DR1VEN is what a suicide prevention movement on social media might look like
“I’ll talk to you soon.”
Those were the last words Eric Zink of La Palma heard his father, Dr. Barrett Zink, utter over the phone from Charlotte, Mich., where he had served as a family physician for 30 years.
On Aug. 5, 2017, Barrett Zink was found dead in his car, parked on a desolate road.
“When my brother called in the middle of the night and told me my dad had died, I thought it was a heart attack,” said Eric Zink, 38. “But, when he told me it was suicide, I was shocked.”
It wasn’t the first time Zink had gotten that phone call.
On Aug. 27, 2015 — two years before his father committed suicide — Eric Zink’s 33-year-old wife, Brandy, killed herself in a hotel room.
She left three notes — one to God, another to her husband and a third one to her mother.
And last week, on the first anniversary of his father’s death, Zink posted his wife’s suicide notes — scrawled on pieces of notepad paper — on his Youtube channel.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “It was very raw. But people reacted to it. And they reached out to me.”
That’s really Zink’s hope. To reach that someone sitting in a car on a lonely road or in an obscure hotel room like his wife, who wrote in one of her suicide notes that she didn’t “have a friend in the world.”
On a mission
Zink has garnered 1,900 followers on his Twitter account in just over three months. The account is named after a new company he started in February — DR1VEN Industries. His Facebook group titled “Warriors of the Day” picked up 300 members in just a month. The group is closed so members can freely share their experiences.
He also posts a YouTube video each morning with a message for those who may be grappling with mental illness, addiction or suicidal thoughts.
He posts his cell phone number and personal email on social media. He encourages anyone who feels alone or helpless to call him.
And they do.
He has followers all over the United States and as far away as Egypt, the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Zink is very particular about telling people he’s not a doctor or a psychologist. He is careful not to dispense medical advice, he says. But, he does tell the people who call him that he’s there to listen to them.
“The whole purpose of what I’m doing is to make sure no one feels alone,” he said.
A national crisis
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates rose 25.4 percent across the United States from 1999 to 2016.
California saw a 14.8 percent increase during that period.
Southern California schools have recently seen a spate of suicides as well. Orange County high schools saw a series of students killing themselves over academic pressures early this year.
On Aug. 21, the Chaffey Joint Union High School District in Ontario formed a mental health task force after four students — three high school students and an elementary school pupil — committed suicide just since the start of the school year.
The topics of mental health and suicide prevention have remained in the spotlight nationwide and widely discussed after celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade committed suicide in June within three days of each other.
Talking to other people with similar experiences can be the first step when it comes to getting help, said Kita S. Curry, president and CEO of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, which serves about 120,000 children and adults from 11 locations and 100 schools throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties each year.
“They understand, and if they are further along in the journey of healing, they can offer hope,” she said.
Curry said her organization uses these individuals, after they have undergone extensive training, to answer crisis line calls and educate the community about suicide prevention.
Zink admits he has had no formal training, but says he is willing to listen to those who might have no one else to talk to.
He juggles his day job as an RV salesman with his passion to help others avoid the gruesome end his loved ones met with, and it’s helped him heal.
Zink has been fighting with his own demons, too. He struggles with ADHD and had been only three weeks sober when his father killed himself.
“I’ve been sober now, a year and 28 days,” he said. “And one of the reasons I didn’t go out and get wasted after my dad died is because of this motivation to help others who are struggling with these issues.”
Recently, he got a call from a woman in Egypt, who is depressed and cut her upper arm so she could hide it under her clothes.
“She couldn’t talk to her family,” he said, explaining that mental health issues are stigmatized or simply not taken seriously in many countries. “So, she reached out to me, and we talked.”
Zink hopes he can help individuals in a way a suicide hotline may not be able to help.
“You call the hotline and you are put on hold for more than one minute with elevator music,” he said. “When you’re thinking about killing yourself, you don’t have that kind of time.”
Zink’s experience — his personal loss and his battle with addiction — is what draws the online community to him, said Kelly Walker of Norwalk, who volunteers to help the homeless in her city and assists Zink with his work.
Recently, she posted a video of herself having a full-blown anxiety attack on Zink’s website.
“Many people reacted to that video,” she said. “I could see the number of people who are hurting and struggling with these issues. Some of the words I saw used over and over again were ’embarrassed’ and ‘ashamed.’ I shared that raw moment to show people that this is life and this is what you go through.”
Zink’s strength lies in his willingness and availability to talk to those in distress at a moment’s notice, Walker said.
“When you are struggling that last thing you need is to be put on hold only to be given a list of resources,” she said.
Zink says he has probably shared his story more than 1,000 times. He’s ready to do it many more times.
“If it will help just one person not go through the crap I went through, it would be totally worth it,” Zink said.
He hopes his company could become a leader in spreading awareness about mental illness, mental health stigma, suicide prevention and addiction. While he initially did this work in private, he decided to go public earlier this year.
Zink says his employer has been supportive and several co-workers have reached out to him about addiction, which he says is common in his industry.
In fact, Zink now wears it all on his sleeve, in a manner of speaking.
His life’s message is now tattooed on his right arm — the image of a semi-colon with the words: “Your story isn’t over yet.”