Now more than ever, societies around the world are paying attention to the issue of suicide.
In Singapore, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), which runs a suicide hotline, reported in 2018 that the suicide rate was 7.74 deaths per 100,000 residents – an all-time low – although there is concern that the suicide rate among the elderly is on the rise.
Around the world, the numbers are more alarming: In the United States, for example, the suicide rate is up 33 percent since 1999 and the highest since World War II, according to a June CNN report.
I write a lot a lot about mental health, and am bipolar myself, so I have it on good authority that it can be difficult to ask for help when you are feeling depressed, especially if you are feeling suicidal. You feel like a burden. You feel like you are bringing other people down.
And, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as people often don’t know what to say or don’t have the time. Or, they may just feel sorry for you.
Meet an Out-of-the-Box Advocate
In 2012, Ali Borowsky, a really cool rugby chick that I know from Chicago (and who is now in California), started a movement and a nonprofit organization called Find Your Anchor, which seeks to connect people who are suffering from hopelessness with ways to “anchor” them to life – to keep on going, to keep living.
So, what is it? In short, it’s a box and life-saving kit, all in one.
Ali, who is a graphic artist, designed the kits, which include supportive messages, notes, posters, stickers plus one key ingredient: a 52 Reasons to Live card deck.
The concept is that a Find Your Anchor (FYA) box is left where someone in need might find it. It might be on a park bench, on a beach or at a coffee shop.
While many people “don’t know what to say” to someone who’s feeling suicidal, Ali – who shares, “I have survived multiple [suicide] attempts” – does… and she put her experience and wisdom in the boxes.
“Everything I had ever encountered regarding suicide was so ‘sterile’ and hospital-brochure-y,” she explains. “I really wanted something that spoke to the person holding the box. For those contemplating suicide, there is an overwhelming sense of loneliness and abandonment, despair, hopelessness. I wanted them to open the box and think ‘someone cared enough to make this for me.’ I wanted to spark within them a reason to fight.”
Full disclosure: I, too, have tried to commit suicide in the past (read more about my journey here). It’s why I interviewed Ali for my yet-published Bipolar Phoenix book about my life with bipolar disorder, which is reported to have a 51-percent suicide-attempt rate and a nearly 20-percent success rate.
The good news? Both Ali and I are still here to raise awareness – and compassion – for this issue.
Or, as Ali says, “The Find Your Anchor movement, and each box, is a physical representation of me being fortunate enough to be in a better spot – the physical representation of being ‘anchored’ and wanting to pay that forward.”
On Paying it Forward
I was lucky enough to get a box from Ali herself in 2012, when I interviewed her for my book. Since then, I’ve passed it on to a friend in need.
That friend is Singaporean former model/actress and current yoga influencer Lishan Lim, who you may have seen in sports and fashion ads as well as government and other promo videos. Lishan also struggles with mental illness – specifically, bipolar disorder. “I am very grateful to receive the Find Your Anchor box, because it shows that you thought about me and understood how it could be a tool to aid my recovery journey,” she told me.
Lishan and Andrea with the Find Your Anchor box Andrea gave her in November 2018.
Lishan has used her social media presence and other connections to bring to light the darkness that mental illness stigma has here and elsewhere in the world. She was unabashedly willing to go on the record that she has had suicidal thoughts, and works hard every day to maintain her mental health.
“The challenges of having type-one bipolar disorder include dealing with unpredictable extreme mood swings, ranging from mania to depression. I am unable to control the chemicals in my brain,” Lishan explains. “Seeing a psychiatrist and therapists regularly, on top of my medicine, takes a lot of financial commitment to recovering. There is no insurance coverage for mental illnesses in Singapore. Due to it being a chronic illness, I am unable to qualify for medical insurance even if my condition improves.”
She also points out: “There is also no disability help in Singapore, despite bipolar being the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide.”
And, Lishan contends, suicide is not selfish, contrary to what people may think. “Those who do attempt suicide are in deep emotional pain that people cannot see – mental illnesses being invisible. Having had three suicide attempts myself, I would urge people to understand more about why someone would turn to suicide instead of judging them.”
Where to Find Find Your Anchor
Find Your Anchor has caught the attention of more and more mental health outlets in the U.S., including The Mighty, a mental health advocacy newsletter, and others. But, its most vocal advocate is singer/actress Lady Gaga.
Ali says FYA got on her Born This Way Foundation’s radar after Maya Enista Smith, its Executive Director, stumbled upon a box herself. She even wrote this story on the foundation’s website about passing a FYA box on to someone in need.
(image: Born This Way Foundation)
Since Maya’s story earlier this year, Ali says FYA has developed a great relationship with Born This Way. “They are phenomenal people doing really incredible things. I think seeing Cynthia Germanotta (Lady Gaga’s mom) sitting at a desk making FYA boxes and handwriting a note to go with it… it’s just a beautiful thing. Being able to see the kindness of others, it helps restore a little faith in humanity.”
Although Find Your Anchor is gaining traction in the U.S., and recently had a benefit concert in Chicago to raise awareness and funds, Ali says it has been difficult to ship to other countries like Singapore because of the cost of shipping the boxes (about $26 per box). For my part, I hope to fill a suitcase on my next U.S. home-leave trip.
In the meantime, check out the Find Your Anchor Facebook page for more information and ways you can donate, or maybe even get some boxes shipped to Singapore. (I’m totally down with that, BTW, so feel free to email me!)
About Andrea McKenna Brankin
Andrea McKenna Brankin is a journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.
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