Meditation, suicide, and mental health


  • Courtesy AspenPointe
  • Dan Harris

Hundreds showed up to laugh and cry at AspenPointe's Heroes of Mental Health Luncheon on Thursday at the Broadmoor Hotel.

Keynote speaker Dan Harris, the co-anchor and Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America on ABC News, gave the keynote address, sharing a personal story of his own struggle with panic attacks and drug use. Harris, who had the audience laughing throughout his speech, started off by showing an on-air panic attack that he had on Good Morning America about 10 years ago. 

He went on to explain that his star had risen quickly when he was still quite young. Early in his career, he took trip after trip to war zones in the Middle East following 9/11 without ever considering the effect it had on his mental health. He ended up turning to ecstasy and cocaine to ease his anxiety, only to have panic attacks.

After the on-air episode, he decided it was time to see "a shrink." The therapist explained that the drugs were only flooding Harris' brain with adrenaline, causing the panic attacks. He ended up quitting drugs and continuing therapy, and at the urging of Peter Jennings, he begrudgingly agreed to do regular coverage on spirituality.

Harris said he didn't really connect with any of it, having never been religious. ("I went to my bar mitzvah," he cracked, "but only for the money.") But then he ran across the Oprah-endorsed author Eckhart Tolle. Initially, he was turned off by Tolle's rather far-out, self-help approach. But Harris realized he connected with Tolle's contention that the major problem humans have is the inability to shut off the voice in our head that tells us to do things without really considering them — hence we find ourselves eating junk food, or doing drugs.

Later, Harris said he realized that Tolle's concept was rooted in the Buddhist concept of "the monkey brain." Buddhists believe that the trick to turning it off, or at least having some consciousness of it, is meditation. Harris was, again, skeptical — envisioning every hippie stereotype. But he decided to try it. In short, it worked.

"You're breaking a lifetime habit of walking around in a fog," he said.

And Harris found out that there's plenty of research to back up the claims that meditation is good for the mind and body. Harris has since authored the book 10% Happier, documenting his experiences with meditation, and the improvements it brought to his life.

"Meditation," he said, "is the next public health revolution." 

Guy and Jane Bennett - COURTESY ASPEN POINTE
  • Courtesy Aspen Pointe
  • Guy and Jane Bennett

Later in the program, AspenPointe honored Guy and Jane Bennett with its 2015 Heroes of Mental Health Award. The Bennetts lost their only child, 17-year-old Matthew, to suicide in 2002. Instead of crawling into a hole of grief, the couple decided to try to prevent other suicides and help other survivors. They have been instrumental in training the community about preventing suicide. Their involvement spans many groups and programs, including Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills, Colorado Coalition of Suicide Prevention, and HEARTBEAT. 

On a similar note, AspenPointe was asking for donations to support its free eight-hour program, Youth Mental Health First Aid. The class helps people identify warning signs for self harm in adolescents. Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 has been training all its staff in the program in an effort to help kids who often are under stress due to being in military families that relocate frequently.

In 2014, seven adolescents died by suicide in El Paso County. Between May and June of 2015, however, there were five such fatalities.

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