Elliot Kallen is the 14th inspiring interview in the G&R Podcast’s Rebirth series. Elliot has run Prosperity Financial Group, which is a wealth management firm, for over 30 years. He is also the Co-Founder and President of A Brighter Day, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping teens manage depression and stress.
Elliot and his wife started A Brighter Day in 2015 in memory of their youngest son, Jake, who ended his life by suicide when he was 19 years old. So they have certainly had their own personal experience with Grief and Rebirth.
You may be surprised to learn that every year, millions of teenagers struggle with thoughts of depression, deep sadness, isolation, stress, and feeling of helplessness. And because of their mental health issues, thousands commit suicide. Sadly, and too often, the parents of these teens are the last to learn about their child’s mental problems, and sometimes it’s too late to act.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- The motivation for A Brighter Day came from the suicide of Elliot’s son Jake when he was 19 years old.
- A Brighter Day aims to stop teen suicide, the #1 preventable cause of death.
- Some of the worrisome warning signs of depression and stress in teens.
- When it is the right time to seek help for a teen.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS ELLIOT:
- What are some important strategies parents can use to help their teens manage mental disorders and build self-confidence?
- Are there useful tools that teens and young adults can use to manage stress or depression?
- What are great resources that help teens with their mental health issues, while still allowing them to retain their privacy and dignity?
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Elliot Kallen: Helping Teens And Their Parents Deal With Stress And Depression With The Goal Of Stopping Teen Suicide
I hope this finds each of you so very well. I’m speaking to you from my studio in West Orange, New Jersey. I am delighted to welcome Elliot Kallen for the fourteenth inspiring interview in the series. Elliot has run Prosperity Financial Group, which is a wealth management firm, for many years. He is also the Cofounder and President of A Brighter Day, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping teens manage depression and stress.
Elliot and his wife started A Brighter Day in 2015 in memory of their youngest son, Jake, who committed suicide when he was nineteen years old. They have sadly had their own personal experience with profound grief and rebirth. Now, they are helping others who are struggling. You may be surprised to learn that every year, millions of teenagers struggle with thoughts of depression, deep sadness, isolation, stress, and feeling of helplessness. It’s because of their mental health issues that thousands commit suicide, making it one of the leading causes of death among teens in the United States. Sadly and too often, the parents of these teens are the last to learn about their child’s mental problems. Sometimes, it is too late to act.
A Brighter Day aims to stop teen suicide by educating teens and their parents about mental disorders and providing resources that they can use to reach out and communicate when depression and stress are affecting either their own or the lives of those around them. I’m looking forward to talking with Elliot about A Brighter Day’s efforts in fighting depression and teen suicide, warning signs to look for that indicate depression and stress in a teen, strategies parents can use to help their teens manage mental disorders and build self-confidence, and more. This will surely be a very informative interview that can help prevent the devastation of teen suicide.
Elliot, welcome to the show.
It’s great to be here. Thank you. You’re in my old stomping grounds. I’m a graduate of Mountain High School in West Orange.
I’m bringing you back all these memories. Where are you?
You went to what should I say brighter vistas.
It is a beautiful place to live here in Northern California. I’m a big wine collector, but it’s ridiculously overpriced. Only crazy people want to come here.
The thing that I love the most about living up here is I’m a flora. I love the change of seasons. I even don’t mind winter. We are having the most magnificent fall this 2023. You would love it. It’s stunning.
I bet I would. Thank you.
Leaves are turning colors. It’s been a longer season because we have had a few problems with the climate. Everything’s lasting a little longer, but I’m not complaining about these beautiful leaves that are hanging out. Let’s start with this question. Sadly, the motivation for A Brighter Day came from the suicide of your son, Jake, in 2015 while he was attending the University of Montana. Can you please tell us about Jake? Explain what led up to his unexpected suicide and share how this inspired the founding of A Brighter Day.
Thank you. To put this together on how it started, Jake was a great kid. He got a lot of friends. He was athletic. He played on two different hockey teams. His jersey is retired at the University of Montana, hanging from the rafters and setting all types of records. It’s hanging here at the local ice rink as well. He was a wonderful kid. Looking back, I can see all types of things, but going through that, he’s one of those good kids. He sometimes kept his distance from people but had a lot of friends.
