Top Suicide Awareness Speakers
- By Brendan Egan
- Sep 21, 2022
One of the nation’s greatest public health problems is suicide. It’s estimated that 48% of Americans know someone who has committed suicide. About 7% know someone who committed suicide within the past year.
Suicide claimed the lives of more than 45,900 people in 2020. Tragically, it was the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34. It was the third leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 to 24 years and fourth for those 35 to 44. Just over 9,100 of the nation’s suicides were aged 65 or older. This is just deaths; you also have attempts and suicide ideation.
It’s estimated that 12.2 million people seriously considered suicide in 2020 and about 26% planned their suicide. Of those who made a plan, 1.2 million attempted suicide. One of the most important takeaways is that we shouldn’t remain silent. Suicide is preventable. It’s time to open up and talk honestly about suicide to take away the aspect of shame that keeps so many people quiet about their struggles with mental health.
Several risk factors are associated with suicide. They include:
● History of depression and other mental health illnesses
● Genetic factors
● Violence or conflict in relationships
● Exposure to violence
● Isolation and loneliness
● Substance abuse
● Excessive financial or work stress
● Lack of access to mental health care services
● The negative stigma around mental health
At some point in your life, you’ll know someone who attempts or commits suicide. The effects reach far and wide. It’s time to support others, and that starts by learning about and talking openly about suicide. These 15 suicide awareness speakers can help your classroom, student body, workplace, or community better understand suicide and how to help or get help.
Shortly after the pandemic started, Drew Robinson put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Twenty hours later, he was still alive and called 911. While he lost his right eye to the damage the bullet caused, it didn’t hit any major arteries or his brain. He took this as a sign that he was meant to go on and help others.
He fought to return to the MLB. Just 13 months after his suicide attempt, he joined the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats and hit his first home run just five days later. He’s since retired and works in the San Francisco Giants front office as an advocate for mental health. Depression and isolation led to his suicide attempt, and he uses his experiences with depression and self-doubt to talk to others about suicide awareness.
2. Mark Henick
Back in 2003, 15-year-old Mark Henick stood on a Canadian overpass preparing to jump to his death. At that moment, Mike Richey, a youth care worker, happened to be driving home from work when he spotted him. Mike had yet to undergo suicide intervention training, but he knew he had to stop and try to help. Just as Mark decided to let go, Mike grabbed him and pulled him to safety. The evening ended with Mark being driven away in an ambulance while Mike wondered if Mark would be okay.
Fast-forward over a decade. Mark wrote his memoir, So-Called Normal, and gave a TEDx talk about the experience with a stranger saving his life. He wondered if he’d ever get to thank the person who saved him. That TedX talk got more than 6.5 million views and caught the attention of one of Mike’s friends. Mike Richey got to watch that video and sent an email that eventually made its way to Mark, and the two met up.
Mark Henick is a mental health advocate, served on the board of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and as the Canadian Mental Health Association’s youngest president.
He is now host and executive producer for the Living Well and So-Called Normal podcasts and runs a boutique mental health media consultancy. Most importantly, he shares his story with audiences around the world.
3. Ryan Leaf
Ryan Leaf used to be an NFL quarterback, but today he’s a passionate mental health speaker and advocate. His path to this point has been fueled by his struggles with drug addiction and mental illness and the NFL essentially turning their back once he became problematic to them.
After watching several NFL players kill themselves, including some who choose to shoot themselves in the chest in order to donate their brains to science, Ryan decided it was time for a change. He works with the foundation Merging Vets & Players, helping veterans, players, coaches, and mentors to overcome adversity. He also travels the country talking about mental health and substance abuse.
Alison Canavan is the author of Minding Mum – It’s Time to Take Care of You which focuses on self-care for new moms. Her path to this point may surprise you, however. She used to be one of the world’s top fashion models.
Her modeling career lasted 20 years, starting at the age of 15. In her early 30s, she found herself pregnant after breaking up with her boyfriend. She moved back to Ireland and ended up on welfare, battling depression, and going back to work just 10 days after giving birth. Post-natal depression kicked in and added suicidal thoughts to her list of hurdles. When she wasn’t allowed to be alone with her new son, she realized she had to stop and take care of herself.
She shares her experiences with alcoholism, depression, post-natal depression, and suicidal thoughts with her audience. Alison shows rock bottom doesn’t have to be the ending. For her, it was a new beginning and path to a healthier, happier existence.
In 2013, award-winning actress Mariel Hemingway worked on the documentary Running Like Crazy. This documentary took a closer look at the Hemingway family, including her grandfather author Ernest Hemingway, and the family history of substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide. She received a humanitarian award for that documentary. She also wrote the book Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction, and Suicide in My Family . Mariel is open about her family’s experiences with mental illness and suicide and shares those stories with her audience.
