What If Other Deaths Were Discussed Like Suicide?

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Death is often a difficult subject to discuss, but for many whose lives end with suicide their struggles are misunderstood, ignored or even mocked.

But the staggering statistic is that suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2010, and is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 25-34.

How we discuss suicide matters. When we write off someone’s experiences by thinking them weak or worthless, we ignore the devastating impacts of mental illness and depression which are the real cause behind most suicides.

I made this comic as a man who attempted to end his life in 2010 at the age of 22. My subsequent recovery from injuries as a result of the attempt and depression demonstrates my strength. Trying to end my life had nothing to do with weakness and everything to do with illness – a difference brought clearly to light in this comic.

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If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

To see more from Joshua R Beharry, visit his website Mental Health Point of View or check out his work for HeadsUpGuys.

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I Hate Needles. Here's Why I Still Got a Semicolon Tattoo.

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I don’t like needles. I don’t like the idea of a permanent commitment. I certainly don’t like doing things that make me nervous.

So why would I choose to get a tattoo?

There has been a lot of news lately about the Semicolon Tattoo Project — a moment that encourages people affected by mental health issues to get a tattoo of a semicolon as a daily reminder their story isn’t over.

At first, I thought it was a great idea. It spreads awareness and reduces the stigma about depression and suicide. Sharing your story and picture of your tattoo commemorates how far you’ve come. I really thought the whole idea was quite impressive.

However, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I have never publicly talked about my experience with depression, preferring to tell my story to a close few. I said I was open about it, yet I never really discussed it. I didn’t think it was anyone’s business or that anyone would want to hear a sob story.

But one day I posted a Facebook status about the project, touching briefly on the fact I had experienced depression. I was shocked by the amount of love and support that followed. The generosity and kindness of the people who took time to say nice things to me was overwhelming. I felt like I had opened a new door, allowing people into my life in a way I’d never let them before.

When my cousin saw my post and asked if I would get a semicolon tattoo with her, I knew I had to jump at the offer. I finally understood why so many people had joined the movement and shared their stories. It was liberating without the weight of secrets holding me back.

A semicolon is used when an author could end their sentence but chooses not to. In this case, the author is me; the semicolon is my decision to continue my life. I chose to get the semicolon tattoo because it’s a daily reminder I have a life ahead of me beyond the depression I’ve lived through. It’s a permanent commitment to myself that I will not let depression take over my life. This tattoo is in honor of those who experience depression and to me, it means I’m part of something bigger than myself. I’m part of a community made up of survivors and fighters, people who have learned the value of their life by choosing to live each and every day.

When other people see my tattoo, I want them to know they are not alone. People have depression and come out on the other side. I am living proof. I purposefully put my semicolon on my right wrist because when I shake people’s hands, I want to pass on the legacy of this movement. I want people to talk about their depression and be able to share their stories without fear.

So yes, I still don’t like needles. And yes, the idea of a permanent commitment still scares me. But I’ve gained so much more than what my fears have held me back from. My story could have ended a long time ago. I could have been another tragic statistic. But I’m not, and I’m here. Instead, I have a small print on my wrist that reminds me I’ve let go of feeling unworthy and letting depression run my life. This tattoo is so important to me because it’s a symbol of my story that continues each and every day.

I used to carry the weight of my burdens. Now I carry a semicolon because my story isn’t over.

Follow this journey on Life After Fog.
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This County's Residents Are Displaying Their Portraits to End Mental Illness Stigma

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In the Shingletown Medical Center in Shingletown, California, the faces of those affected by mental health issues are not hiding behind closed doors. Instead, they’re proudly displayed on the center’s walls as part of the Brave Face Portrait Gallery, a photo and storytelling project that uses true stories to fight mental illness stigma.

Steve Keyser, who realized he had bipolar disorder late in his life, is one of those brave faces.

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“I didn’t know if I was going to be racing or sad. I felt like I was at 100 mph while everyone else was at 55,” text under one of his portraits reads. “It caused me to be distant from people because I didn’t think I was fit for human consumption.”

Keyser is one of 20 people featured in the Brave Faces photo displays hanging all over Shasta County as part of the county’s Stand Against Stigma campaign. All subjects are Shasta County residents.

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“The goal of the project is for Shasta County residents to see stories of local people they may recognize – neighbors, classmates, colleagues, etc. – that are destigmatizing and educat[ing] the community about mental health challenges and the nature of recovery,” Marc Dadigan, community education specialist for Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, told The Mighty in an email.

The project has also highlighted those who have lost a loved one to suicideSusan Guiton, whose nephew died by suicide, spoke about dealing with stigma surrounding her nephew’s death.