It was a Thursday night. What he did is he put his phone down and made his bed. There was no alcohol and no drugs. He walked up to the highway and jumped in front of an ongoing truck. All day on Friday, we were frantically looking for him because his phone was turned off. No teenager turns off their phone. We were looking all around for him.
At 6:30 PM, Federal Express showed up with a six-page suicide note. It was horrible. In it, he said in the first main paragraph, “Mom and dad, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I never would’ve told you how I felt. I never would’ve asked for your help, and I never would’ve taken your help.” That started the ball rolling.
The next morning, I caught an early morning flight at 6:30 AM to Washington. I drove over to Montana to claim his body. You could imagine as a parent seeing the human body in a 100,000-pound truck at 60 miles an hour. They don’t go together. There was that. The school did a wonderful thing, retiring his jersey and having a retirement program for him on Sunday. On Monday, we came back to California for burial.
It was flying home on Southwest Airlines with his body underneath that I kept reading that paragraph of the six pages over and over and realized that we need to do something. I was like, “We need to take action. We cannot let other families go through the devastation.” That’s the word I used then. That is the right word. My wife and I formed the charity A Brighter Day with the goal of bringing originally created resources originally to teens for teens and parents with the goal of stopping teen suicide. We started by doing it with music. We used music. Battle of the bands is a very old concept with teen bands playing for teens. In the first 3 or 4 years, we gave out a few thousand backpacks filled with these resources.
What kinds of resources were you putting in those backpacks?
It was all original material for teens. It was mostly for teens, not parents. We had articles for teens to help them if they need help, how to talk to their family, how to talk to teachers, or how to talk to their friends if it’s happening to their friends. We knew parents were going to read this, but they were all written. They were not stress balls and cutesy stuff. They were original, serious resources. We weren’t finding these backpacks at all on the ground outside the concerts. They were being taken home.
COVID hit, and we had to go virtual. We had a teen talent showcase where people get our resources. We had 14,000 people view our teen talent showcase. We thought, “There’s something here.” As we morphed and reinvented ourselves, we realized that the best way to get to teens is through their parents. If we can help their parents reach their teens, then we can cut off that box of blackness and emptiness that teens reach before they reach it.
The best way to get to teens is through their parents. If we can help their parents reach their teens, then we can cut off that box of blackness and emptiness that teens reach before they reach it. Click To Tweet
Six years into this charity, we produce original content. Every other week, we have articles going out all around the country. We have it going to a mailing list. We’re on every social media platform and wire service that you can imagine. For parents, we have a parent survival toolkit. We have a teen Survival toolkit on a website. Everything there is free at ABrighterDay.info for anybody that wants it. No advertising is on there. Imagine how we’ve grown and how important this issue is. Sadly, it’s super topical. In the first 3 or 4 years of the charity, we touched about 2,000 people. Not long ago, 4,000 people downloaded our resources.
Do you work with a lot of therapists? Do you get advice from professionals for what you do when you’re giving advice to parents and all of that?
Yes and no. We are very pro-therapy. There are a lot of therapists that, especially since COVID, have no longer any more time or free time on their hands. They’re not interested in this. If your child’s in crisis, at least in California, it could take 6 to 10 weeks to get an appointment, which we think we’ve solved. We find that unacceptable. Ten weeks for a child that’s cutting himself or thinking about suicide is an eternity.
We’ve come up with several solutions. There’s no one answer for every teen, but I’ll bring you to the solution side of what we’ve done. Imagine how teens communicate. They don’t communicate the way you and I do. They communicate a lot by texting. We have a 24/7 texting program in all 50 states where a teen, a parent, or anybody can type in the word BRIGHTER to 741741. In five minutes or less, they will have the ability to talk to a counselor for up to 40 minutes, 7 days a week.
We’re changing lives with this. We’ve already got conversations where people have said, “Thank you. My wife and I have dealt with our teen’s death.” That was somebody to talk to, which is amazing. My family’s done this. It’s amazing. If that doesn’t work, then we have a tag team with BetterHelp. We can get within seven days a Zoom with a licensed local therapist throughout all 50 states.
