I have been to 14 funerals since turning 17 years old. Fourteen people who were friends, co-workers, crushes, debate partners, school mates and amazing members of the world’s community. Fourteen people whose families and friends I sat next to at funeral services who I heard whisper, “If I would have known,” “How could I miss the signs?” and the awful, “How could they do this to us?”


As the first of my friends took their lives and I attended their funerals, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I wondered what I was missing, what I wasn’t doing right. Was it because I didn’t answer that 4 a.m. Facebook message? Was it because I wasn’t open with them about my own struggle? Was it because I didn’t try hard enough somehow? Didn’t love enough? Wasn’t there enough? I beat myself up for a while. I blamed myself and tortured myself. I sought to better understand mental health, suicide and what resources existed to support people feeling suicidal. I made it my mission to take action, and I read, spoke, researched, met, supported and loved the best I could. I learned about hospitals, communities, education systems, treatments, interventions and technology. I found people with the word “doctor” in front of their name and talked their ears off for hours. I thought if I somehow understood the world that the professionals worked in, I could help my friends get treatment within it. I enrolled in and attended all the suicide prevention and mental health training I could find. I wanted to make sure if people talked to me about suicide, I would feel ready to help them.

Fast-forward to today: I still find myself standing at the crossroads in people’s lives, as the more I’ve become involved in this mission, the more people I see at the crux of their struggle. I find myself encouraging them to seek help and try for a happier life. That is my goal, and what I truly wish for them to find. I do my best to help them find the resources to get there, or direct them to where they can find this information. But while I am directing people towards this goal, at the same time, I find myself scared of, concerned about and oftentimes angry about the system and the resources I am leading them towards.


What am I scared of, concerned about, and oftentimes angry about? There are a few things.

1. The mental health system is basically inaccessible.

Despite the fact that the people who were lost to suicide in my life knew about the services and that many of them even worked in the mental health system, accessing services when they (or anyone else) need them is nearly impossible. Appropriate services have wait lists, and emergency services are not trained to properly deal with suicidal people. I’ve heard of people who are suicidal being sent away from emergency departments due to lack of resources or beds. When they are admitted, oftentimes I hear from people their time in hospitals was more traumatic. I have not heard any word or progress on a solution to this.

2. The people who were supposed to help me still don’t think suicide is a real issue (e.g. hospitals and schools).

“You are just seeking attention,” “You did this to yourself, why should I help you?” “I think suicide is such a selfish thing.” “You just need to pick yourself up and be happy.” “You know how much other students suffer? Get over yourself” These quotes (and many more) represent all the things doctors and nurses have said to me while I was suicidal. My friends and schoolmates used to make fun of the crisis lines and mental health talks we had at school. As someone who was suffering and asking for help, hearing these things just made me more suicidal, and it is still happening in our system despite more research and more education. People who hold these beliefs are still talking to our at-risk youth.

3. Young people around me keep dying, despite the progress that has been made.

One of the scariest things about this journey is to learn we still have a long way to go to understanding and preventing suicide. Even with all the discussion of mental health and suicide over the last few years, the suicide rate has increased by 60 percent worldwide in the last 45 years. Rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk in a third of all countries. While research is ongoing, there is clearly something we are missing, and it scares me this will continue until we figure out what that missing piece is and how we can help. And then I worry if our system is too broken to even adjust itself in a real way to new information that comes in.

4. We put all our eggs in one basket.

Where resources do exist, I’ve noticed we tend to put the most resources behind one model or solution. The truth is that people who live with mental health issues are as diverse as the rest of the population. One answer does not work for everyone. We need to have multiple therapy types, models and solutions funded to better accommodate people’s needs. One solution will not fit all, and this tendency to try to find that “one solution” worries me.

5. We don’t have money to solve this problem.

Worldwide, mental health only gets an average of 11 percent of the health care budget in Canada, and 6 percent in the United States. That’s not enough resources to go around to make an impact.

When you look at all the above concerns, there doesn’t seem to be a viable solution in sight, and it keeps me up at night thinking about when the real support will come. Each of these concerns together makes me understand why so many young people are still dying, and it leaves me really mad. I know that people living with mental health issues often struggle so much before asking for help. They see asking for help as the end of a long battle, but in reality, it ends up being the start of a much bigger and sometimes even more painful struggle working through the system, trying to get support when mental health concerns don’t wait around for the system to meet an individual’s needs. Mental health and suicidal thoughts — the same as many physical illnesses — need immediate and appropriate care, and this kind of care is becoming harder and more complicated to access as the years go by. Here is the thing: Things will only get better if we talk about suicide, if we demand more innovation from our mental health experts and governments, if we properly and appropriately fund it and if we let people know we care about it. Innovation is stagnating and while the politics play out, people are still dying.

