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An interview with Diana

Diana Doko, Freunde fürs Leben e.v. © Anni Reeh
At WeShape, we are very happy about the cooperation with Freunde fürs Leben e.V.
Since 2001, the non-profit organization has been informing teenagers and young adults about mental health, depression and suicide . In this interview, founder Diana Doko talks about their work and the history of the organization.

Dear Diana please introduce your organization to our readers in a few sentences.

I am Diana Doko and 20 years ago I founded the organization "Freunde fürs Leben" (Friends for Life) with Gerald Schömbs. In addition to my voluntary work for the organization, I work full-time as a freelance PR consultant and university lecturer in PR and marketing. "Freunde fürs Leben" informs the public about depression, mental health and suicide, for early recognition of signals of an illness and cries for help. Because we are convinced that the more people talk about mental health - especially in public - the more likely suicides can be prevented. That's why we provide information online and offline about facts, warning signs and therapeutic opportunities, and make offers of help visible.

How did the idea of your project come about, how did it develop?

In 1998, my brother took his own life at the age of 22. He suffered from depression, which we as a family knew about, but very few of his friends were aware. Two years after my brother's suicide, a colleague and friend, Gerald Schömbs, lost his girlfriend to suicide. In subsequent conversations, we realized that there is so much prejudice, misinformation and stigma around the illness that no one wants to talk about it, and so those affected often feel they can't open up and seek help. That is why Gerald and I founded the association 'Freunde fürs Leben e.V.'.

With a very committed, small team, we have been doing educational work on depression and suicide ever since, in order to get the topics out of the taboo zone, to point out ways to seek help, and thus to prevent suicides. We focus particularly on young people, because they need the tools to understand their sometimes contradictory feelings, to recognize when they or their friends need help, and to address the problems together. Destigmatizing the topic is incredibly important, because it could take away many people's fear of talking about depression. Depression is not contagious - it is a treatable illness.

What drives you every day, what are you passionate about?

With Freunde fürs Leben we've been fighting for years to get the issues of depression and suicide onto the health policy agenda of the German government. Every year in Germany, 10,000 people die by suicide. That is more deaths than from traffic accidents, drug or alcohol abuse and AIDS combined. However, there is still no nationwide awareness campaign on depression, as there has been for years for AIDS, alcohol or drugs. The example of AIDS shows how a taboo topic can be normalized among the broad public, how fears and lack of knowledge can be reduced, and how preventive education about a disease can be provided.

If you had to name in 3 to 4 key words, in which areas you change the world for the better, what would these three words be?

Destigmatization
Removal of taboos
Mental health

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Our vision is an informed society in which mental illness is talked about openly, affected people can access help quickly, young people know about health-promoting factors, and fewer decisions are made to commit suicide.

Thank you for these exciting insights into your important work. We are happy to be able to support you together with our users! If you would like to know more, you can find detailed information here on the website of Freunde fürs Leben e.V.