This is for teens and parents. It’s fabulous what we’re doing. It’s no longer 7 to 10 weeks. It’s a Zoom program, but it’s all 50 states. These are licensed people that they’ll be talking to. If that doesn’t work, we signed a contract with a third-party in-patient behavioral program. They’re probably in twenty states that we can help them out. The texting program is free for everybody. The Zoom program costs money for a patient, but we have a scholarship fund that will pay for up to 5 sessions for anybody in all 50 states.
We picked five because they said that’s a normal number of Zoom sessions. It is 4 to 5. That’s how we picked that. We pay for it, so nothing is out of pocket. Most people on the in-patient are covered by their own medical insurance. They didn’t need us for that. We’re helping out to get teens, even parents of teens, out of the crisis stage and into the therapy stage because that’s what they need.
That’s fantastic. I’m sure we have a lot of very interested readers with this. Can you highlight some of the worrisome warning signs of depression and stress in teens? What do you look for?
There are two major warning signs. I want to put a caveat out here because I know you have an audience filled with lots of professionally-trained people and lots of healers. I was a dumb teenager. I was not a depressed teenager. I did lots of dumb things that teenage boys do. They do, especially boys because they sometimes have rocks for brains growing up.
They want to be cool.
They think they’re smart. Like every teenager, there’s nothing else to learn as a teenager until you learn. The difference between a depressed teenager or a teenager that is walking down the line between depression and a dumb normal teenager is a shade of gray. It’s a dotted line. It’s not because they have these symptoms that make them depressed. It should make the parents engage with them and find out if they’re depressed. We can talk about that as we go. The first thing that teenagers do when they’re depressed is to withdraw. They begin a process of withdrawal from their friends, their classes, and their parents. They don’t want to communicate anymore.
Isn’t that like a lot of kids withdraw from their parents because they’re maturing and they’re grunting? They don’t even say hello, and then they’re going into their rooms. How do you know the difference between the grunt and the real problem?
We’ll get to that, but you’ve got to be a good question-asker. I’ve got a 29-year-old twin son. He’s finishing up getting a second PhD at the University of Wisconsin. He is a super bright kid. When I ask him how was his week, he answers, “Fine.” I’m like, “How’s your day?” He’s like, “Good.” I have to remind him, “Can you please not answer me monosyllabically? I paid a lot of money. I deserve polysyllabic answers.” He’s a normal teenager. He’s not depressed. He’s probably got anxiety because he’s getting it into the job market. That’s normal anxiety but not depression.
We talk about this all the time. He and I do it constantly because I want to see if he’s okay. Maybe I know, and maybe I don’t know if he’s okay at the end of the day. Withdrawal is a big part of it. Food withdrawal is part of withdrawal as well. That’s not to be confused necessarily with a normal eating disorder, but they do exist.
The second part of this is sleep pattern disorder. They sleep less. Right when my son came home for Christmas break, shortly before he took his life, he was going to bed at 12:00 AM and up until 3:00 AM playing around on his cell phone. He was withdrawing from us and playing around with his cell phone in meaningless ways. You’ve got to look for that, too, because he couldn’t sleep anymore.
When one of his friends interviewed me for his school newspaper a year later with an unveiling that we had for him, I said, “I want to tell you something. We didn’t understand that Jake seemed to always be asleep when we were awake and we seemed to be awake when he was asleep towards the end of his life. That’s normal.” Their pattern is highly disrupted. That’s part of it. They withdraw from the classes that they even like or don’t like. For the ones they don’t like, they completely withdraw. For the ones they like, they begin to get self-destructive with themselves. That’s important to know because if there’s no future, then self-destructing doesn’t mean anything.
Those are the big three patterns that you want to look for. Let me lead you into something before you ask another question, and that is for parents. How can they learn the difference between them? What’s a normal pattern for a teenager and what is a dangerous pattern for a teenager? I can answer that question that I know you want to ask.
You read my mind.
