Is it the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for Everyone? with guest Lisa Sugarman

In this just-before-the-holidays holiday episode the Mental Health Mamas are joined by an encore guest Lisa Sugarman. Lisa is a Boston based author and shares her pivot since the death of her father, a death by suicide, not a heart attack as originally reported. She shares her new endeavors as well as her sage advice for those of us who struggle with feeling around the holidays. Listen in!

Notes and Mentions

Visit Lisa Sugarman at

Visit the Trevor Project at

Call the Trevor Project Crisis line at 866-4887-3866 or text 678-678

Follow Lisa on YouTube

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Serena: Hey everyone, I'm Serena

Tina: And I'm Tina, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.

Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek

professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, .

Tina: Today we're dropping our holiday episode, but unlike other later holiday messages we've sent, we would like to revisit this concept of the most wonderful time of the year from a little bit different perspective.

Serena: Before we begin, we want you to know that we will speak very openly about suicide, so please take good care of yourself during this episode.

Tina:Yes, please do that. I will share that while suicide is not highest in December, according to statistics that I looked up, or around the winter holidays, depression, other mental health struggles are real, and it really isn't always the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. Today we're joined by Lisa Sugarman, an on-core guest, shall we call her with mental health mamas? She's awesome, and we're so lucky to have her back. She's a Boston-based author, a columnist, and champion for normalizing the conversation around mental health and so much more. Lisa, welcome to the podcast.

Lisa: Oh, thank you. I'm so happy to be back. This is such a treat to be able to do it all over again.

Serena: Yeah, we're glad to have you again. So we purposefully didn't give all of your intro because you've become even more actively involved with the mental health communities since our last conversation. So first, I'd love for you to remind our audience just a little bit of your story of loss and grief for those who may have not heard it before.

Lisa: Yeah, of course. So as you said, I'm here in Boston, just north of the city, where I live with my husband and my youngest daughter, my oldest daughter's living in Japan. So that's changed since I was here last. And I have made a pretty significant pivot in the work that I'm doing and what I'm putting out in the world over the last year or so. And again, as you said, I'm very heavily involved in mental health advocacy and a lot of that, most of that really comes from my own story, which has changed a lot from the story that I carried for the first part of my life. So I lost my father when I was 10 years old. And the narrative that I was given was that my dad had died of a heart attack, which of course is something that while it's a terrible thing was not something that I would ever question in my 10 year old mind. It was kind of a definitive thing and it was terrible and it was such an incredibly tragic loss, but it was nothing that you'd keep rolling around in your head. Like something doesn't seem right. So it was an easy explanation, unfortunately.

And it wasn't until I was 45 years old and I was married and I had teenage kids of my

own at the time. About 10 years ago, I learned that quite accidentally that my dad had in fact taken his life and that just completely threw my world upside down. It's like, you know, kind of like the snow globe effect. It just shook everything in every possible way. And it really kind of put me on a different path because I really just in the beginning had to understand, had to try and understand and kind of get into that mindset of someone with depression, someone with mental illness, and we didn't know my dad was that person. And one thing kind of led to another and you kind of go down that rabbit hole of trying to understand and I just, I wouldn't say came out of the rabbit hole, but I realized that I needed to do something. I needed to work toward making the world more of a suicide free place and more of a place where mental illness and things like depression and anxiety were normalized and mainstreamed and we could talk about them and be vulnerable with each

other. So I kind of shifted everything I was doing and I've been a content creator forever, I've been on the radio, I've been a magazine and newspaper writer forever and, you know, writing columns and writing books and whatnot in the parenting space. And I just kind of flipped everything over to the mental health space and began collaborating with all the agencies like the Trevor Project and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and American Association of Suicideology and Samaritans, all of these organizations and trying to put messages out there and that it's okay to be vulnerable. It's okay to not be okay and that's really what I've been up to since the last time that we talked.

