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What It Means to Be a Suicide Loss Survivor on 'Survivor Day'

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In the wake of losing our dads to suicide in 2011, we met at a local support group for newly bereaved young adults. In the years since, we’ve bonded over our grief and committed to helping others navigate their journeys as survivors. We wanted to share how our experience as survivors over the past few years has reframed how we perceive and acknowledge International Survivors of Suicide Day in November.

Survivor Day Gives Me Hope — Becky

This marks the sixth year I’ve recognized International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day since facing my father’s untimely passing. “Survivor Day,” as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention calls it, is the one day each year when people affected by suicide loss gather around the world and in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope. Some participate in events or online webinars, while others simply find solace in knowing they aren’t alone. It’s estimated more than 44,000 individuals die by suicide in the United States every year, leaving behind many more.

Becky and her Dad
Becky and her Dad

I remember learning for the first time that such a day existed. I was three months into my grief journey and trying to find my way through the hazy fog of reality that my dad had taken his own life. My mom, brother and I attended an event at an area hospital featuring a variety of speakers in the mental health field. Admittedly, I could hardly concentrate, I was still so overwhelmed by the thought I had a reason to be there. After all, suicide didn’t happen to people “like us.” In hindsight, I don’t even know what that meant, but it didn’t seem to be a topic I needed to worry about in my family. However, as I looked around the room that day, I quickly learned that despite my preconceived notions, suicide knows no “type.” At the time of his death, my dad was a respected 64-year-old judge. He was active in the community, a regular volunteer and a member of more organizations than I can count. My parents were still lovingly married after 30 years. He was also the life of every party, with an infectious laugh and an incredible sense of humor. During times when I felt down in life, my dad was always there to give me a pep talk and work it out. These are many of the reasons why his suicide shocked us. How could such a seemingly happy man give everything up in a split second? Having had years now to meet hundreds of other survivors and gain a better understanding of the factors that may lead someone down the path of suicide, I am more aware than ever that suicide knows no bounds. I’ve shared tears and hugs with survivor parents, siblings, children and friends who have all become part of “the club nobody wants to join.”

As I hear and read stories of each of their loved ones, I am amazed at how jovial, bright and beloved they were. Survivors and those lost span all ages, ethnic backgrounds, geographies, economic classes and religions. This is because depression, anxiety and other mental health struggles that can put individuals at risk for suicide do not discriminate. None of us who lost someone did anything wrong, and neither did our loved ones, which is why society’s stigma around these topics is so hurtful. On International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, I am reminded that even though I may feel alone in my personal grief, I am surrounded by others – including Jessica – who understand how difficult it is to experience a loss of this nature. I am also filled with hope that time will continue to reveal new research and insights into the causes and prevention of suicide so that fewer people are forced into “the club.”

Survivor Day Reminds Me of My Strength — Jessica 

I often speak about my life in two parts: my life before my dad’s suicide and my life after. In an instant, I was forced into “the club” that Becky referred to. I have been a member for nearly five years and I can say that my perception of being a survivor has been altered over the years. Being a survivor means that you have been introduced to a new level of pain. A level of pain that others outside of “the club” will never fully understand. The solid ground beneath you now feels like quick sand. The familiar world around you feels like a foreign place. You question who you are and what this tragedy means about you and your future. It is our own version of mass destruction. Everything we knew to be true no longer seems accurate. This is the sad reality of a loss by suicide. Being a survivor also means that you have been introduced to a new level of strength. A strength that you never knew existed inside of you. It takes strength to get up, get dressed and engage in a world that no longer appears safe or familiar. It takes strength to allow yourself to feel the pain, to allow yourself to break down, to allow yourself to just be. It takes strength to rebuild your life and make sense out of a senseless act. It takes strength to begin again.

Jessica and her Dad
Jessica and her Dad

While I would not have chosen to be a part of “the club” I am thankful for the people I have met along the way. Survivors of a suicide loss are some of the strongest people I have encountered. They are kinder than most, more observant of the world around them, and give more than they receive. Survivors are the definition of resilience. On International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, I am reminded of my own strength, and humbled by the strength of those who have walked alongside me through my journey.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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When My Son Called Me His ‘Savior’

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Editor’s note: The following describes a suicide attempt. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

My Mother’s Day card looked ordinary. Snoopy was on the front. There were flowers and butterflies. I was not expecting anything too sentimental or sappy — after all, I am the mother of boys.