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“The obituary said he ‘died at home.’ I realized then that suicide was a dirty word,” it reads under her portrait. “We have to stop shoving it under the rug. There are more teenagers contemplating suicide, and the stigma can be a big hurdle.”

Many of the people depicted in the portrait gallery have also been sharing their stories publicly as part of the Brave Faces and Voices project. About 25 speakers have spoken to more than 300 high school classes, church congregations, support groups and community clubs.

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The stories, like Guiton’s, put a face on issues communities are too often silent about, leaving viewers with a message of recovery and hope.

“I think things get better by not being afraid of talking about our wonderful memories of Steven, laughing as a family, crying, and from that you can find hope,” Guiton’s portrait reads.

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To see the other photo series and learn more about the Stand Against Stigma project, visit its website.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

 

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Please Stop Saying 'Committed' Suicide

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author with her brother jeff Before my brother Jeff died by suicide, I never thought about the language used to talk about suicide. Immediately following his death and for a long time after, I was in shock, so the terms used to describe how he died mattered little to me. But as time passes and the shock subsides, I’ve discovered that I bristle each time I hear the expression “committed” suicide. Historically, in the United States and beyond, the act of suicide was deemed a crime. Until as recently as 1963, six states still considered attempted suicide a criminal act. This is so insanely absurd to me that I’m not going to expend any more energy on the history of the topic but if you’re interested, here’s a link.

Thankfully laws have changed, but our language has not. And the residue of shame associated with the committal of a genuine crime remains attached to suicide. My brother did not commit a crime. He resorted to suicide, which he perceived, in his unwell mind, to be the only possible solution to his tremendous suffering. If I was telling you about a friend or loved one who actually did commit a crime, chances are I’d feel at least a little embarrassment or shame on behalf of that person. But I don’t feel even the tiniest bit of shame about how Jeff died. Of course, I wish with every fiber of my being we’d been able to successfully help Jeff and that he was alive today. But shame, nope, I don’t feel that about my brother. I focus on how proud I am of who he was in his life – passionate, thoughtful beyond words, brilliant, determined and braver than most people I know for enduring his pain as long as he did. Yes, Jeff Freeman was a brave, brave man. As is any person who grapples with deep emotional distress day after day, year after year.

So to say that someone “committed” suicide feels offensive to me, and I’m not easily offended. The offense is in the inaccuracy. With that said, I don’t judge people for using this expression – until August 17, 2007, I did the same. But now I don’t. And I humbly ask that you consider the same. When you have occasion to talk about suicide, please try to refer to someone dying by suicide.

By shifting our language around suicide, we have the power to reduce some of the massive shame carried by survivors of suicide. If you feel scared or helpless about what to say to someone who’s lost someone to suicide, take comfort in knowing that, by changing your language about suicide, you’re offering a countercultural act of kindness. It might seem small but the interpersonal and political impact is nothing but huge.

This post originally appeared on Walking 18 Miles in My Brother’s Memory.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Cross-Country Photo Project Shows Suicide Survivors There's Life After Darkness

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Canadian photographer Suzanne Sagmeister has been taking portraits of suicide survivors for over a year. But her latest adventure is taking her across Canada for what she calls a “heart-driven, story-driven project.”

It started with a 25-portrait photo series of both suicide survivors — those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide; and suicide attempt survivors — those who have attempted suicide and survived. The project was unveiled September of last year in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

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Sagmeister presents her portraits of 25 suicide survivors in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

Sagemeister says the topic of suicide has been part of her life as long as she remembers. She herself has been through what she calls a “period of darkness,” and a month before her project was complete, suicide touched her again — her son, Lawson Kons, became her 25th portrait after his father took his own life.

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Sagmeister’s son becomes her 25th portrait.

Now, she’s taking her movement, “Conspiracy of Hope,” to the road. She plans to take 100 total portraits, collecting both images and survivors’ stories. According to her Facebook page, the project’s purpose is to “create conversation about suicide, inspire others and save lives.” Since June 18, she’s traveled about 9,000 km (5592 miles) across Canada. 

To find her subjects, she selected an “ambassador” from each Canadian province — someone she already knew who was a suicide surviver. These survivors used their network to organically find people who might be interested in the project. For some of her subjects, who she calls Architects of Hope,” this is their first time telling their stories. But she says she hasn’t had a hard time getting people to open up. Connecting with her subjects is her top priority.

“People don’t understand the power they hold,” Sagmeister told The Mighty. “But when they’re talking you can see when their eyes light up. I want people to see this and think, ‘Wow, if they overcame that, I can do that.’”