Tina: Awesome and I love that it's okay to not be okay because I think for so long we felt as a family that it was, we just had to put that face forward, right? It was not okay to not be okay and now it's like, gosh, no, no, no, here's the thing. So you have a different story than Serena and I but we do have a pain to purpose kind of mission which I love that. I love that we want to normalize things. So we want to hear about you since we last talked to you, you have been certified. I think you were almost certified by the time we talked to be a counselor with the Trevor Project so tell us about that.

Lisa: Yeah, that was one of the greatest gifts I've been given was the opportunity to work with Trevor Project as one of their lifeline counselors and it's been over a year now which is crazy that I've been on the lifelines. It's been amazing and you know, Trevor Project for those who are listening who don't know is the largest crisis support network for at risk LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 24. That's that's kind of our

our known demographic but anyone who could call will get help anyone at any stage of life, anyone who just needs a little bit of support whether they're in our demographic or otherwise will obviously get our help as much as we can. So I, you know, for me Trevor Project was the intersection of so many things that are so important to me and that have become so important to me. So first and foremost, you know, I've obviously lost my father to suicide and this is a suicide

prevention organization so that rang a lot of bells for me and then my oldest daughter identifies as bisexual and so obviously the LGBTQ community has always been an incredibly big part of our world. We've always been allies, our daughters and members of that community and then I came out as pansexual about probably two and a half years ago. So for me, it really just kind of captured all of the communities that I wanted to be able to serve and I could do it all in the same

place and the Trevor Project has just been such a beautiful organization to be a part of and the work they're doing is changing lives and saving lives and I just feel pretty blessed to be a part of it. So I'm a volunteer there. I'm on the lifelines as often as I can be during the week and, you know, I obviously have a chance to talk to everybody from all walks of life, all ages and genders and with all sorts of presenting issues, everything from coming out to suicidal ideation, homicidal ideation, abuse, homelessness, all the things. So it's a pretty wild window into the world and I'm just glad I have it.

Tina: So I'm curious about the, do you have any statistics about how many people utilize that service?

Lisa: Well, you know, it's fluid, it's always changing and I don't recall off the top of my head. I don't want to give you the wrong number. But I mean, you know, we're taking thousands and thousands and thousands of calls every every week, every month, whether it be, I think, over 100,000 calls a year. It could actually be

closer to 200,000 calls, but I would have to double check that and let you know the exact number. But we are one of the largest lifelines out there and we absolutely have been inundated with calls for a variety of different reasons. And we've got hundreds and hundreds of counselors who are based all over the country. The whole, the whole organization has gone remote like so many did during COVID and we never went back to kind of an in-person traditional call center. So now everybody is everywhere. And, you know, we're taking hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of calls all over the country every day, which, you know, just supplements the 988 line, it supplements a lot of the other crisis lifelines and support services like crisis text line and National Alliance on Mental Illness has their own line as well. So we kind of all support one another.

Serena: And I know that sometimes people are afraid to call the number. Can you tell us like what, obviously, no identifying information, but what does it like when somebody calls, what might they expect?

Lisa: Well, I think that's something I think that freaks a lot of people out who might be in crisis. They're worried that as soon as they call that lifeline, that if they disclose that they're in an imminent or high risk situation where they're threatening to take their life or harm themselves that we're all of a sudden just going to send police or some kind of rescue service. And I, you know, I certainly would never say that that doesn't happen that, you know, we try to avoid those kinds of interventions in every way we can. Our primary goal is to de-escalate someone,

is to reduce someone's behavior. If someone calls us and they are, for instance, cutting and self harming, our goal is to get them to self harm less to, to reduce that behavior. If they're feeling suicidal, the goal is to de-escalate that suicidal behavior and to get them to a place where they have a safety plan. So what happens when we call, we get a call is we within the first five minutes do a very standard risk assessment. We're asking someone very, very directly because it is a crisis support and suicide prevention hotline, first and foremost. So we need to know if you are at

risk of harming yourself. And so that's, you know, we've, we've got a list of questions that we asked. They're very specific. They're very direct. Are you thinking of killing yourself? And depending on how someone asks, how someone answers, you know, that, that kind of predicts what we're going to ask next and how we're going to engage in the conversation. But what we really just want to know is that that person is safe in that moment. And we're there to listen and to hold space very, very openly giving the person who's calling agency over themselves in their call and how they want the conversation to go. So we're really just doing an awful lot of holding

space. And if someone is looking for resources, we're, we're giving them resources. And that's, you know, that kind of dictates the flow of the conversation. And let's start.