I got asked on a podcast, “How can we teach teachers to be better askers to find out if their student is depressed?” That is the wrong question they ask because teachers are overworked and underpaid. There are 20 to 30 people in the class. It’s not going to happen. You as a parent, single or married, need to learn how to ask great questions and then find out the great answers.
Let me ask you some questions that are typical. Most parents want to be good parents. They’ll say, “How was school today?” They get this monosyllabic grunt or whatever it is. They’re like, “It was good.” It’s better to ask, “What are your favorite classes, and why? Who are your favorite teachers, and why? Who’s your least favorite teacher, and why? What is your least favorite class, and why?”
You could be like, “I know you’re struggling in algebra. We talked about this last week. How was your algebra this week? Can I get some help for you?” It’s rather than putting your hands up and saying, “I’m dumb at math. I give up.” A parent can be in front of that. The number one thing a parent can do is ask great questions.
Where do they ask great questions? There are two wonderful places to ask great questions. The first one is the dinner table. The cell phone in my hand is the worst invention for teenagers. Can they get everything answered for their school about who was the vice president? They can get all those on Google. Those are good things. What that does socially is isolates teens from everybody else, especially social media. Kids are no longer on Facebook. You and I are. They’re on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and other things.
What these have taught our kids is they’ve taught them that everybody is having a better time in life but them. Social media for teens is a highlight reel of everybody else’s life but their own. Even my kids came home shortly before my son took his life that Christmas break. We’re in California. A lot of families go to Lake Tahoe for Christmas break or they go to Hawaii. They ask me the question, “Are we the only family not going to Hawaii or Tahoe?” There were tons of kids at home, but they felt like they were isolated.
For parents, make your dinners cell phone-free. Put them in a basket. Put them anywhere. There should be no texting, no talking to grandma during dinner, and none of that stuff. It’s got to be you and them. Questions will arise and statements will come out of the quietness of your dinner table. You as a parent have to learn and ask great questions. We’ve put all of these online at ABrighterDay.info. We’ve put out questions. We’ve put out how to be a better parent and ask these questions. You as a grandparent can ask great questions. Maybe you’ll discover something that you never knew about your grandchild.
I have already found that. I wait until I have one of the boys by myself. I have great conversations with them. I ask questions and all of that kind of thing. One of my grandsons confided something to me, which was a little bit of a red flag. I was able to give my son a little heads-up about it. As a grandparent, sometimes, they talk to you more than they’ll talk to their parents.
We’re all human. Let me give you the second way. The first way is the dinner table. There’s nothing that’s going to beat that. We live in a world where there are organized sports every day of the week and after-school clubs. Nobody goes out, plays on a basketball court on weekends, or picks up their friends. All the things that you and I grew up in for socialization reasons, it is sad that they’re all gone. They are gone. What parents are doing most of the time is driving them to an event.
That is an outstanding time to have a conversation. Turn the radio off. Get you and your teens to take out the iPods and have a conversation about anything. Start with a movie that you saw. Start with anything, but ask in-depth questions. You may want to ask about their friends even because they would be more willing to talk about their best friends and how they’re feeling if you even know who their best friends are.
Ask them to talk about their best friends because they could be third partying themselves by talking about their best friends. For instance, it is like, “Irene is not doing well in biology. She is barely showing up.” They’re talking about themselves that they don’t like biology. They’re not doing well. It started to hang out by not showing up.
Those are great tips. A lot of people are going to pass this interview around. You ought to hear this for your teenager. Talk to us about mental disorders and building self-confidence. What do parents do about that besides talking to the kids? Is that the best way to do that? There can be more going on than the withdrawal. Is that part of a mental disorder? How do you separate out the kid who is having anxiety and depression and going through all this from a kid who’s bipolar or having other serious issues?
I want to caveat this with you. The broad title of mental health or mental disorder is so broad that you can go on with thousands of people throughout the country. We try to focus on depression, stress, and anxiety. This is more boys than girls. Lots of boys, including me, are ADD or ADHD. We get compartmentalized in what we do. My older son is like that. He is compartmentalized. If you don’t talk to him within the right compartment, he can’t reach out to you on that. I’ll give you an example. When he was in tenth grade and playing hockey, he started to cry one day after hockey practice. We’re talking about, “What’s going on? What happened?”