Many people are familiar with the murder of Nicole Brown-Simpson and the highly-publicized “The Trial of the Century.” Tanya L. Brown lived it over and over as Nicole Brown was her sister. The loss of her sister led to her own mental breakdown and suicide attempt, and she uses that to speak to others about mental health being a key part of your overall well-being. She’s a domestic violence and mental health advocate who speaks to audiences about self-care and overcoming life’s challenges.
7. Kevin Briggs
During his 23-year career with the California Highway Patrol and another six years with the U.S. Army and California Department of Corrections, struggles with thoughts of suicide and mental illness surrounded Kevin Briggs. He became known as the “Guardian of the Golden Gate,” as he talked more than 200 people out of jumping. Instead, he talked them into starting a new chapter in their lives. He founded Pivotal Points to promote mental health awareness around the world.
Liza Pavlakos holds a Golden Gavel Award and is one of 2020’s “Top 10 Female Speakers in the World.” She’s the founder of Positive Breakthroughs, an organization of counselors, psychologists, psychotherapists, and coaches who work together to improve mental health. Liza uses her own experiences with abduction, abuse, human trafficking, and homelessness to share very personal messages about mental illness and how to heal and work towards a new you.
With a background in communication, marketing, and creative writing, Darryll, a former division 1 athlete, survived multiple suicide attempts to become a best-selling author, 3xTEDx speaker, philanthropist and public speaking coach. He is the Founder of Second Chance Athletes 501(c)(3). Known for his dynamic, heart-touching, thought-provoking presentations, Darryll is most deeply grateful to lead and enjoy his family.
10. Dr. Troy Byer
From the age of four, Dr. Troy Byer started her acting career, appearing as one of the six original cast members on Sesame Street, and later on Dynasty and The Cosby Show. At the age of 17, she became a public speaker and continues to talk to audiences about child abuse, abandonment, and overcoming life’s hardest obstacles. She holds a Master’s in Community Psychology and a doctorate in Clinical Psychology.
11. Greg Vogt
By the age of 18, Greg Vogt had attempted suicide two different times, was admitted to four psychiatric hospitals, and had a year-long stay at a mental health treatment center. Six months after discharge, he learned of the passing of his favorite teacher by suicide. A few years later, one of his closest college friends died in a car accident. Greg uses that insight and personal experience to connect with audiences as a mental health speaker with Active Minds. His advocacy through speaking began in 2017, once his first book, “The Battle Against Yourself,” was published. He works as a Director of Clinical Outreach for Charlie Health, a mental healthcare provider for adolescents and young adults. He’s also on the Board of Directors for the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance for the state of California. Greg speaks across the country through the lens of storytelling, with the focus on breaking stigma, seeking help, supporting others in need, and encouraging hope to people who feel alone
12. Erika Gilchrest
Erika Gilchrest was assaulted as a child, in a domestic abuse situation as a young adult, moved into a women’s shelter, and tried to commit suicide. All of this has brought her to her path as a published author, 23-year veteran speaker, and creator of W.T.F. – Women Thriving Fearlessly™. She’s established the largest expo for women in Chicagoland and is a highly sought-after suicide awareness speaker.
She’s an expert in mental illness and crisis intervention and offers expert insight into suicide awareness, the necessity of psychiatric holds, and substance abuse recovery. Susie Kroll holds a Counseling Psychology degree and Bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication. She’s an educator and trainer in areas like crisis response, de-escalation, hostage negotiation, and mental health. Susie currently works for Washington’s Redmond Police Department as a Community Support Administration and Co-Responding Mental Health Professional.
14. Audrey Grunst
Audrey Grunst is certified in Change Management, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Exposure Response Prevention. She specializes in anxiety, perfectionism, and mental health performance. She can talk to audiences about suicide awareness, anxiety, and eating disorders. She draws on her experience as a director at Eating Recovery Centers (ERC Insight).
15. Robb Thompson
Robb Thompson never imagined he’d be a professional speaker talking on topics like suicide awareness, mental health, and his experiences in a mental health institution. Yet, he does just that. He hit the bottom as a young adult, struggling with self-doubt, feelings of despair and hopelessness, and mental anguish. He made it through the darkness and now travels the country hoping to help others get through the darkness and become the person they’ve always wanted to be.
Book one of the top 15 speakers on suicide awareness to learn more about establishing safe environments, making suicide care more accessible, and creating strong policies that support mental health care. When we work together to help others or learn how to ask for help, we can make the world a supportive, safer place for those considering or planning suicide.