How one survivor teaches the mental health crisis version of CPR to help prevent suicide

In 1995, mental health advocate Fonda Bryant was living in Charlotte, North Carolina and struggling. Her appetite was non-existent, she was exhausted all of the time, and she willingly sought out isolation.

“I was in so much pain, excruciating pain. People don't realize how much pain you're in because this [the brain] is the most important organ in your body,” says Bryant. “I couldn't take it anymore. My apartment was immaculate. I had a plan. I wanted to make sure that when I implemented my plan, my son wouldn't find me, my brother would. And that would be the end of it. I wouldn't be in pain anymore.”

On the day of her planned suicide, Bryant called her aunt Spanky, and offered her all of her shoes. Sensing that something was wrong, Aunt Spanky called back and asked Bryant if she had plans to kill herself.

“I said, yes,” says Bryant. “And she went into action, like a superhero.”

Soon after, there was a knock at the door and Bryant came face to face with a Charlotte police officer. After some slight resistance, she agreed to go with him to a mental health facility — a choice that saved her life.

That pivotal day saved Bryant’s life and thrust her into a life of service. Today she runs the nonprofit Wellness Action Recovery (WAR), whose mission it is to bring awareness to mental health and suicide prevention. While WAR programming is open to everyone, Bryant works to ensure that the Black community knows that mental health does not have to be a silent struggle.

“Most people are training in CPR to help someone having a heart attack or stroke. QPR is the same, but it’s for a person in crisis mentally or suicidal,” says Bryant."If we talk about it, we can stop it. If we ask that person the suicide question, it lowers anxiety, and gives the person a chance to open up and share what's going on with them. And it gives us a chance to help them.”

By learning about the resources available ahead of time (ie. mobile crisis units, walk-in services), Bryant says that we can all play our part in keeping ourselves and those we love safe and healthy.

Video Transcript

FONDA BRYANT: No one should have to feel the pain of someone dying by suicide. You never know what someone is going through. A smile can hide a lot of pain. You can either help us and yeah, we might get mad at you but we're alive. Or you can do nothing and end up going to a funeral.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Hey everyone, I'm Brittany Jones-Cooper and welcome to Unmuted. Today I'm chatting with Fonda Bryant, a mental health and suicide prevention advocate who's on a mission to save lives. You know it's Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. And you're an advocate for mental health awareness. So when did you first become aware of your mental health.?

FONDA BRYANT: I did not become aware of my mental health until after a suicide attempt. You know, in the Black culture, the way we've been raised, pray about it, don't claim it. Give it to God. It's a sign of weakness. And in my family like so many other families in the Black culture, we never talked about it.

And when we did it was never anything really positive. You know, that person's crazy or they're touched in the head. Or if you'd kill yourself, you're going to hell. I had never really entertained that I was dealing with a mental health issue.

On February 14, 1995, I was in so much pain, excruciating pain, and my brain was telling me, you're a loser. Kill yourself. Your son would be better off with someone else. And I had started buying into that. And that's why isolation is not your friend. I said, I couldn't take it anymore. I had a plan.

Before I was able to implement my plan, I reached out to my Aunt Kelly. Her nickname was Spanky. And when I called her I told her, I said, you can have my shoes. And she asked me, she said, are you going to kill yourself? And I said, yes.

And she went into action like a superhero. And I went to the door and there was this humongous CMPD police officer. And he said, I came to take you to a mental health facility. If she hadn't done that, I wouldn't be here. She helped me take the blinders off and be able to see mental wellness and that was the start of my journey.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: We hear all the statistics about mental health and suicide. In the US, a person dies by suicide every 11 minutes according to the CDC. And I think all of us know somebody or know somebody who knows somebody right, who has been in that place. And so many of us feel like we don't know what to say. Can you tell us about the Suicide Prevention tool that you teach?

FONDA BRYANT: Suicide is everybody's business and anyone can prevent the tragedy of suicide. There's a training out here called QPR. It stands for question, persuade, refer. Most people are trained in CPR. You help somebody having a heart attack or a stroke. QPR is the same. It's for someone in crisis, mentally or suicidal.

One of the myths is if we talk about suicide, people will do it. That's a myth. If we talk about it, we can stop it. If we ask that person the suicide question, it lowers anxiety, gives the person a chance to open up and share what's going on with them. And it gives us a chance to help them.

Learn more resources on the front end. Learn about the crisis mobile unit. There's a mobile unit with therapists that ride. Learn your resource. Type in mental health resources in my area so when you get ready to help someone, you don't panic. Like oh my god, what am I going to do?

Knowing how to help them, knowing the resources, and getting them help in a timely manner. Anyone can save someone's life.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: For me I think it's just about empowering people. A lot of us have been in conversations where somebody has revealed that they're suicidal. And you hope you're saying the right thing. I think these tools are so important to help people.

FONDA BRYANT: Caring can save a life. One of the biggest things is just getting rid of that stigma that we're crazy. One out of five adults, one out of five children have a mental health condition. So when you're throwing those words around, oh, they're just crazy, nuts, psycho, or you blame every mass shooting on people with mental health issues, that's why we don't go get help.

Mental health does not discriminate and culture matters. When you're dealing with mental health, the biggest thing, dealing with the Black community is getting them to see that mental health is health. Mental health is real, that we can recover, and we can get better.