But inside, my 17-year-old had written one simple sentence: “You are more than my mother, you are my savior.” It brought tears to my eyes, a painful lump to my throat and a pang to my heart. He thinks I’m his savior because I prevented his death; but I am not the one who saved him.

On the left shows the front of the card: Charlie Brown and Snoopy sit on a green filed. The text reads, "You're the glue that keeps this family together." On the right shows the inside of the card, which reads, "You're more than my mother you're my savior."

My husband and I began to suspect Peter was suffering from depression in the summer before his senior year of high school. He was becoming increasingly withdrawn and negative. His friends told us he had been talking of dying. We insisted he go to counseling. It was too little, too late; less than a week later our son tried to end his life.

It was the first day of his senior year. There was an excitement in the air. A parade of the senior’s decorated cars made a grand procession to school that morning. The car horns were beeping and the students were waving and whooping. It was going to be a great year!

Peter’s mood turned very dark that evening. It was like the flip of a switch. There was an argument and his anger and hostility escalated in a way that was out of proportion to the events. At the time, I was uneducated about mood disorders. I didn’t know anger, hostility and irritability are sometimes how depression manifests in males. I didn’t know his sudden shift in mood was a sign of a bipolar condition. I thought my son was being an angry, emotional teenager.

When I woke at 4 a.m. I knew something wasn’t right. I felt compelled to check on Peter. I had a thought that kept repeating in my head: “If you wait until morning it will be too late.” I knew, somehow, I just knew, I had to go to him.

He had been bleeding for hours and his bedroom looked like a crime scene. I ran to call 9-1-1 and wake my husband. In the instant that I was gone from his room he jumped out of his window. He broke his back in the fall. The moments and hours that followed were traumatizing. He had two major surgeries and was hospitalized for 12 days.

His resilience and strength of spirit were truly inspiring. He fought through unbearable physical pain and extreme mental anguish to make a full recovery. He returned to school 10 days after his discharge. I can’t imagine the amount of courage it took to walk back into high school with a cervical collar, a back brace and his dominant hand in a cumbersome support. Both wrists were covered with angry red scars and the hallways were full of whispers, but he held his head high and his friends rallied around him. He worked hard and with fierce determination; in school, in physical therapy and in counseling. He graduated and was accepted to college. His scars are the only visible residual effects.

The invisible damage has been harder to heal. It has taken time and professional help, but our family is whole and we are healing. I have devoted everything ounce of my being to help my son. It is his journey, but I’ve been by his side at every turn, every uphill stride, every joyful coast and every fork in the road.

His card told me he appreciates all that I have done for him, but I am not a savior. I am a mother. He saved himself.

Peter at graduation
Peter at graduation.

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.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us the story around a note or card you saved because of its significance. Send a photo of the note or card as well. 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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23 Messages for Anyone Considering Suicide, From People Who've Been There

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According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in America in 2014. This means someone in the U.S. died by suicide every 12.3 minutes that year. But with early intervention, support and treatment, suicide is preventable. If we help those at risk — and make help more accessible for those who need it — we can live in a world where these numbers shrink.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or just needs someone to talk to, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. To learn more about the warning signs of suicide, head here.

For now, hear these messages from members of our Mighty community who’ve been there. We hope their words give you the push to get the help you need and deserve.

Here’s what they want to tell anyone who’s in a dark place:

1. “Although it’s cliché and you may not believe it right now, it really does get better. I promise you won’t regret sticking through it.” — Kristy Hindman-Cook

A quote from Kristy Hindman-Cook that says, "Although it's cliché and you may not believe it right now, it really does get better."

2. “You deserve to give yourself one more try. You deserve to live. You deserve to be.” — Bambi Sears

3. “Open up, let someone in so they can find a way to help you through your tough times. No one deserves to go through life alone.” — Katherine J Palmer

4. “People have different reasons for suicidal thoughts and depression, so there’s no easy solution. All I can say is that tomorrow is a chance to start over. You just have to make it to tomorrow.” — Kelley Robinson

5. “Please reach out. I don’t care how dumb or weak you think you are or sound. Get the help you deserve.” — Morgan Stacy

A quote from Morgan Stacy that says, "Please reach out. I don't care how dumb or weak you think you are or sound. Get the help you deserve."