I’ve been to 14 funerals. Don’t you think that’s enough?

(Thanks to my awesome friend Cheryl for helping me create this piece after I had been hitting my head against it for weeks. Check her out 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.


People tell me that I am brave. I’m really not. They tell me that it takes courage to share my story, my loss with others. I don’t know. For me, there is no other way to wear this new aspect of self that is forever ingrained in me. I am a survivor of suicide loss. I didn’t ask for any of this and in truth, I would go back in an instant to the me that I was before: before my father’s suicide, before I became a survivor, before life as I knew it was forever altered. But I can’t.

Being a survivor feels like trying to fit into shoes that are two sizes too small or clothes that are 10 sizes too big. It’s uncomfortable. It doesn’t fit, and it most certainly doesn’t feel right. I don’t yet recognize this part of myself. Most days I don’t really want to. But I know that I must slowly grow into this new moniker, because it is my truth.

Eleven months ago, my father took his life. I know he was ashamed of battling anxiety and depression and that he couldn’t simply pull himself up and out of the depths of his despair. It made him feel weak. It made him afraid. And knowing that he died feeling this way is what breaks my heart the most, because he wasn’t weak. He was fighting an illness. Only his illness carried with it the added weight of stigma, judgement and shame. And that weight only brought him deeper into that dark place from which he saw no escape.

No, I’m not brave. I’m just trying to figure out how to live with my loss. And I know that I can’t wear it, I can’t truly own this truth, if I try to hide it. Where it fits into my world and sense of self, I am still trying to figure out. But I know I will not layer it with shame. And I know I will not allow others to judge my father. And more than anything, I know I want this tragic imprint that is now a part of my family story, to matter. I won’t cloak it in silence. I want to use it to shine a light on the issues of suicide and mental illness. I want it to humanize this loss so that people can see we were an ordinary family, and it happened to us. I want them to know my father in life, not to simply allow him to be defined by his death.


I am a survivor of suicide loss. I never thought that would be a part of my identity. But if I must wear it, I choose to do it honestly and without shame. I choose to wear my heart upon my sleeve, in all of its brokenness. I choose to be a truth-teller, even if some days I have only the strength to speak in a whisper. I choose to let my tears melt down the barriers that keep us from saying the word suicide. I choose not to let that word relegate me to grieve in isolation. I choose to give meaning to my father’s death. Does that make me brave? I don’t know. But whatever it makes me, I will own it with all of the courage I can muster.

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.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. 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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Ten years into my last mental health recovery cycle, on a fine early spring day, my mind quickly and suddenly turned dark. I called my primary care doctor to tell her I was feeling suicidal. Since it had been so long since I had actually needed a mental health support team and my maintenance meds were prescribed by my doctor, she asked that I go immediately to the emergency room for an assessment.

I walked into the ER as a weepy, sobbing mess and told the front desk staff why I was there. They treated me quite coldly, and I was told to wait at the nurse’s station behind them for security to arrive; it was explained to me it was a hospital policy implemented for my own safety. The non-verbal security guard and led me to a room and merely stood outside the door, guarding me as though I was a dangerous criminal. It confused me. I came to the ER on my own accord for help during a critical time of need. I needed help not a security escort. I was sick, just like everyone else in the ER.

When my husband arrived, he was worried about me. He had only known me when I was mentally well, and he, too, questioned the need for the security officer. After a long wait, we were “escorted” to the ER’s psychiatric triage area, located in the basement of the hospital. Set up like a cold war bunker, there was a large observation window stretching the expanse of the adjacent patient bays. The area was so cold and sterile, with white cement walls and white linoleum floors and horrible, white fluorescent lights. I felt like I was being incarcerated, and my husband commented the same. He closed the hospital curtain to try to soften the harshness surrounding us.

On the other side of the curtain, I could hear the only other psych triage patient having a descriptive conversation about grueling horror movies they had seen with the security guard. My mind was so dark, their words made me nauseous to the point of nearly vomiting. I got up in my see-through hospital johnny and politely asked for them to change the subject, but they just sniggered at me in return. After a long wait, the psych triage team crowded into my treatment space, clinically asking me question upon question. Then they left for another long period of time. When they returned they told me to go home and come back in the morning for a partial program. I was handed a map of the expansive hospital campus, circled with patient registration in one building and the partial program in another. Upon leaving, I vowed to myself and my husband wholeheartedly agreed that I will never seek psychiatric help from any hospital emergency room again.


