The author and her brother Jeff, who died by suicide.

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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My Father's Suicide Shattered My Assumptions About Mental Illness

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On July 9, 1999, I was at my apartment in Yankton, South Dakota. There was a knock on my door, and on the other side was my mother. She looked like she’d seen a ghost. Just by her demeanor, I knew something was terribly wrong. I didn’t know if she didn’t feel well or if it was something worse.

My mother directed me to my couch. She sat next to me, and as soon as she placed her hand on my knee, I knew something tragic had happened.

Then she said it: “Brian, your father has taken his life.”

I could tell she was heartbroken and shaken up. My mother and my father had been divorced for decades, but it was no secret how much they still loved and cared for one another. That was proven by how often they would see each other throughout those decades… on-again and off-again.

In the past, my mother told me and my siblings that my father had always mentioned the option of suicide.

“This time he followed through on his threat, Brian.”

Anyone who didn’t know my mother and who didn’t know how often my father thought of suicide might have thought my mother was being insensitive. But that wasn’t the case. That was just the hard reality of the truth — my father had always threatened to take his own life.

I thought my father was too selfish to do such a thing. I thought he was too narcissistic to take his own life. I couldn’t believe he’d follow through on his threats. No way, not suicide.

In the coming years, I’d realize how my assumptions about suicide stemmed from my own arrogance and how I had no idea about suicide’s reach and devastation.

I figured I could handle this tragedy; I could help my siblings and my father’s siblings plan and make the funeral arrangements. I would ensure my siblings, my cousins and my father’s siblings were all comfortable and doing OK. I was tough, overconfident and completely unprepared for the long and painful road ahead of us.

What really broke me were the uncontrollable, wailing cries of my father’s three sisters and from my own older sister. They clawed at my soul. I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) for more than 15 years to forget those sounds. They mark a loss so deep and profound; words cannot describe it.

I remember looking over the Gulf of Mexico on the way home, that huge and long bridge we had to drive over with only the ocean water surrounding us. I was holding my father’s ashes in the complete darkness. Then it finally happened: a tear rolled down the side of my face. I hadn’t cried at all until that moment.

Suicide doesn’t discriminate. It promises a grand lie — an immediate peace for a soul in pain who will easily be forgotten. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The years of hurt, suffering, second-guessing, the nonstop questions, why there was no note or explanation for us about his death, and doubt that stemmed from my father’s decision are not the legacy he would have wanted or wished upon his children.

The irony is that so many people who have suffered through the pain of someone else’s suicide or have thought about it themselves have stifled their stories the same way.

I miss my father. Even 15 years later I think about him. I used to think those who died by suicide were selfish, were fakes, that they were weak. They gave up on life. They took the easy way out. Again, I was arrogant, and I don’t believe that 15 years later. Working through the pain of my father’s suicide has shown me how little I know and that assumptions are frequently wrong. I’ll never presume to understand the mindset of someone capable of making such a decision, nor will I ever judge that person.

If there’s a possible silver lining of losing my father, it’s that I’ve gained tremendous empathy for people walking through dark times in their lives, for people who experience mental illness like depression, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder or anxiety.

I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened if just one sibling of my father’s, if just one friend of my father’s, if just one of my own siblings, or even if I had been able to reach out to my father in his darkest of times.

The bottom line is that in a world more connected than ever, far too many of those we call our friends, coworkers, congregation members, community leaders, neighbors and colleagues are alone and having trouble. Real relationships are messy, difficult and time-consuming, but they give life so much of its value.

I can’t undo my father’s suicide, but I also won’t allow the stigma of suicide to thrive on my silence. The issues of mental illness and suicide need my continued response, not my continued silence.

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.

Want to end the stigma around mental illness? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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This Hit TV Show's Actors Are Using Their Mega Fanbase to Do Some Good

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Young people have a reputation for being all about selfies, but they’re clearly using technology for more than themselves. They’re also harnessing the power of social media to move the needle in a positive direction.

