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Rock band educates audiences about depression and suicide

A near-silent crowd erupts with passion inside the Roseland Theater in Portland, Ore. as melodic lyrics cut through the hearts of 1,500 Blue October followers. The Houston-based rock band’s front man, Justin Furstenfeld, starts his two-hour serenade with the musical question: “What if we could put our lives on hold?”

In song after song, Blue October delves into themes of mental illness, lost love, anger and suicide. For Furstenfeld, music is not about fame and fortune. It is the way he releases himself from his personal torture.

Furstenfeld, who struggles with bipolar disorder, is no stranger to blue Octobers — or Decembers for that matter. His influence and honesty about mental illness make him a unique advocate for mental health awareness.

Blue October’s concert comes at a time of year that represents joy, family gatherings, Santa and caroling for many. But, for some, these events are quickly overshadowed by other circumstances. Parents who have lost a child may question whether life is worth living. A college student who struggles with a learning disability may stress over the classes that separate him from graduation. Many Americans worry over job security in a tough economy, wondering how they will pay tomorrow’s rent. And then there is the person who battles the depths of depression or bipolar disorder on a daily basis.

In 2010, Blue October teamed with To-Write-Love-On-Her-Arms, an organization that raises awareness about depression, addiction and suicide. They toured the U.S. together, educating audiences about suicide and mental health through their music. They believe that when people understand the link between depression and suicide, they will become more involved and the incidence of suicide will decrease. Their message? Depression can be treated, restoring balance and joy to the lives of those it affects.

Furstenfeld knows from first-hand experience just how lethal the highs and lows of mania and depression can be. He often struggles with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Depression is a debilitating condition that may be triggered by stress, the loss of a loved one, bullying, and/or physiological imbalances in the brain. For some, suicide seems like the last, tragic remedy.

Approximately 30,000 Americans take their own lives each year. Twenty thousand are teenagers. Clark County is not immune to this problem. Within a four-month period last year, five Clark County students committed suicide. In March 2012, a Clark County eighth grader took her life to escape bullying.

Furstenfeld wants his audience to know: It is when we are at our lowest that we are most vulnerable to depression and suicide. His voice is not the only one echoing through the room. Most fans connect with the band on an emotional level and the crowd sings without missing a word.

For resources on suicide prevention, or to seek help with suicidal thoughts and ideations, immediately call any of the following resources: the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or visit www. suicidehotlines.com/washington.html. Also available is the Washington State Mental Health Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, and the 24-Hour Crisis Line: 800- 626-81377 or visit www.clark. wa.gov/mental-health.

For immediate assistance, always dial 911.

-Authored by contributing writers Merlinda Sain and Aaron Johnson

Merlinda Sain is a human resource generalist at WSU Vancouver. She is a long-time fan of Blue October and believes in the band’s message and mission. Merlinda is passionate about photography and particulary enjoys photographing concerts.

Aaron Johnson is a WSU Vancouver senior majoring in English who openly discusses his struggle to live with bipolar depression.

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