6. “[Suicide] is not a solution. It doesn’t fix anything.” — April Dominguez

7. “[If you live in the United States], call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — it’s in my speed dial. In my experience, the counselors are very caring and helpful. They’ve talked me out of a crisis many times.” — Debbie Kasuba Hendrix

8. “This world needs you.” — Alicia Nelsen

9. “You are worth it. Even when it’s dark and deep and cold. You are important. Even when you think your light is too dim, someone sees it. And you. You don’t have to go through this alone. I promise.” — Kelly Jo

A quote from Kelly Jo that says, "Even when you think your light is too dim, someone sees it."

10. “Those dark thoughts make your days feel like years and your weeks feel like centuries. But it doesn’t have to always be that way. You can tell someone. You can get help.” — Arielle Smith

11. “Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses need to be treated. I know the darkness seems an eternity and hope is so far gone, but when you ask for help and receive it, life will turn around. I am a Survivor, and you are too.” — Renee Sheridan Birchall

12. “Don’t be ashamed of your suicidal thoughts. They don’t make you a bad person or make you weak. They are just a symptom of a mental disease, just like chest pain is a symptom of heart disease. When we experience symptoms, it’s time to seek help, regardless of the disease. Chest pains don’t make a heart patient weak or bad, and neither do any of your thoughts.” — Jennifer Sladden

A quote from Jennifer Sladden that says, "Don't be ashamed of your suicidal thoughts... They are just a symptom of a mental disease... When we experience symptoms, it's time to seek help."

13. “The people in your life are not better off without you.” — Cary Rice Schwent 

14. “Just make it through that hour — half-hour, 15 minutes, one minute. It’s so hard, but break it down to the best of your abilities to make it through.” —  Katherine Cavaliere

15. “Getting help is easier than the alternative.” — Suzy Ellis

16. “It’s a lie. Your mind lies like an ancient serpent. You are beautiful and worthy and the loss of you would devastate and cripple the hearts of those who love you. Don’t suffer in silence; the liar is counting on you to isolate. Speak up and let people help you. You have purpose on this Earth. Please don’t leave.” — Shell Rioux Hurrell

A quote from Shell Rioux Hurrell that says, "Don't suffer in silence; the liar is counting on you to isolate."

17. “Nobody will understand unless you tell people your story. And if that story saves one more life, then choosing to stay will not have been in vain.” — Douglas Honeywill 

18. “Honestly…I don’t know. But what I’ve found out is that it’s OK to not know. Going slow is better than quitting.” — LeChondra Sapp

19. “There’s a difference between wanting to kill yourself and wanting to kill the part of you that wants you to kill yourself. It’s still hard, but now that I know there’s a difference, I can get much better help when I’m struggling.” — Alison Taylor

A quote from Alison Taylor that says, "There's a difference between wanting to kill yourself and wanting to kill the part of you that wants you to kill yourself."

20. “I don’t know your story, your pain, your bone-deep tiredness, your struggle or your reasons. But I would listen to them all. We’re out here, thousands of us, waiting on helplines, aching for the chance to hold out our hand, hold yours as long as you need it, until you can rest a little, lean a little and believe in possibility of tomorrow.” — Charlene Dewbre

21. “What you’re feeling now is real. It’s not true, but it feels true. Call someone trained to ground you in reality and help you. Call.” — Joel-Sara Taylor

22. “Someday the light will come and it will be more beautiful because you are a survivor.” — Ashley Roenfeldt 

23. “It’s just a thought. Don’t listen.” — Louise Weis
A quote from Louise Weis that says, "It's just a thought. Don't listen."

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.

*Answers have been edited and shortened. 

23 Messages for Anyone Considering Suicide, From People Who've Been There
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Advocates Boycott Amazon Over 'Dangerous' Suicide-Themed Shirts

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Mental health advocates are speaking out against shirts sold on Amazon they say make light of suicide.

Editor’s note: The images and descriptions below may be triggering for some. Suicide prevention resources are at the bottom of this article.

The designs in question are being sold by multiple vendors on the site. One example is a shirt that reads, “Got Suicide?” The other shows someone with a noose around his neck while another figure watches eating popcorn. The text reads, “Suicide Watch.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 9.22.05 AM
Images taken from Amazon.com

“The images on the shirts that Amazon is selling are so harmful because they make light of the very thing we have to change to save lives: complacency. Suicide is preventable, and yet we fail to prevent it more than 40,000 times every year in America,” Mark Henick, a suicide attempt survivor and mental health advocate, told The Mighty in an email. “This scandal haunts the lives of the millions of people who have either had a family member or friend who completed suicide or who themselves have attempted suicide.”