Tina: And let's just say out loud, talking about suicides does not make it more prevalent. Correct?

Lisa: That, that, that is correct. And that's, that's why I think a very big misconception. I mean, people kind of instinctively believe like if you start talking about the thing. And in this case, the thing is someone's suicidal ideation that all of a sudden, that's somehow going to insent them, motivate them to be more suicidal. That's actually very untrue. It's proven there's so many studies that have been done to actually not only disprove that, but to prove that it has the opposite effect. It

actually can help to reduce someone's suicidal ideation because you're, you're validating that person. You're, you're allowing that person to be open with those feelings and you're listening in a very nonjudgmental and very, very kind and supportive way so that that person knows that they're being heard and that they're being validated. And so that actually does reduce someone's tendency to go ahead with that action.

Serena: All right. So thank you for all of that really. In fact, why don't you share the Trevor Project number?

Lisa: The Trevor Project number is 866-4887-3866. And we also do have a texting service where if for whatever reason someone is not wanting to speak to someone directly, voice to voice, they can text at 678-678 and get a counselor that way as well.

Serena: Great. Thank you. We will put that in our notes too. I just want to make sure we we shared that. So let's shift gears a little bit and let's talk about the holidays. So we're, you know, normalizing, talking about mental health in the holidays and as Tina mentioned in the beginning, this can be a really tough time of year for people. And I think particularly when you know, the, the ideal is that we're all supposed to be happy and joyful, right? But they aren't always joyful.

Lisa: Yeah, it's true. Very, very true. In fact, I just, I think it was about a week or

so ago dropped a video. I have a YouTube series called the Suicide Survivor Series and I dropped a video specifically addressing that that there is this perception that we've got to be joyful and we've got to be happy and we've got to be excited about the holidays and, and while that is true for an awful lot of people, it's also not true for an awful lot of people. There may be someone who is experiencing really debilitating depression, mental illness, anxiety, maybe their dealing with loneliness because they don't have anyone or maybe this year is the first year without

a family member or a close friend who may be passed away and they can't share the holidays. So you kind of never know what's, you just never know what's going on in somebody else's world and in somebody else's heart and how hard these, these, you know, joyful occasions, traditionally joyful occasions are for people. And I think we need to do a better job of, of allowing these people to feel those feelings even around the time when most people are trying to get into that holiday spirit. Like you don't have to be in that spirit if it doesn't serve you or suit you at that time. And I think the best advice is to give yourself permission to just step away from kind of the festivities if you need to or you're allowed to say no to an invitation to get together or some kind of a party or a gathering, you don't have to go. Or even if you do go, you're allowed to step out or leave early. And if you're sad, you actually love to be sad and that's the thing I think people need to remember.

Tina: Feeling all the feels, we need to feel all of the feels, right? Because nothing them down does not work.

Lisa: No, it doesn't. It comes out, it eventually will come out. Even those people who are most skilled at kind of keeping that stuff inside, like it's seeps out. It's like water, you know, it finds a way.

Tina: Yeah. So you said a couple things I was hearing there. And one of them was a big one was boundaries, like make sure you know what you need and how to set the boundaries around that. So I'm curious, stepping out, maybe saying no. What other suggestions do you have for people for literal survival around the holidays so that our mental health after the holidays is not in need of crisis care?

