While somewhat reticent to talk about himself, volunteer coordinator Brad Chapin passionately shares his vision for how society could be more inclusive.
“If I don’t fight for my life and freedom to be who we are and embrace that, then what exactly is the point?” Brad says about helping his callers. “At the point of suicidal breakdown or mental crisis, one must decide how they are going to live their authentic life. And there may be no other option but to come out.”
At San Francisco Suicide Prevention, Chapin trains and supervises 150 volunteers to answer phones to people in suicidal crisis. ”Brad’s strength-based leadership instills in our volunteers the confidence to weather the uncertainty of our Crisis Line. I feel lucky to call him a coworker,” said Megan W., SFSP Program Assistant.
While statistics show that the LGBTQIA+ community is at higher risk for suicide, it’s no surprise how the work complements his gay rights and activism involvement. In his off-hours from SFSP, he helps lead the charge with the HIV Caucus, Harvey Milk Democratic Club, which members fondly refer to as the Milk Club. Current campaigns include securing funding for treatment and research for sexually transmitted infections and supporting issues such as “Housing is health care.” Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California in 1978 before he was assassinated.
“I love the concept of competing realities,” Brad said. “I believe that activism is the opposite of peace. It is a response in anger, and it is destabilizing for the person doing it who feels threatened and forced to take on the challenge.”
Brad’s former political mentor is Harry Britt, who ran the Milk Club. Brad and Harry strategized together for policy changes; Brad researched, wrote speeches for Harry, and helped him physically toward the end of his life. At Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, a mural honoring their friendship can be seen featuring Harry, Brad and Brad’s dog Blanche. The sweet chihuahua mix spreads cheers as she travels with Brad almost everywhere.
The outgoing Brad is known to dye his hair pink, has a rainbow pride flag draped around his call center seat, and a stack of psychology therapy books at the ready.
Coworker Megan, describes him as “a weird, fun, and incredibly dedicated Volunteer Coordinator. Even our most hot-tempered hotline callers concede that they feel calmer and more grounded after a supportive chat with Brad.” The sentiment has even been echoed many a time on their hotline complaint line!
Brad’s passion for helping others through mental health crises goes back to his teen years. After high school, Brad got involved with the mental health hotline Queer Nebraska Youth Network. He says it was inspiring being able to help 11-year-old kids who were calling in with challenges. Brad grew involved with PFLAG in greater Omaha, Nebraska. PFLAG is the first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, parents and families, and allies.
Brad went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and LGBT studies at the University of Nebraska. Later, Brad studied clinical psychology in graduate school in Boston. Brad’s work at SFSP gives him great pride for providing a space for people to have conversations that can change their trajectory in a positive direction.
In his personal life, radical acceptance is one concept that ultimately helped radicalize Brad into confronting his own family. He came out to his family at the end of high school and was met with both support and antagonism. Growing up with an alcoholic father also made him curious about why people go through their struggles. Rather than reacting angrily toward family members who could not handle him, he was curious about why they felt this way and wanted to understand them – perhaps a foreshadowing of his career to follow.
Sometimes there may be the perception that working at a Suicide Hotline would be depressing, but Brad says that the opposite is true. “I love the challenge, the chaos, being around people, with the most human, healing behavior. Everyone here is living by the mission of supporting people.”
For more information about Felton’s San Francisco Suicide Prevention (SFSP) Program, please visit sfsuicide.org. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call SFSP’s 24/7 Crisis Hotline at (415) 781-0500.
About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.
Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult, and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties. Felton’s social services and programs utilize the latest scientific research, combining cultural sensitivity, deep respect for client and staff, and a commitment to social justice.
Felton is the oldest non-sectarian and nonprofit social services provider in the City and County of San Francisco. For over a century, Felton Institute has been at the forefront of social service innovation, pioneering new approaches to meet underserved populations’ emerging needs. At the heart of our work is the belief that individuals and families in crisis must have access to services and resources to help them build on their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. www.felton.org