I want to stop you right there. Here’s a tenth-grader crying. When people grow up and kids grow up in the world, they say, “Stop. You’re crying. What’s wrong with you? You’re too sensitive. You’re too this and that.”
It turned out that he had a flashing thought of jumping off the top of the ice rink with the stands. He looked down and he thought about it and it got him so upset. He had to stop in his tracks. We got him immediate psychotherapy help from a psychiatrist, not a psychologist. Thankfully, he was an older gentleman who was very experienced. The first thing he did was play chess with him. He figured him out immediately.
He talked to all of us family. He said, “I want everybody to leave.” He took out the chess board and they played some chess. By doing that, he realized from his own experience that my son put everything in a box. By unraveling the box, he could unravel it during chess. After three sessions, he called me in and said, “Cody doesn’t need to come back here at all. I gave him the tool he needs that when he’s feeling sad to use this tool.” I said, “That’s great. What’s the tool that you gave him?” He said, “Since he is very good at math, he will consistently divide Pi across all the digits.”
Six months later, I asked him, “How is it going with Pi? How many digits out are you now by 3.1415 out?” He said, “I’m about sixteen digits out.” I thought, “Wow.” I said, “When do you do this?” He said, “When I’m alone and I need to get refocused. The math refocuses me.” That’s him. He’s exceptionally spatial. That would be the right term.
My daughter, his twin sister, everything you want to know about her is on her sleeve. She tells you everything. If she’s depressed, you’re going to know it in five seconds. We talk about these things. She got some serious help to and got some tools on how to deal with it. Everybody is different, but you cannot discover this without a good conversation. Not everybody should be in front of a psychologist because some kids will close down.
I had a great phone call. A man called me up and said, “Are you A Brighter Day?” I said, “I am.” It was about 8:30 AM. He said, “I want you to know I made a donation to your website, but I misspelled my email address. Instead of SBC Global, I put SPB. Can you fix it?” I said, “Of course. Do you mind telling me how you heard about us?” He said, “I saw a Facebook post from you with Dave Righetti, one of the Yankees pitching coaches. The Yankees have great pitchers. You were on there talking about mental health in teens. I went to your website and started to do some research.”
He wanted to use the word girlfriend, but he didn’t. He’s an adult. We don’t know whether to say woman, friend, girlfriend, or best friend. He said, “Her son took his life about a year ago, and she was the one that discovered the body. She has been so distraught that she cannot go back to work. She’s on SDI disability payments. We’re not sure she’s ever going to get off of it.”
He was like, “I went to your website. She’s been going through counseling the entire year. It’s live counseling or Zoom counseling. It’s not working. I saw you on a cell phone text chat program. I got her on it, and she’s been chatting with somebody every day of the week since I put her on. She discovered it. I put her on it and she feels like a new person. She’s coming to grips with it and beginning to think it’s not her fault for what happened. She’s talking about going back into the workforce. It’s all because of texting.” Everybody reacts. For some people, Zoom is perfect. For some people, chatting on a text program is perfect. For some people, reading our resources and getting our information is perfect. There’s no one size that fits all. That’s why we came out with all these.
It fits the profile of this show because I have all these people who I interview, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Find the person, or the philosophy, or whatever that can work for you. They’re out there, like what you’re doing. I also want to ask you about how you help kids build self-confidence. That is another big issue. They’re getting depressed. They’re going through all this. They have all this anxiety. You’re talking to them. Do you have any special tools that you recommend to help kids feel better about themselves?
Let’s go back to the parent again because this is part of good parenting here. When I was new into the business world, let’s say in my twenties, all these consultants would come in and say, “You need to know what you don’t do well and improve upon it. That will make you a better worker, a better boss, or a better manager with that.” It turns out they were 180 degrees off on the right answer. We know in business that you need to find out what you do well and build on that and find out what you don’t do well and hire for that. That’s a good owner. I own several organizations. That’s what you do.