Lisa: Yeah. I think there are an awful lot of things that you can do. And of course,

you know, it's very individualized because everybody reacts to different things in different ways. But I think number one is being able to say, no, I can't make it. I'd love to be there, but no, I can't make it. The other is obviously, as I said, to step out. If you do decide to go somewhere and gather with people, you don't have to stay the whole time. You don't have to worry about stepping out and kind of, if you need to step out and give yourself a little space to cry or to feel some other emotions do that as well. I think also too a lot of it involves finding people who you can trust who are safe, people kind of in your orbit, who you can be truly how you are inside with them on the outside. You know, people who are going to support you and

support whatever mood you might be in at that moment and not judge you and not guilt you and not shame you and just be there to kind of lift you up or even not lift you up if that's not what you need. Maybe you just need someone to sit there and listen to you talk about your person who you lost or the depression that you feel, but it's surrounding yourself with those people. Also, too, like finding other outlets, you know, if you're feeling the weight of everything, get outside, get outside, move around, take a walk over a run, sit down and allow yourself to be quiet, do a meditation, maybe sit down and write what you're feeling in your heart into a journal. I've done that my whole life and it's where I put a lot of the things that I don't want to keep in my head. So those are things that have served me and I know serve a lot of other people that I'm in contact with and hopefully there are things that people who are listening to this today can take the way and use.

Serena: Yeah, and you have a new website that's really a destination for resources around suicide prevention, loss, and grief. We'll include a link in our notes,

but tell people what they might find there.

Lisa: Yeah, I'm really excited that this has kind of come out and been redesigned right before the holidays because it's really kind of at that stage now where it's got everything that I had wanted it to have. It's got a very, very, very long list of mental health resources that's broken down by category. It's not just a here's a list of,

you know, the top 10 or 12 crisis hotlines, which is of course super valuable. I wanted to kind of go a few steps further than that and I wanted to make it super inclusive. So I have several categories about 16 or 17 different categories and those categories are really ranging from mental health and support services for veterans, for the elderly, for teens, for the LGBTQ community, the Asian community, the BIPOC community, the Latinx community. I really just wanted to gather as many

resources for as many different communities as I could. There are resources for people in Canada, for people in Europe, mindfulness resources, online mental health services like a Better Help or you know, one of these online mental health support services. So that's a big big pillar of my website. You can also find, you know, interviews like you and I are doing like we're doing today where I talk about different aspects of mental health or suicide or depression and those are all there as well. And then my YouTube channel feeds into that as well with the suicide

survivor series that I started up earlier this season. And together all of those things kind of represent a lot of different viewpoints and perspectives in, into mental health. And it also of course has my story, my own survivor story is a suicide loss survivor. So there's a lot of, there's a lot of info in there. Hopefully it's something that it can resonate in one way or another with whoever pops in.

Tina: And I will just comment. It's soothing and very calming. It's a very, it's beautiful website. Thank you. I spent some time on there. So I don't know if this is in your suicide survivor series or it's in I follow you on social media and my favorite, can I tell you my favorite?

Lisa: Please.

Tina: My favorite is your walk with your mom. I love that.

Lisa: Well, when my mom is listening to this, which she will when it drops because my mother has listened to every interview I've ever recorded has watched everything has read every word I've ever written. So she will be thrilled to hear you say that. My mom is the cutest person on the face.

Tina: She is!!

Lisa: She is just, I'm sorry, if you haven't seen my mom Sandy yet find her on my website. She's adorable in every way. And she absolutely is the reason why I am here in this world doing the things that I'm doing. She's like my unconditional support, my consigliere, my everything. Yeah, she's a special one.

Tina: Nice.

Lisa: My mom had never spoken about my father's suicide. I mean, you know, she had kept that secret for 35 years. And when it did come out, there was of course a lot of re-grieving of everything and she and I kind of starting over again from a completely different angle going through it all together because she of course went through it the first time for three decades alone. And now she's at the point where not only is she so unbelievably supportive of me putting everything out into the world that I'm putting and sharing and advocating and the book I'm writing now about my dad's story. Like she is all for it. She's now so happy to talk about it herself. And those videos that you've seen her among the first of her ever really kind of publicly acknowledging it and she is right there for all of it. So it's been a beautiful thing to experience together.