The next time I had a mental health crisis (five years later), I went directly to a psychiatric hospital that has emergency, on-site assessment. My experience there was very different. I was treated with compassion; the admitting staff reassured me I made the best decision to come and seek help. I was told the doctor would see me as soon as possible, but while I was waiting, “Would you like a blanket? Are you hungry? We have sandwiches and snacks and beverages, just let us know what we can get for you.” There was a nearby phone I could use at no charge and plenty of magazines and a television for distraction. On occasion, a hospital security guard would appear, but only to talk to staff briefly and then left quietly. The psychiatrist met with me in a private room off of the waiting area, assuring me I would get all the help I needed – and I did. When my husband arrived, I was lying down in a pull-out bed which was the couch that I was first assessed in. We had the privacy we needed to talk about my admission and the logistics of me being in the hospital for some time, how he would tell our young children that I was OK but needed to get well, and who he should connect with while I was there (i.e. my employer and family members). The staff reached out to my husband and inquired if he had any questions or concerns, which was so appreciated by the both of us.

These are two examples of the patient “care” I have received during a psychiatric emergency. I think it’s obvious which example is the more compassionate way to help someone during a mental health crisis.

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.

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm or thoughts of suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Here’s a question you’ve probably never asked yourself before: Am I being flippant about suicide?

“None of my friends are around to hang out today, I just want to kill myself.”
“When he didn’t text back I totally had a panic attack!”
“I’m so depressed. This class is so dull, I just want to cut myself…”

Any of these sound familiar? I think at some point we have all said something similar. In fact, I hold my hand up as guilty. But do we really realize exactly what we are saying? Let’s take a look at these.

“Your hair looks like you have cancer.”
“I didn’t want to get up today, I was like totally paraplegic.”
“Two periods of math class is like having chemotherapy!”

So what makes other major health condition comparisons offensive and mental health comparisons OK? Point is, neither are acceptable. Mental health is a legitimate illness. True, pretty much anything you say will offend someone somewhere; this isn’t about squashing the freedom to express yourself. The point is just taking a moment to realize that if you do use phrases associated with mental health in a flippant way, chances are you’re hurting a lot more people than you may realize.

Why is it offensive? Using a diagnosable clinical condition as an exaggeration of an everyday feeling trivializes the word and gives it less integrity. In other words, the more you use it flippantly, the less serious it becomes. As a result, everyone has their own meanings and links attached to words such as “depressed” or “suicidal,”  often times nothing close to accurate to describing the genuine condition. Consequently an appearance of a genuine case of depression, for example, is taken with a pinch of salt. This can be terribly frustrating for the one suffering from the condition and in some cases can even make their disease worse. Some can ultimately start doubting the legitimacy of their own illness. Language is an extremely powerful tool, and often people are unaware of its impact on physical and mental outcomes.


In some more extreme cases, a flippant comment can be turned into a triggering experience for an individual. According to pyschcentral.com, a trigger is “something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma. Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback.”  Triggers are more commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder but can actually be applied to anybody with a mental health condition.

When I was a teenager I was at a local music gig and a band came on and started to play a rather somber song. A friend of mine started to sway along in time to the first verse and repeated the words “Cut yourself, cut yourself!” Many people around her laughed at the joke. But looking back, it was a terrible thing for her to say. Someone trying to stop self-harming, for example, can be triggered easily by the mere mention of it, let alone a comedic jape towards the act. The Internet in particular is a cesspool for this kind of language; you need only glance at the comment section on YouTube to read some pretty horrendous things. The same goes for people considering suicide. Turning their struggles into a joke both offends and trivializes a terrible experience. As a result, the person suffering often is less likely to open up about their pain.

But when someone utters a phrase similar to those mentioned at the start, remember not to judge them too harshly. Chances are they have no idea of the impact of what they are saying. This is because most of the time they are oblivious to how their language can affect people with mental illnesses. Most of the time, it’s not that they’re being malicious, it’s just they simply don’t understand. Of course there are some exceptions to this rule, but I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt!

When phrases like those are used, those who do know better should not feel obligated to let the comments wash over and dismiss that person as an a**hole. Educate them. Let them know why what they said was offensive. Mental illness is often invisible, there’s no neon flashing arrow saying “I have depression,” so people tend not to hold back on flippant statements. This is why it’s even more critical to interject offhand comments from unaware individuals. Most will probably thank you in the long run for being honest and letting them know their comment wasn’t well-received.

So next time you’re in a dreadfully boring class or meeting and feel like expressing just how “depressed” this makes you feel or want to let everyone know how the new Coldplay song just makes you want to cut yourself, please stop. Consider that at least one in four of the people sitting with you will have clinical depression within the next few years of their life. Don’t make it less valid for them.