For instance, I’m a very big-picture person. I love that. If you’re going to ask me to do all your detailed work, you’re going to go out of your mind and I’ll go out of my mind. I hire people all around me to do my detailed work. When you’re a teenager or even younger, because it does start even younger, and you focus on what your teenager or your ten-year-old does poorly, what you end up doing is you’re reinforcing the poor and minimizing the good. It shows more as they get older.
As a parent, a good conversation is, “What do you like?” The teen might say, “I love math, but I hate Mrs. Baldwin in Science. She’s terrible. Do you know that she picks on me all the time?” You’ve learned something. You should think about math constantly because they enjoy it and they even maybe use the word love. What are you going to do about Science? Do you go talk to Mrs. Baldwin? Do you find a Science tutor, or do you begin to realize, “My child does not have a good aptitude for Science. What can we do to get through this and not focus on it?” That’s you as a parent at the beginning to make those delineations and good decisions. My daughter got a D in Chemistry in her sophomore year in high school.
You set an example. What did you do to get her through that and not feel lousy about herself because she doesn’t do good in Chemistry?
We got a tutor immediately through a tutoring service, but at the end of the day, we got the school to agree through a lot of conversations that she could take another Science class but not Chemistry because that’s the one she hated. I said, “Which one would you like to take?” She said, “Geology. I’d love to do that.” She took Geology and got an A because clouds, the earth, and fossils were super cool to her. Formulas and memorizing them, organic, inorganic, and octagonal pictures that she didn’t understand, she couldn’t grasp.
She’s my girl. I feel the same way. You have a heartening story about a young girl who was lying on top of your son’s grave. Could you share that with us?
Absolutely. My son is buried in one of the largest cemeteries in the country in an area called Tranquility. It’s a headstone on the ground.
It’s right in Lafayette, California where I live. I had a lawyer friend of mine who went to a funeral in the same area on a Sunday. He called me up early afternoon and said, “I passed by Jake’s grave.” This was before the headstone was even down. You always can tell a relatively new grave. He said, “She’s lying on top of Jake’s grave. You might want to go there.” I was home. I got in my car. It’s about a fifteen-minute drive. I went over there and said, “How are you doing? What’s going on?” She said, “I’ve been thinking about taking my life. I knew Jake.” I said, “You did?” She said, “Yes. I went to the junior prom with his best friend.” I didn’t even know that.
Did you know who his best friend was even?
Yes, I knew that. I didn’t know he had a girlfriend or anything. She said, “We dated. We were more friends than we were anything else. It’s not girlfriend and boyfriend.” She said, “I want you to know that I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Jake or Jake’s death because I’ve heard what Jake’s death has done to your family. I don’t want to do that to my family. I need help. Can you help get me help?”
I reached out to her father. I brought her back to my house. The father came over. He was available. He came over, and we spent the afternoon talking. He got her into counseling right away. We started to go out to lunch, the three of us, the dad, myself, and the daughter. Every 4, 6, or 8 weeks, we’d go out to lunch and talk. She had some self-esteem issues. She went through some boys that were a little bit abusive. That’s, a lot of times, what you do when your self-esteem is down. You find people that treat you poorly. It confirms your self-esteem. That is a black hole spiral down. I see her on Facebook. She is the loveliest young woman in a good place and looks like she’s getting engaged.
What a good story.
It all started with a negative tragedy that turned into everybody pulling all forms of counseling together and help and support. This woman is a whole different place now.
How wonderful. We’ve talked about some of the terrific resources your organization provides and formats that teenagers can understand, like texting and all. You help them in multiple ways with their mental health issues. How do you do all this while allowing them to retain their privacy and their dignity? They’re very private. They don’t want anyone to know their business.
That’s part of being withdrawn. I was like that, too. I’m going back to the parents. We know that your teen may need help based on what the answers are. It becomes a suggestion versus a demand. We advise parents in our parent survival toolkit to be as non-judgmental as humanly possible. If you judge and say, “If you only studied more, you wouldn’t feel so bad,” you know that’s not the right answer. We’re all guilty of that as parents, too. We’re all, “I told you so,” Monday morning quarterbacks for our kids.
We’ve got to get our teens to get some help. Most teens are not close to school counselors. That’s why that’s a fairly ineffective program nationally with school counselors. They’re busy trying to get all the kids off to college and do standardized tests and all those other things. If you can get your teen to type the word BRIGHTER to 741741, they’re going to have an interesting conversation.
