pkwy, Bonita Springs, FL 34135
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter and a NAMI-Collier representative
Presentation: Mental Mending – Searching for “Normal” after Sudden Loss
Book Signing
Open to the General Public.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
3:00pm – 4:30pm
Naples Regional Library
650 Central Avenue, Naples, FL
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter and a NAMI-Collier Representative
Presentation: Driving Like Crazy on the Road to “Normal”
Book Signing
Open to the General Public.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 2.01.01 PM


Mindful Mondays Guest Blog – “Navigating the Holidays After Sudden Loss”

Deena Baxter was invited to write a Mindful Mondays Guest Blog for Dr. Monisha Vasa, a psychiatrist and founder of The Mindful Healing Center in Orange County, CA. Click here to read the blog titled, “Navigating the Holidays After Sudden Loss.” Dr. Vasa’s new children’s book is titled “My Dearest One.”

Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter is publishing articles and making presentations at venues throughout SW Florida and beyond for The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project. The book-and-website  (www.WriteOnMyMind.com) project is a partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, dedicated to “giving mental health a life-affirming voice.” The book is titled, SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor. All profit from book sales flows to NAMI of Collier County, FL.