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.

I was sitting in my algebra class, surrounded by 25 confused 16-year-olds working our way through an endless series of math problems. Stuck on one I couldn’t resolve, I went up to my teacher’s desk for help.

“Excuse me,” I said, “I can’t figure this one out.” He showed me what I was missing and then asked if I knew where the school choir concert was going to be – he knew I was a member. I told him the name of the church, unaware our conversation was about to go drastically wrong.

He squinted – thinking hard – then found what he was trying to remember. He smirked and asked, “That guy who killed himself – didn’t he go to church there?” I felt like I had been physically struck and a prickly cold feeling washed over my whole body. “Um, I’m sorry?” I said, wishing that he would somehow take it back or change the subject. No such luck. He went on, “You know, that guy who committed suicide a few years ago? I think he went to that church.” I felt like the entire class was staring at me, like the clock had stopped ticking, like the room was spinning around the two of us. The only thing I could think of to say was the truth.

“That was my dad,” I said, looking at the floor, wishing it would open up and swallow me whole. “Oh – my God,” he stammered, “I didn’t know that was your father.” I looked him right in the eye and said, “Yes. Yes, sir it was.”

I turned around and went back to my desk. My arms and legs were shaking and my face was on fire. What had just happened? How did my teacher possibly know about my dad’s suicide? How had he happened to bring it up to me, of all people? And why was he smirking? Why was he talking about it as if it were some dirty secret or a criminal act? Fighting back tears, I tried to focus on the numbers on the page in front of me. But the 2s and 4s and 9s swirled together in a black and white blur.


When I got home from school that afternoon I told my mom, who told my guidance counselor, who called for the three of us to meet with my teacher. He apologized, saying he had heard about it from his wife who taught at the elementary school my sister attended when my dad died. The atmosphere was tense – my mom was furious, my teacher was sheepish and I was mortified. It was clear that he had been reprimanded. He said he was very sorry. That he didn’t mean to hurt me.

But he did. He did hurt me. He hurt me and shamed me and made me feel like something was wrong with my dad and like something was wrong with me. Even at the time I knew his behavior was totally inappropriate – no teacher should talk to a student that way – especially about such a sensitive topic. It’s safe to say he had more than a few things to learn about creating a healthy educational environment.

While my interaction with him was the most extreme, it certainly wasn’t the only uncomfortable conversation I’ve had about my father’s death. Suicide is hard to talk about and even harder to understand. When I was younger, I was often tempted to lie and pretend my dad didn’t kill himself just to avoid hearing insensitive and sometimes offensive remarks. I dreaded mentioning suicide in conversation and learned how to speed things up and change lanes when I did have to say the “s” word out loud. I was a traumatized kid surrounded by too many adults who didn’t know what to say or what to ask.

I’ve never forgotten the lesson my math teacher taught me: that we need to learn how to talk about suicide. Here are a few numbers he probably didn’t know, but should: suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and claims more than 41,000 lives every year. I was not the only kid who lost a parent. My mom was not the only person who lost a spouse. And for each person who dies by suicide it is estimated that 25 more have made an attempt. Hundreds of thousands of children and teens and adults have lived through suicide attempts and suicide loss. One in five adults and one in five teens in the U.S. will experience a mental health issue in any given year. I would tell my teacher to do the math — you talk to people every day who have lived through depression or suicide or both. Stop shaming us and start understanding us. It’s time to become aware.

Making it through hundreds of uncomfortable conversations about suicide and mental illness has transformed me from a frightened kid into an adult who is not afraid to talk about difficult things. Today, I can breathe through the awkward pause after saying the “s” word. I don’t take on the shame another’s remarks may imply. If something offends me, I gently point out a kinder way to talk about suicide – one that preserves the dignity and humanity of the person who has died. And I don’t feel the urge to cover up my story to make it less painful or more comfortable for somebody else. Because that isn’t fair to me. After all I have been through, I deserve to honor the pain I’ve lived by being as open and honest as I need to be.

Talking about suicide helps me heal, and I believe it also educates others. Not about the statistics on mental illness, but on the reality that suicide loss and mental illness impact everyday people like you and like me. It challenges the age-old stigma that we unconsciously hold about “committing suicide.” Maybe my interaction with my teacher helped him to become more open and more sensitive. Maybe not. Although he hurt me, he helped me, too. Bit by bit those conversations made me open up. To stand where I am today – wide open in the truth about living through mental illness. And when I remember the burning shame I felt that day in math class, I recommit myself to never feeling that way again. I’ve taken back my power. He reminds me to hold my head high. To speak my truth. To talk out loud about suicide.

