It’s a 2 for 1 night (Oh, my!): When the Impacted Family is Military, followed by Peer Specialist = Lived Experience = Military & Civilian: Still Marginalized or Accepted?
@Tcruz76 with Heather Cruz & then @TraceyMedeiros2 Chat with us.
This is the second chat to address #ImpactedFamilyFriends
- (of a person, group, or concept) treated as insignificant or peripheral.
Unpleasant word. Unpleasant feeling.
The aftermath of a catastrophic event – a tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake, tends to bring out the best in humanity. Neighborhoods and entire communities come together as never before. Complete strangers reach out to help each other through the challenging, emotional darkness.
But when the perceived catastrophe is a personal tornado, hurricane or psychological earthquake as the result of a loved one’s suicide attempt or other suicidal/self-harm crisis, there is no outpouring of compassion and support.
You stand alone. Terrified. Silent.
Tom Cruz’s attempt survivor story is not easy to tell, but it is part of his life. On November 3, 2010, his life changed forever. He consistently identifies his wife, Heather (then fiancée), as the reason he is still alive.
Heather never left his side during the crisis. Instead, she sat face-to-face with him.
“She told me how much she loved me, and how we would get through this together no matter how bad this was. For the first time, I believed someone actually cared and loved me in a long time. She convinced me to come with her out of the house.”
Cruz first talked about his story in 2011 on Suicide Prevention Day and never stopped. During most of his speaking engagements, Heather was with him. “She was instrumental in my recovery and ambition to stay in the military,” Cruz said.
Heather and he had such an overwhelming positive response that they decided to share their experience to as many people as possible: military units, military bases, Department of Defense organizations, National Suicide Organizations, the White House, Veterans Affairs, private events, social media events and more.
The couple was invited to many conferences across the U.S. and assisted numerous organizations on Twitter and Facebook by training administrators on what to look for and how to respond to veterans in distress.
“I really do think that we have a huge issue on our hands with the amount of active and veterans taking their lives. We hope that we can bring someone out of the darkness that thought they were alone or the only one to experience a certain issue.”
The couple’s main message in these speaking engagements was to make sure no one is alone and that no one has to get to the point of despair like Cruz.
“Working community outreach I usually work with veterans, and Heather usually works with spouses and children. This is a family problem not just one person’s problem and should be treated as such. We really do believe that it is a national issue with community solutions,” Cruz noted.
Tom, Heather and Holden
Tomas K. Cruz is an Active Duty Master Sergeant in the Unites States Army with over 22 years of service. He has deployed in support of Operation Joint Guardian, Operation Iraqi Freedom and just returned from a six-month deployment. MSG Cruz has lived experience with suicide prevention and awareness as he attempted in 2010 to take his life.
Since his attempt MSG Cruz has become a huge advocate of more awareness and prevention for Veterans. He has taken his skills to social media where he assisted in pioneering two organizations to identify and assist Veterans with mental health issues, suicidal ideations, relationship issues, financial concerns and other Veteran specific issues. With his own recovery breaking the stigma within the military on career status, family life and security clearance myths he has pushed to bring holistic means to Veterans to the road of recovery.
MSG Cruz has been widely sought by military units, military bases, DoD organizations, National Suicide Organizations and White House for his expertise on Veterans issues and social media. MSG Cruz is Master Resilience Trained Level One, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Trainer, Question, Persuade, Refer trained, Army Suicide Intervention SI trainer. He is also the Program Director for Suicide and Awareness with Veterans Counseling Veterans, advisor to Animal Rescue & Veteran Support Services, panel member of Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research with University of South Florida, subject matter expert with White House and Office of the Surgeon General. MSG Cruz received the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) 2017 Voice Award Consumer/Peer/Family Leadership Award for his work to ensure America’s military and veteran communities have access to the mental health and substance use treatment and services they deserve.
Heather Cruz also got involved in suicide prevention for veterans and educates both spouses and veterans. She has completed the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), Questions, and Persuade and Refer online (QPR) and Crisis Intervention/Mental Health Training through Mid-Continent University. She has facilitated monthly discussions with the Monthly Military Caregiver Virtual Peer Forum via Skype with the Pentagon. Over the past six years, she was involved in multiple organizations and helped create two organizations that deal with the social media realm, particularly on Facebook.
Tom and Heather are active members of the American Association of Suicidology’s Impacted Family & Friends Committee.
Please join us to hear more about their incredible journey.
Part 2! Peer Specialist – Tom Cruz & Tracey Pacheco Medeiros revisit their workshop conversation from #AAS18 in Washington, D.C. – except Tracey was in D.C., Tom was in Belgium. So he beamed in via Facebook Live.
Peer Specialist = Lived Experience = Military & Civilian: Still Marginalized or Accepted?
Tom Cruz & Tracey Pacheco Medeiros
Advocates for incorporating a peer to peer component into all areas of wellness & recovery have been shouting from the rooftops for decades, but have we in suicide prevention been listening on both the military and civilian fronts?
Is utilizing peer specialists to help prevent suicide viewed as different from, and less acceptable than with addiction recovery?
Is it possible that many in the field of prevention still misunderstand the scope and purpose of the certified peer specialist within mental health support resources and specifically suicide prevention? Is the push back from clinicians fear-driven that a Certified Peer Specialist will “take over” with clients/consumers viewed as peers?
It’s important for other professionals to understand how and why the peer specialist is there. Primarily, because they really do know how the client, patient, consumer does feel. Peer specialists who are suicide attempt survivors or survivors of another form of suicidal crisis have lived this experience. More importantly, they are living, powerful examples of hope – that no matter how dark the moment, there can be a fulfilling life after an attempt or other mental health crisis.
Tom will be coming from the military perspective and will address the importance of peer to peer among military culture, among the Veteran community on social media, the good and bad aspects of peer to peer on social media, and peer to peer benefits within communities as a whole.
From the civilian perspective, Tracey will also note the benefits from the point of view of how having already walked that healing path offers the peer specialist a unique opportunity to share what that was like and how the peer specialist found the experiences helpful to emotional wellness. She will also address the inconsistent reception received from other professional staff within the mental health community in areas of co-occurring disorders and on a crisis response unit.
“I often feel like the ‘token’ peer specialist who is tolerated on site, but not seen as an equally valued member of the team. And if I seek a promotion as a team leader or even assistant team leader, I will no longer be allowed to interact as a peer specialist.”
Tracey Pacheco Medeiros a suicide attempt survivor who loves motorcycles and Minions. As a certified peer specialist, she shares her lived experience with those who are voluntarily admitted to a crisis response unit in southeastern MA. An avid gamer, public speaker, and youth advocate, Tracey is also the co-author of a self-published, conversational memoir, Embracing Imperfection, the healing journey of a suicide attempt survivor that she dedicated to teens. Tracey co-developed and facilitates a monthly wellness check workshop series that brings attempt and loss survivors further along the healing path to the same table. An AAS member, she was awarded 3rd place in the 2017 Paul Quinnett Essay Contest with her “Wicked Awesome Wish List.”
Tracey is an active member of the American Association of Suicidology’s
Impacted Family & Friends Committee