Tina: Well, it's good to have a good champion and she held a lot of hard things for a

long time and how ironic is it that her daughter is now helping other people hold hard things, right?

Lisa: Yeah, it's um, you know, it's what you talked about pain into purpose. That's really how I view all of it. And if what I'm doing, whether it's on a lifeline or through something I'm writing or saying or recording, if it's reaching one person and it changes their outcome, changes their path for the better, then that's the end game. That's all I care about.

Serena: All right. So Lisa before we kind of wrap things up here. I'm curious. What if we not ask you that you want to make sure you share? Boy. Let's see. Maybe just maybe just what I'm working on in terms of this book that I've been working on it now for quite a while. And I'm really taking my time with it. And I think I've written it 150 times already in my head. But I've been really being intentional and very deliberate about how I structure this book about my dad's story. Because it really is, it's a book that centers around his story and the suicide loss and that revelation and all of those things. But it's really just kind of a vehicle for getting other

people to share their stories. So I mean, I bring this up and I mention it only in the context of saying the only other thing I want to talk about is how important it is to talk about our stuff. And that's the thing that I've really done an awful lot of continuing to do even more. I just recently started working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness as one of their storytellers going around the state of Massachusetts where I am and speaking to organizations and schools and

and religious groups about my personal story. And there's such incredible value in that that I can't stress enough how important it is for us to just be vulnerable. Put your story out there because you never know what aspect of it. There's got to be a touch point in there for someone somewhere. Maybe what you've gone through, how you went through it, what you did about it. So share often and share openly because it really is one of the greatest tools that we have to support each other.

Tina: Awesome. I'm going to ask one more question. Yeah. So as we round out the year, the world has been a pretty heavy place to be I'm curious about what you are most hopeful about in the new year.

Lisa: I think I'm most hopeful. I know I'm most hopeful that the more mainstream mental illness and depression and suicide and not being okay becomes because we are normalizing it step by step by bit. I really hope in the new year people just give themselves permission to meet themselves exactly where they are right here, right now, whether it's this season or next season or in the spring or the summer or wherever, whatever stage of next year you're in, just allow yourself to be where you are right here and now and don't judge yourself for it. Don't shame yourself for it. If you're in a not so great place, be in that not so great place until you're not anymore because there is another side to the feelings that we're feeling. When we're up and when we're down, it's the same, they're not always going to be in the same head space or heart space forever. It does change and the things that are hard become easier, so just don't be afraid to kind of go with it wherever you are on that spectrum.

Tina: I love that. Okay, I want to thank you for so many things for being wise, wise soul in the world, taking your pain and making it purposeful, for writing, writing is an outlet that Serena and I have used for so long to process what we're feeling and

thinking and you have, please, audience, go to her website, so many books, so much writing, so much blogging, so many YouTube follows social media, so many things. So I really do and I mean that sincerely, I hope that you feel that we have, we made a connection a while back and I feel like it's as strong as ever and you really are a very special person in the world, so.

Lisa: You're going to make me cry and that's something I've never done in a podcast, but you're right there. I'm right there. I appreciate all of that. I really, really do. It means so much to me and I'm just so grateful not only that our worlds collided and we connected and definitely just immediately had a strong connection all three of us and just so grateful to be back and to be able to share the stuff that I'm up to now with you and your community, but you're both doing equally wonderful things in the world by inspiring parents and that whole community that you touch to not worry about the optics of life quite so much worry about what's going on on the inside and so you guys need to take all the credit for that because you're doing great things.

Tina: Oh, thank you. And so podcast friends, we are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcast. Please leave us a review while you're there. We have a bunch of excellent reviews and we would love some more. Subscribe and share the podcast with others if you would be so kind to do that. You'll find more content on our website . You will also find us on all the socials and we would love to hear from you.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you're also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks so much for listening.

Serena: Bye.