A group of actors from The CW’s hit show “The 100” have proven this since they came together to help spread the word about The 100 Charity Project, created by actor Devon Bostick and crew member Layne Morgan. Bostick told The Mighty the project’s initial goal was to simply get people to tweet “I’m in” to create a sense of togetherness amongst fans to show support for a different charity each month.

“Since then we’ve raised thousands in donations and hopefully inspired others to fight to better the future in the process,” Bostick said in an email. “The 100 Charity is about unity because we only have one earth and need to start acting like it.”

During offseason from the show, Morgan helped Bostick spearhead this month’s focus on Mental Health awareness. The most recent charity is for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

“Mental illness was ultimately the reason my older sister took her own life several years ago, so it seemed like we couldn’t open up conversation about mental health without also addressing suicide and the lives that mental health struggles can take,” Morgan told The Mighty.

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions — affecting more than 60 million Americans each year, according to Mental Health America.

“Mental health is so important. People’s minds and hearts are what makes them people,” Morgan said. “That part of them has to be protected, saved and cared for just as much as their bodies.”

The cast and crew have drawn connections between the popularity of their sci-fi show and the popularity of awareness toward urgent, real-life issues.

“Dystopian films and novels, apocalyptic stories like ‘The 100’ are incredibly popular right now and that isn’t coming out of nothing,” Morgan said. “It’s coming from a reaction that society is having right now to the realization that we absolutely have to do something, fast.”

Through May 28, you can now buy a custom T-shirt, with all proceeds going to the AFSP. You can follow The 100 Charity’s next project on Twitter.

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

Homepage image of “The 100” cast members — Pictured (L-R): Bob Morley as Bellamy, Marie Avgeropoulos as Octavia and Devon Bostick as Jasper — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW 2014 The CW Network, LLC. 

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My Sister's Suicide Attempt Saved My Life

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10478024_10100702704451823_9039693889588353966_n Growing up my sister Randee and I were not close. We had explosive fights all the time. We fought about everything and anything. No matter how hard our parents tried, we didn’t get along. I, being the oldest, always tried to win and get my way.

I grew up and moved away to college. I came back after graduation and found my first real grownup job. I moved out. I was making it seem like I had everything together. In reality, I’d been keeping secrets from my family. I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in college. I coped with my illness with self mutilation and alcohol and drug abuse. In November 2007, I attempted to take my own life.

That first attempt at suicide was just the beginning of a four-year cycle. I attempted suicide several more times. I ended up in the local inpatient psychiatric wards more than 20 times. Throughout it all, I was so busy focusing on me that I never realized my sister had a growing addiction to drugs and undiagnosed mental health issues.

In May 2011, I was sent to a long-term psychiatric residential facility. I lived there for a year. I’d just about given up on everything. I didn’t care about anyone or anything. I didn’t see a future for myself; I felt like I didn’t have anyone on my side. I was not living any type of productive life. In January 2012 I found myself in an inpatient psychiatric facility after attempting suicide again. While there, my therapist Sheryl came to visit me. She basically told me, “This is your last chance. If you keep hurting yourself you will be sent to the state psychiatric hospital.” I honestly didn’t really care. “Whatever,” I said.

During this stay, I got a phone call from my mom. She told me Randee had attempted suicide. Her attempt was serious, and she would be left with permanent brain damage. I felt an overwhelming anguish. I finally experienced what my loved ones had felt every time I tried to hurt myself. I finally got it. I’d spent all those years focused on myself and my issues; I never saw my sister’s pain.

From that moment on, I decided I was going to live. I was no longer going to hurt myself or my family. I was going to take part in my life again. I was going to get better.  In June 2012, I was released from that facility.

Three years later, Randee and I are doing well in both of our respective recoveries. It hasn’t been an easy road for either of us. However, for the first time in our lives, we’re working together in positive ways. And I honestly believe if my sister hadn’t attempted suicide I would not be here right now with her.

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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.

Want to end the stigma around mental illness? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

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