In 2014, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in America.

Henick started a petition and is boycotting the online retailer until the company agrees to take the shirts down.

“This has nothing to do with free speech,” Henick said. “This is dangerous. It can trigger people who have previous exposure to suicide and help pave a pathway toward something that should never be an option.”

Dr. Victor Schwartz, Medical Director of The JED Foundation, agrees messages like these can be dangerous for people who are vulnerable to suicide, and hurtful to those who have experienced losing someone to suicide. “Comedy and humor are valuable and great, but certain topics ought to be off limits. This is the case with suicide,” he said.

Henick also pointed out the shirts are a violation of Amazon’s own policy on restricted products, which includes “products that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views.” It had recently pulled products with the Confederate flag based on these standards.

“There is no defensible position for continuing to promote, sell or even manufacture any product that promotes or makes light of suicide,” Henick said.

Maggie Harder, a 14-year-old who started Liberate Minds, a campaign to stop the stigma associated with mental illness, initially found the shirts while browsing Amazon’s site. She said products like this perpetuate stigma and prevent people from getting help.

“Having these slogans on shirts show that mental illness isn’t something to be taken seriously,” she told The Mighty.

Harder wrote a letter Amazon but hasn’t heard back yet. Amazon also hasn’t responded to The Mighty’s request for comment.

To sign the petition, click here.

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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To the Man Who Almost Jumped in Front of the Subway

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I’m not sure I have words powerful enough or meaningful enough to explain what happened.

At the time, it was a normal day. I had just finished speaking at a local high school and was exhausted. As my speech came and went, I had amazing conversations with the students and the counselors. I found the subway with ease and was reflecting on the day when I had to transfer subway lines. I went down the escalator, looked up and connected eyes with a guy not much older than myself. He looked unassuming, dressed in all black and, frankly, he was kind of cute. Then, I saw how close he was standing to the edge of the platform.

The realization washed over me. He was going to jump.

I held eye contact with him for a while. He smiled at me and moved to the edge of the platform.

His smile was one of relief.

I knew that smile — I’d given it too many times before. It’s misleading; many assume it’s the smile of finally feeling better. But it was a knowing smile. He thought the train was going to take the pain away.

The next thing I knew, I heard the rumble of the approaching subway and my instincts took over. Without realizing it, I had ran to where he was, placed my arm over his chest and pushed him away from the train. All I can remember was his weight against my hand, not realizing someone was there. When the train was in the station, he looked at me. I don’t think I can place the expression, but the closest was probably confusion.

I felt the need to say something.

All I could manage was, “You shouldn’t stand that close to the train, it’ll knock you over.” He nodded and walked into the train. My legs were weak and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I sat in a seat with my brain just repeating: “Did that actually just happen?”

Then I looked up. He was standing there, looking at me again. I looked up with probably with a fake smile, usually reserved for family gatherings. He spoke.

“You know I was trying to jump, right?”

I nodded. Crap. What should I say?

I spit out, “I didn’t want to call you out on it.” Cue internal face palm.

He nodded and said, “Thanks.” I sat there looking up. Looking at this guy, trying to find any words to make this better. My mind was blank. The train stopped and he ran out. Feeling a sudden need to leave, I got off at a stop that wasn’t even close to mine. I stared at my phone, not even knowing who to call. How would they take it? I’ve lived through being suicidal. I’m trained in suicide prevention. Yet, I didn’t do anything I was taught.

I spoke to friends, but no one could understand why I wasn’t celebrating. I did what every person in mental health hopes to. I saved a life, didn’t I? Why on Earth did I feel like crap? They dismissed how I was feeling, and started ranting about what was happening in their lives.

It was the first time in a long time I felt like no one understood my feelings. I spent the next few days feeling heavy and confused. I couldn’t feel anything. I’m usually able to feel music, if nothing else. But it was just words. There was no song for this feeling. No poem. Just confusion as what the heck was happening. I forced smiles and laughter. I tried to act normal. None of it was real.

I reached out to the former program director at mindyourmind. She helped me realize that what I saw was not someone preparing to die, but in the act of dying. That my mind was torturing itself with images of what might have happened…and all the things I could have said. The police that should have been called. The help I should have gotten. Everything that should have happened.