And for that lesson, teacher, I thank you.

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.

Follow this journey on Blue Light Blue.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? 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.

I’d been curled in the fetal position holding my head for days. My third lumbar peritoneal shunt for intracranial hypertension was not working. The pressure of the weather was crushing my body and my brain. They stopped making words for this kind of pain. Everything I survived and fought through to stay alive faded to black. Everything I hoped for and still desperately wanted became a mirage. It was a second-by-second survival, hyper-focused on hurt so bad I was willing to lose everything to make it stop. I wrote a blog post about wanting to die. I hit publish.

Most of my honest but uplifting posts over long years detailing 21 surgeries and life with Ehlers-Danlos/Marfan syndrome, Chiari malformation, tethered spinal cord, cervical and spinal instability, dysautonomia/POTS, intracranial hypertension, mast cell activation disorder, endometriosis, autoimmune encephalitis/PANDAS/PANS and other comorbid conditions try to find gifts in the gauntlet of chronic pain and illness. People love to read about courage and hope. They love stories about overcomers. People are terrified to look on days when a poster child for strength and resilience wants to tap out. They didn’t know what to say, so they stayed quiet.

In the silence, one old friend picked up her phone to call me. She left me exactly the kind of message I needed. “I don’t understand, and I can’t imagine, but I know this pain is real, and it matters. You matter. I’m here for you. I love you.” Out of the hundreds of people in my inner and outer circles, one call came, and I stepped back from the ledge.

The following Tuesday night, I had longstanding plans on the calendar with her and two of my other girlfriends to have dinner at a new restaurant 20 minutes away. I’d been in bed for over a week drowning in suffering and sadness. but I dug deep to muster the energy and willpower it would take to push my broken body into the shower, shave my legs, dry and style my hair, apply makeup, and get dressed. By the time I was ready, I was utterly exhausted and thoroughly nauseous from the pressure and being upright. I dosed myself with pain and anti-nausea meds as one of the friends pulled up in her mini-van. We headed out to meet the other two girls and carpool together. Conversation began down the normal path. We discussed the continued grief of losing her grandmother, her work, our kids, our husbands, mutual friends and spring plans. Once all four of us were together, I fell quiet as they carried on about their jobs, people they know, local gossip, current events and vacations planned. I felt like I was on the outside looking in at a party I didn’t belong at.


A too-loud voice in my head shouted “You can’t bail now. Don’t throw up. Don’t cry. It’s OK. You can make it through this. This proves you are still trying to have a life. This proves you aren’t completely irrelevant. Think of something intelligent to say. Think of a book you’re reading that’s not about autoimmune disorders or neurosurgery. Think of something you are planning to do that doesn’t involve a trip to a hospital or a medical procedure.

I made it through dinner and back home to collapse. My husband shook his head, and asked me why I continue trying to prove I can do these things when they don’t really even make me happy anymore. Food, friends, good wine, and great conversation used to recharge my batteries. Now it takes more energy than I have to start with.  Even though my life is impossibly hard, I used to always find pleasure in hearing about the “normal” lives of my friends. For some reason, I was hurting too much to get there that night.

Several days later, a card came in the mail from the same friend who left the voice message. She didn’t mention my hurt at all when we were in the group, but her kind eyes and gentle hug let me know she saw my continued pain. Her note said this:

It was so nice seeing you for our dinner getaway. I love being able to hang out for a normal girls’ night. At the same time I know there is much extra preparation, endurance and “paying for it” that goes on for you that I will never fully be able to appreciate.  I know it takes so much out of you, and yet you still come. I appreciate your friendship every day and hope it is a light spot in all the heaviness. I just want you to know that does not mean I ever forget that the fun comes with a price. You continue to be one of the most amazing people I know…

Leslie Jamison writes in her brilliant book of essays, “The Empathy Exams”, “Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us — a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain — it’s also a choice we make to pay attention, to extend ourselves.”

Engraved spoons

This same friend gave me the gift of three spoons stamped with the words, Faith, Hope and Love. They are a symbol  of the choice she’s made to pay attention and extend herself past her demanding full time job, marriage, two small children, small business, home and all other aspects of her own complicated life to acknowledge how always hard and painful it is over here. Her empathy rescued me and reminded me my life is amazing… I am amazing, and I should stay.

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 Mighty is asking for the following: Write a thank you note to someone who helped you through your disability, disease, or illness. What about that person makes him or her a good ally? What do you want them to know? 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.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.