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About 11 people end their lives by suicide in Canada each day, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for all age groups, taking the lives of over 38,000 Americans every year, according to the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

Although Sagmeister has been traveling solo for the past month, her son will be joining her for the last eight days of her trip. Once the journey is finished, the portraits and the stories will be compiled in a book called “Life After Dark,” to be published spring 2016.

“My own story shows that there’s life after dark,” she said. “I’m traveling across Canada sharing the stories of people who have chosen to turn their pain into purpose, to show others there is life after dark.”

She called the project exhausting and rewarding. Through her subjects’ pain is always a message of hope, and it’s this hope that keeps her going.

“People are now holding hands across the nation,” she said. “To me, that’s the visual.”

Editor’s note: This piece has been modified to protect a subject’s privacy.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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I Never Knew a 4-Year-Old Could Be Suicidal

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If someone had told me pre-parenthood a 4-year-old could communicate suicidal thoughts, I wouldn’t have believed them. Years later, with my own newly adopted bundle of joy, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about children and mental illness. 

We were loving parents, protective, careful about media. And yet our child, Mateo, barely out of diapers, was telling us he wanted to die.

“I want to be dead, Mommy,” he’d say. “I want to cut my head off with scissors and die.”

I knew he didn’t entirely understand what death was at 4, who would? But the intention was clear: He was unhappy. And if the thoughts weren’t enough, the actions soon followed. 

He’d try to jump out of the moving car, rolling down the window when the door was locked. He’d run into the busy street on purpose. He’d grab sharp objects and make threatening motions to me or himself. Other strange things were happening, too. He never slept. Ever. It was like his body didn’t need it constantly buzzing and hyper-aware. He had lengthy rages about every little thing and couldn’t be consoled. But mostly, he just stopped smiling.

But what doctor would believe all that? And at 4 years old! We finally found a progressive psychiatrist who diagnosed him with early-onset bipolar disorder. At the time, I didn’t care about labels. I was just happy someone believed there was a real problem and that I wasn’t a drama-queen mom! Later, we found out, compounded with the mental health issue, he has brain damage caused by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Diagnosis in hand, I did research and connected with other parents. Several advised me if my son was unsafe to himself and others, he should go to a psychiatric hospital. I was astounded a place like that would exist for children. What would kids need to go to a mental hospital for? I scoffed at the idea of sending my son to a place like that. 

But things got progressively worse. What finally pushed me over the edge was when he grabbed his 1-year-old sister’s head and shoved it through a window. Thank God she had no injuries. That day, I decided I couldn’t keep him (and my daughter) safe without help, and made the heartbreaking decision to drive to the ER and ask for a psych admission.

The whole experience was surreal. Just getting admitted was two full days of paperwork, explaining the symptoms over and over again, waiting and waiting and waiting in the ER, the whole time choking back my tears. What I really wanted to do was go home and sob into my pillow. I had a son who was clearly sick with mental health issues and I was completely helpless.

Walking away from your child in a hospital is one of the hardest, most unnatural things a parent could do. For the next week, strangers took care of my son bathed him, brushed his teeth, helped him get dressed. Would they make sure he ate enough at breakfast? Would they know what toys he liked to play with? Would they hug him if he was sad? The rules about visitation were strict. I was only allowed to see my baby one hour a day. After taking care of him all day long, for most of his life, I was regulated to only one hour. It was like prison. I couldn’t even tuck him in at night. I’d never gone more than two days (when my mom watched him on my wedding anniversary) without tucking him into bed. I wanted my voice telling him I loved him. I wanted to be the last thing he heard before falling asleep. Not other kids crying, not a random nurse or staff member, not the strange sounds of an unfamiliar building. Me. His mom.

It was a seven-day nightmare. Looking back, I still don’t know how I got through it. In the end, it was the right decision. They put him on medication to help him sleep and moderate his moods. The talks of death and violent behavior stopped. I saw smiles and glimpses of my happy, giggly boy again.

He’s gone to the hospital six more times since then always to alter his medication when he’s being unsafe. It gets easier. It’s still hard leaving your baby in someone else’s hands. I imagine it’ll be that way forever. But when it comes down to it, a mental illness is no different than a medical condition that needs treatment. Would you hesitate to send your diabetic child to the hospital if they needed it? No. The only difference is the stigma.

We’ve shifted from viewing his illness as a sad childhood tragedy to a medical condition that needs treatment. We’ve found Mateo, as well as friends and family, have followed along this path, being objective rather than emotional. Our hope is that as he gets older, he can recognize what he needs and not feel ashamed.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention LifelineHead here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about a moment you had a breakthrough with your child who has a mental illness. What happened that helped you better understand what he or she is going through? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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