She told me I should write. Write all the things I wish I had said.

So, after probably what is the longest introduction to anything ever, here it is:

“Dear the man in black,

I want to tell you how awesome life can be. But I know you don’t feel that right now. I want you to know I’ve been there. Felt like there was no hope and like change wasn’t possible. I thought I was too crazy, too broken, to be helped. I’ve felt like my problems were too much to bear and the world would be so much better without me. And some days I still feel like this.

I want you to know more than anything that help is out there. Good online and telephone crisis lines are life-saving resources. I want you to know there is something to stay here for. Whether it’s an overarching change you want to see in the world, or the fact that no one will feed your goldfish. People, as much as they suck sometimes, do care about you. I care about you. I want you to find a life that makes you happy. There are amazing groups of people out there who have felt just like you’re feeling right now. And they want to talk to you and support you through this.

I hope my one act made even a little bit of a difference. I hope you know people can care, notice and want to help. I hope you find more people like that in travels, if you don’t already have them. I want you to realize it isn’t you that’s broken — it’s the situation or the illness that drove you to this. Lastly, I sincerely hope the next time you smile, it’s because you realize how awesome you truly are. “

I wrote that in tears, but it does make me feel a little better. And I hope this journey through text can help someone else one day. I know now my training in suicide prevention, if anything, gave me the confidence to move. To intervene. But, please recognize how dangerous what I did was. Please always try and talk to someone if you think there might be a problem.

Every day that passes, I’m getting a little bit of me back. I’m coming to terms with what happened. I’m riding the subway again. I’ve started to feel again. I’ve felt true laughter and happiness again. I’ve had moments where I don’t think about it. The walls I put up when I’m scared are slowly coming down.

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.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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5 Things Not to Say to Someone Who's Suicidal — and What to Say Instead

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All my life I’ve battled severe depression. On numerous occasions I’ve been suicidal. It’s a horrible thing for all involved. Here are some of the most unhelpful (and helpful!) things I’ve been told during these times.

1. Don’t tell me:God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”

First off, you don’t know what my belief system is. Perhaps I don’t believe in God. Or maybe I do, but the pain does feel like more than I can handle. I’m the one dealing with it. I’m the one who has to wake up and face each day. If God dealt me this hand intentionally, it feels like he made a mistake — there are days I truly feel like I can’t deal with it. When you say something like that, it makes me feel ashamed.

Say instead: “I understand you might be thinking of suicideI will do everything in my power to get you the help you need.”

And then actually do it. Make calls to a doctor or my therapist. Take control of an out-of-control situation.

2. Don’t tell me: “Just think of your family. Aren’t your children and spouse enough?”

I love my family with all my heart. When I’m feeling suicidal, I actually think I would be sparing them the pain that is me. Saying something like this makes me feel guilty, but not better.

Say instead: “Your family loves you no matter how you feel inside.”

Talk to me about my family in general – What are the kids into? What do my husband and I enjoy doing together? Remove the guilt and focus on the positives.

3. Don’t tell me: “Things will be different tomorrow.”

You don’t know that — don’t tell me things that sound nice, but aren’t necessarily true. The truth is I might feel 100 times worse tomorrow.

Say instead: “Let’s take this a minute at a time.”

Instead of making false promises, remind me to live just one minute — or one second — at a time. Tell me while you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, you’ll always be there. Offer to sit with me and help pass the time. Let’s watch a movie or some other mind numbing activity. Every minute I stay is a step toward recovery.

4. Don’t tell me: “You’re being selfish.”

Wow. Just, wow. How is that helpful? A person who’s suicidal is in insurmountable pain. If wanting someone to notice me and sit by my side while I fight my inner demons is selfish, then so be it.

Say instead:I want to help you.” 

Tell me I’m not a burden to you or my friends and family. Tell me you’ll be with me every step of the way and really mean it. Ask me what they need.

5. Don’t tell me:Just snap out of it.”

The absolute worst thing to say ever. Depression is a very real medical diagnosis. Would you tell someone with cancer or diabetes to “snap out of it?” Believe me, if “snapping out of it” were a possible solution, I’d do it.

Say instead:I know what you’re going through is real.” 

If you’re feeling suicidal, reach out to friends, family or a doctor — someone to walk on the road to recovery with you. Get help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

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.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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