Story by Dawn Perkins, Editor
Photos by Cade Werner, Contributor
A handwritten sign saying “COMMUNITY MEETING IN BACK” is smacked on a wall at the edge of an alley, leading to a graffitied parking lot. An entrance leads to a table with a sign-up sheet plastered with black Sharpie, layered next to piles of suicide prevention brochures and overdose signs checklists. Young adult residents try to find a spot on the stage. Chattering echoes fill the room.
Members of the HAM ON EVERYTHING scene gathered Saturday for a community meeting at the Echoplex in Los Angeles. They were there to discuss the possible dangers of the partying scene with a suicide and overdose prevention discussion.
The meetings are publicized through the organizers’ individual social media accounts, some with thousands of young followers.
“In that moment of pain and crisis, you want to have somebody to answer.”
Members of the HAMILY (the HAM ON EVERYTHING family), along with addiction psychiatrist Dr. Lauren Walton and paramedic and END OVERDOSE co-founder Theo Krzywicki, came together in support of National Suicide Prevention Week, sharing stories and tips on how to deal with mental health issues, drug overdoses and death.
“We just want to bring awareness to our community about the darkness that lies underneath the whole party scene,” said Brittney Scott, the meeting host.
Scott, also an artist and DJ, began the meetings last year, along with her friends Adam Weiss, Emily Kretzer and Morgan Freed.
“I truly believe the opposite of depression is connection and what all humans seek is connectivity,” said Weiss, 37, a promoter of the nightlife series HAM ON EVERYTHING. “That’s why having a community is so important, and why it’s so dope that we could come together like this outside of a party atmosphere.”
Scott and Weiss say they were compelled to organize these meetings following the overdose of death rapper Lil Peep, a friend of the creators of Community Meeting, who also played at Weiss’ HAM ON EVERYTHING series. His death was caused by an overdose of Xanax and fentanyl last November.
The meeting began by inviting attendees to share their personal stories battling with depression, suicide and the grief of losing loved ones.
Speaker Lindsey Byrnes, a Los Angeles-based professional photographer, is nine years sober. She speaks of her family’s past dealing with her grandmother’s suicide, her recovery, and her high school peers committing suicide.
“Nobody got killed in high school,” said Byrnes. “Everybody killed themselves.”
She says that her upper-class neighborhood was filled with lots of money, and drugs surrounded her peers. She says that there was constant silence about the suicides and drugs in her community.
Byrnes discussed her battle with psychiatric medication throughout her adult life and explains that she is in recovery. She offers herself as a resource for those who need help with mental health issues and recovery.
“It goes so dark so fast,” said Byrnes. “Now, I have people...I found love in recovery...and I found a life worth living that I never dreamed of.”
There was a moment of silence for loved ones and late rappers like Mac Miller and Lil Peep who passed this year from suicide or drug overdoses.
In highlight of National Suicide Prevention Week, Dr. Walton, an addiction psychiatrist and President of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, gave a speech to help the fellow attendees reach out for themselves and to their loved ones who need help with mental health and addiction.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death in ages 10 to 34,” she said. “In the last decade and a half, the rates have gone up 30 percent.”
Walton said that the goal of the AFSP is trying to generate a three-digit phone number in the same group as the emergency number, 911, for suicide prevention.
“In that moment of pain and crisis, you want to have somebody to answer,” said Walton. “Our [AFSP] mission is to save lives.”
Several speakers and attendees told their stories battling with issues similar to depression, anxiety, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, drug and alcohol abuse. Their stories resonated within the audience.
“I came from an extremely abusive family environment,” said speaker Leyla Safair, 39, who is the lead singer of HEARTSREVOLUTION. “When you have that kind of stigma surrounded by you, and when you go out, predators know and I was sexually abused.”
Some audience members cried as her story unfolded.
Safair says she built an ice cream truck bedazzled with Swarovski crystals to help her get over her suicide and depression. After completion, she toured with the Heartschallenger truck across New York.
The organizers enlisted recovery experts like Walton and Krzywicki, who shared what to do in a suspected overdose situation.
Krzywicki, an ex-heroin addict, and current paramedic explained to the audience how to use the prevention drug Naloxone and where to get it. In 2015, Naloxone became available to receive without a prescription in California.
Walton gave advice to remind those struggling with depression and mental health issues. She says that those who are in distress can find the right resources to receive support.
Flyers, hugs and tears were passed around the audience in honor of the support system shared at the meeting.
“My message today is...if you’re struggling or if anybody in your life is struggling, to encourage them to get help,” said Community Meeting contributor Kretzer. “Make sure your friends are okay. Check in with your friends. Check in with yourself.”