The first question that they’re going to ask almost universally is, “Am I the only one feeling this way?” That’s part of isolationism. They feel broken. Maybe I could say this from a boy’s point of view as a boy. On Saturdays and Sundays, we played basketball, football, or baseball. We picked it up. From the boy’s point of view, if Jimmy and I got into a fight on Saturday, on Sunday, we needed each other because we are either on the same team or the other team again. Somehow, socially, we learned how to make up and move on. Girls are a little bit tougher.
Look at the skill Jimmy and I learned. If Jimmy and I have a fight on Saturday, then somewhere during the week, Jimmy’s mom is getting together with my mom and they’re having a discussion about it. They’re calling us in to talk about it, then we’re shaking hands and artificially making up on this whole thing, and we’re back to normal life. We didn’t learn anything. We didn’t learn any social skills. We didn’t learn that you can have a fight on Saturday, survive, and be good on Sunday. We learned none of these skills because every kid is in organized sports for the most part. They don’t learn any of that. That’s a huge change in society. That’s a big change. These are both omnipresent heavy mental burdens in most negative ways that they’re on teenagers.
What kinds of things do you send them on these cell phones to help them while they’re retaining their privacy and dignity to affect how they’re thinking and where they’re going with all this stuff?
For the teens, there’s a teen survival toolkit that we send them. They can download it for free. There’s no advertising. They’re never going to get an ad. That helps them ask themselves questions or maybe even help them ask their parent a question or two. We’re going to try to teach the teen to even ask, “Grandma, how’s your day? What do you do in the afternoon, grandma?” They have to learn how to ask you a question, too.
For the parents, it is a parent survival toolkit. We teach them that. We don’t send teens automatic updates because we don’t have permission to do that. We post all the time on TikTok and Instagram. Teens can go to this and get some information for free. It’s not repetitive. It’s all around the country. They’re not going to be on a mailing list so they don’t get sold something in there. We’re careful about that.
All that, TikTok, our texting program, and Instagram, are all anonymous. None of them have to say, “My name is Jimmy Weinberg and I’m feeling sad.” It’s not like an AA program at all. They can make up a name. They won’t even be asked their name. If they’re on the texting program, the person at the other end would say, “What would you like me to call you?” They don’t even have to know what your name is.
That’s fantastic. You can tell you’ve had a lot of good advice and guidance that you’ve put this together. It’s so admirable. I also know you have a newsletter and people get, in their inboxes, mental wellness tips. Is this every day they get a mental wellness tip?
It’s twice a month. We do original writing here. All these have been published. Every major wire around the country has published us from Yahoo to Google to Yahoo Finance to Bloomberg to mental awareness to magazines and articles. I am a voracious writer. I love to write. I have a writer on staff that works 40 hours a week. I own a financial services company as well. We publish both of them, and they get all around the country quickly.
We create original content. There is plenty of them on the internet if you’re looking for content. You can type teen depression and there is a ton of stuff out there. It’s everywhere. Unfortunately, the first 6 or 8 sites are there to sell you something. We don’t sell you anything. We are publishing. We’re giving teens, parents, and schools ideas twice a month.
Do you want to give us an example of a mental wellness tip that you’ve given out to people? Give us a mental wellness tip.
A dinner that is cell phone-free is my number one tip. Remember. Take a walk with your teen. Talk in the car. Those are all a part of it. Find out from your teen about all their friends and what’s going on. Those are four things. If you could do those four things, you’re 90% of the way there.
Let me ask you another question. What happens if your teen has a friend that’s a red flag? You don’t like this kid. He’s not a good influence. Your teen is very devoted to this kid. How do you handle that?
That is a tough question because sometimes, teens have more loyalty to their friends than anybody else. You may want to be upfront. You may want to say, “I’m concerned about Jimmy. I’m concerned about his influence on you because you’re a great kid with a great future. You’ve got lots of things happening for you, and Jimmy’s in a little bit of trouble. How about if we try to get Jimmy some help? Would you be open to helping your friend?”
