Mental Illness, Stigma, Suicide Prevention: Having experienced stigma as a care giver, a person in crisis, an employee and a patient, I bring a unique perspective to the topics of mental health, suicide and stigma. For almost 20 years as an emergency responder, I failed to understand mental illness. I got angry when called to a mental health crisis. I believed these people were “weak” and “flawed,” or that they were seeking attention. I believed depression was a choice, and that people should “pull themselves out of it.” I thought suicide was the most selfish thing a person could do, had no compassion, and often made fun of my patients. In 2008, when I began showing signs of depression, I went into denial. I refused to be one of “those people.” Despite my best efforts, I could not “pull myself out of it,” and judged myself just as I had judged others. I attempted to end my life on December 7, 2008. Once stabilized, I was fascinated to look back over the previous six months at how chemical changes in my body had altered my perception of the world. I finally understood that depression is an illness, and wanted to help others understand as well. Unfortunately, my colleagues held the same judgments that I once did. Stigma soon forced me out of my job. I was then diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Most doctors looking at my chart only saw “depression” and “suicide attempt.” For more than two years, it was nearly impossible to get proper medical care. I spent each day in excruciating pain, put on 100lbs, needed a cane to walk and became home-bound and hopeless. Eventually, I found an amazing doctor, and began getting the proper treatment. I soon took my life back, published my award-winning autobiography, was appointed to the Wisconsin Governor’s Advisory Council on Mental Health, and made it my mission to help others understand mental illness. Comments from evaluation forms on previous presentations of these topics: “Another great presentation-very compelling speaker-straight from the heart- sad but true scenarios that is played out too often. She points out a very important aspect of stigma of mental illness and false diagnosis.” “Very emotional-great story, and such a great ending to the conference. Incomparable presentation and I would love to see stories from people like this every conference.” “Powerful!” “Honest, brave, truthful, great, fighter.” “For being the last speaker at a conference, knowing that everyone wants to leave, she was very entertaining and an awesome story teller.” NOTE: Although these topics are serious, I approach ALL of my presentations with a sense of humor. We must be able to laugh at ourselves and our circumstances, or we might as well throw in the towel.