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Finding Help

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First and most importantly: do not kill yourself. I cannot stress that enough. It doesn’t help; it only hurts others. fact: Talking to someone about suicide does not make anyone more likely to do it. If you ever encounter a stranger about to jump—stand back, move slowly, keep an open stance, use a calm voice, listen, find out their name, and keep them talking until the men and women in blue and red roll in. But if you must, preserve life by any means necessary. You might get punched, but you’ll both live.


If you are actively contemplating suicide, call 988 or 911 immediately. Be honest. I have been on the other end of hundreds of such calls: We cherish your honesty. We are there only for you, so let us help you. You are not alone.
If you need mental health help but are not actively in crisis, contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988. It is nationwide, established, and guaranteed to have someone on the other end to answer at all times.


For information on specific mental health issues:
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): 1-800-950-6264


The American Psychological Association (APA) website: apa.org


988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988lifeline.org

These organizations will help you find the right resources in your area.


If you are in a domestic violence situation, call 911 and order a pizza. The operator may not catch on, but keep trying. It sometimes takes a few “orders,” but they are trained for this.
If the domestic situation is actively violent, order a pizza with pepperoni. Never hang up, even if you have to drop the phone. Dispatchers hope you do so they can hear what’s going on.


Most bars have a safe word—a drink you can order to let the bartender know you need help, including a ride home. It’s often referred to as an angel shot. If you are worried for any reason, ask a bartender (preferably female) for the safe word when you arrive. And know this: every establishment with a kitchen is required to have an exit door. Use it if you have to. Don’t worry. It’s fine. I’ve done it dozens of times.

 

Survivors of Institutional Abuse (SIA), www.Sia-now.org, is the best resource for learning about and entering Survivorland. I don’t recommend any others.If you want to explore Survivorland on your own, start by googling “Troubled Teen Industry.” It’s a big ocean out there, with lots of islands. Happy sailing!

 

The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), www.icsahome.com, is academic and requires a membership, but you can find good information if you poke around or just contact them.
 

For books:


Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids by Maia Szalavitz is a must-read if you care about the TTI. What are you waiting for? Google her name for her excellent articles as well; there ain’t many Maia Szalavitzes out there, so the hunting is easy.


Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction by Maia Szalavitz is an incredible book about addiction and recovery. If you are struggling with addiction, start here.


The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook by Dr. Bruce Perry (with Maia Szalavitz!) explains the long-term effects of trauma. Read it, then give it to your mom.


Institutionalized Persuasion: The Technology of Reformation in Straight Incorporated and the Residential Teen Industry by Marcus Chatfield is dry—it was the author’s thesis—but the stats he compiled are earth-shaking. I wish so much that more professionals would read this book.


The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree: How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide by Nice Leng’ete inspired me when I was writing this book. Nice (who is from Kenya) ran from genital mutilation—yeah, that means getting your clitoris cut off—when she was nine years old, then came back as a grown-up ass-kicker on behalf of other women. Whenever I wanted to give up, I thought, Did Nice give up? Hell, no!
 
If you want to read the articles mentioned in the book:


https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/childrens-rights/practice/2021/5-facts-about-the-troubled-teen-industry/
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/brief-life-cornelius-frederick-warning-signs-missed-teen-s-fatal-n1234660


https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/nyregion/heroin-opioids-death-teacher-bronx-azimi-addict.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/02/nyregion/suicide-school-overdose-deaths-ny-family-foundation.html?searchResultPosition=1
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/14/nyregion/family-foundation-school-abuse-lawsuits.html?auth=login-google1tap&login=google1tap
 
I wish I could recommend a therapist, but I can’t. I don’t know of any lists of or organizations for TTI-conversant therapists, although I hope that will change. My best advice: make sure, in your first session, that your therapist is trauma-informed. Make sure they understand complex PTSD. Make sure they are comfortable talking calmly about suicidal ideation and you are comfortable talking with them about it. If I had asked these questions at my first session, I would have known immediately that Kay was right for me instead of waiting seven years (out of fear) to open up to her.


You should not have to explain your TTI experience for more than one session. If they are like “Oh, my God, I can’t believe that happened,” find a new therapist. They are not trauma-informed.


If you leave feeling empty, that is not therapy. If you leave feeling unheard, that is not therapy. If you feel unsafe in a session, that is not therapy. Don’t bail because things get uncomfortable; discomfort is part of the experience—it means you are being honest. But don’t be afraid to find a new therapist if you sense they are not right for you. As long as you feel safe and heard, you are in good hands.


You need a battle buddy—someone who will be there when you need them, no questions asked. They don’t have to be a friend, just someone who understands. So reach out to other survivors; it’s the best way.


And you need to be a battle buddy, too. If someone says something worrisome, or their personality changes in their socials, reach out. Don’t be shy. I wish I had reached out when my friends texted, “I have to get out of New York.” I wish it every day. Please don’t make my mistake.
 

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