We have all the same resources. I’ll say, “Do you think Jimmy would text anonymously to somebody where that nobody knows it’s Jimmy?” Maybe Jimmy’s home is in a state of dysfunction. He can’t go to his parents, but he can go directly to a texting program and get some help. Maybe he’ll build up the confidence to say, “How do I reach my mother?” My daughter had a friend. Every month that she would visit her, another guy would come out in the morning from the bedroom. She was single. I finally had to say, “You can’t go over there anymore.”
That’s great advice. What else would you like our audience to know about A Brighter Day and addressing the stigma about mental health and stopping this tragedy of teen suicide? Do you have any lasts?
I do. I’m a big fan of hands-on. You’re in the New York market. New York people are direct versus California people. They can be direct. I’ll give you a quick example. You have a lovely hairdo. Let’s say you weren’t sure about it, whatever it was. In California, they would say, “It’s lovely. It’s beautiful. The next time you get it, you could change it around so it fits more.” They’re saying to themselves, “Irene’s got the worst hair I’ve ever seen.” In New York, they would say, “Who cut your hair? Did you fall asleep?”
I come out of the world that sometimes a frontal assault can be good. Sometimes, you need to take that side as salt. Conversations and understanding, asking great questions, and massaging the way somebody thinks to get you good answers are so important. We call ourselves survivors. I don’t like the term, “I’m a survivor.” I don’t like that, but that’s the word that they use for family members of people who committed suicide.
Isn’t that interesting, too?
Even though girls’ number of suicides is skyrocketing around the country, boys are so much more violent about suicide than girls are. I imagine my son taking his life. He reached that point in school that day where he was like, “Yesterday was horrible, today is even worse, and tomorrow is going to be even worse than today. Nobody’s going to miss me anyway. Why bother?” That’s what suicide is. You’ve got to disrupt that pattern and not allow all those walls to get black. The shade before black is gray. If you can get in that gray world and ask good questions, maybe at some point, you can unblack it.
You can turn it around. That’s such great advice. Tell me. What is Elliot’s tip for finding joy in life?
I’m very fortunate. I remarried several years ago. I’ve been together with a woman for many years. I consider myself blessed that I have a wife that’s my partner here and is interested in me, which is proof that there’s life after divorce. I have friends that have circled the wagons around me and some family members that have been great.
I love what I do. I have several entities. This is one of them. I have a financial company. I don’t like it. I love what I do. I’ve created work to love what I do. Unfortunately, I had to give up ice hockey after that because you can only have so many surgeries. I get to the gym. I like golf. I don’t love golf, but I like going to the gym. If I could lose a couple of pounds on my waist or if you know a good plastic surgeon that could suck it off, then that would be great.
You can change your mindset to say, “I will accept myself for the way I am.”
I’m not quite there, but I appreciate that. I do live with a lot of humility, and that’s not the same thing as being humble. Being humble is good, but at the wrong time, being humble could be a bad thing. With humility, I’m very thankful that I have twins. I’m thankful that I have two stepchildren, a wife, and lots of families. I’m also thankful that I had Jake, the son who’s not been with me, for nineteen years. I always end at the cemetery my conversation with Jake and my conversation with God, whether you believe in a God or not. My conversation with God is, “Thank you for the nineteen years that you gave me Jake. It was too short but longer than some have had it.”
That’s true. That’s beautiful. I understand that. That’s wonderful. The mission of A Brighter Day is to unite stress and depression resources with teens and their parents with the goal of stopping teen suicide. Through your organization, you’re not only addressing the stigma around mental health, but you’re also saving lives.
Through these efforts, you’ve found healing and transformation in your own life. Thank you for the tremendous good A Brighter Day is doing in our world. I thank you from my heart for this informative and incredibly helpful interview for so many people. Here is a loving reminder. Make sure to follow us and like us on social @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If you’re watching on YouTube, be sure to click Subscribe below so you will never miss an episode.
Thank you for having me on.
I’m so happy to have you. As I like to say, to be continued, many blessings, and bye for now. Thank you so much, Elliot.
Your organization is marvelous. I can’t wait to tell lots of people about it. To be continued.
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