I Wasn't Able to Prevent My Dad's Suicide

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After losing someone to suicide you can find yourself combing through every moment of the past, questioning whether you missed the signs. Every memory holds new meaning. What if I would have paid more attention that day? What if I would have questioned their thinking or pointed out something that didn’t seem right? Would they still be here today? Questions like this often contribute to the overwhelming presence of guilt we feel in the aftermath of suicide. Problem with this thinking is, it leads to unrealistic expectations of self. We can’t go back. We can’t change the past. So, why do we hold on to these experiences, and why do we struggle to relieve ourselves from the weight of guilt?

I wanted to use this post to talk about my own experience with guilt and how I was able to release the guilt I felt after losing my dad to suicide. It is a part of my story that isn’t always easy to talk about. While it is the part of the story I struggled the most to let go of, it is also the part of my story that brought the most self reflection. When people ask me, “Did you see the signs?” I struggle with my response. Yes, I saw the signs. They were right in front of me, and I wasn’t able to prevent my dad’s suicide.

The night before Thanksgiving 2011, my sister called to tell me she was worried about our dad. “He just seems off, and I am scared he is going to do something to himself.” So, I called him. I remember sitting in the car for over an hour talking to him about how he was feeling. He showed signs then, but I just didn’t think they were severe. I thought they were fleeting thoughts, ones so many people have but don’t act on. Fast forward to Christmas day, the last day I saw my dad, and there you will find every sign you need. He told me he was feeling suicidal. He brought my late grandmother’s large standing jewelry box for my sister and me to go through. He was detached, uninterested in any gift he received. He wasn’t himself. I remember when he left that day, the tears in his eyes as he hugged me tightly and waved good bye until we both could no longer see each other. An act I haven’t done since childhood. I turned to my husband and sister and said, “I don’t think I am going to see him again” and broke down. My sister and I planned an intervention of sorts. We would bring him to my sister’s house, find him a new therapist, get him the help he needed. I would stay in Colorado longer than planned and do what we needed to do for my dad. The following day we talked to my dad. He was back. The lively, happy, fun-loving man was back. He told us he was out shopping and felt “so much better.” The signs disappeared. The next day, I got on a plane back to Chicago. Four hours after getting home I received a call from my hysterical sister telling me my dad took his life. In an instant my whole life changed.

I think we often set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. We forget about one important element within our tragedy: free will. We can’t take away or alter someone else’s free will. I think this is an important reminder as we struggle with guilt after a suicide. I struggled for a long time with this concept. I saw the signs, I could have done something, I could have changed the ending to this story. Those are just a few of the things I told myself after my dad’s death. As I write this post I find myself questioning it all over again. It is hard not to. However, it just isn’t productive. Could have I done more? Maybe. Would it have changed the outcome? Maybe. That’s just it. Maybe. We can’t go back, we can’t change what has already occurred. That is what I had to come to terms with and accept. Not easy, but an essential part of my own journey. I had to make the choice. I can go on living in this world where I hate myself for not doing more. Or, I can accept what is. The reality of the situation is that my dad is gone, and there is nothing I can do to change that. The only thing I can change and have changed is my own way of thinking and my own way of living. I made the choice to forgive myself and decided I would live a life my dad would be proud of. A life that he potentially was never able to have.

A good friend always says, “You have a fire of regret and a fire of hope for the future. You choose which one to feed.”

Follow this journey on Our Side of Suicide.

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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The Cause of Death Is Never Simply 'Suicide'

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I’ve been on this journey of mental health self-awareness for about 18 months now. In that time, I’ve learned a great deal about myself and the people I’ve chosen to surround myself with. I’ve been a little slow to learn about things like my disease and suicide, however.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew the numbers and statistics. I know where to find the depressing data on youth and veteran suicides.

But my most recent epiphany? Nobody commits suicide. We may die by our own hands, but we do not kill ourselves. Something pushes us to do it. If a cancer patient denies treatment, their cause of death is not listed as self-inflicted. It’s listed as cancer. It is no different with mental illness or bullying.

I have friends who have attempted to end their lives. I stand by the assertion it wasn’t a desire to end life that drove them to it. It was their disease, the voices in their head that pushed them to end their suffering, to see no other way out.

“He committed suicide” creates the false narrative that the victim was actively engaged in the decision. Often, the reality is the complete opposite. We are barely engaged in life, let alone our actions and behaviors. Trapped in the prison of our minds, the disease that locks us away takes over many of our day-to-day operations.

Imagine going through every day expending all of your effort to appear functional and coherent during shallow exercises. Business meetings, water cooler talk with coworkers and customers, grocery shopping and the morning commute are all things we manage in a barely conscious state. We have become actors portraying a life while not actively living it.

None of those scenarios require feelings or true engagement. Fast forward a few hours to family time and we may seem coarse, disengaged, angry or distant. We’ve simply no energy left to maintain a facade that requires us to behave in a deeper and more meaningful way. Breaking out of our minds prison, even for those you love, isn’t an option. The disease does the talking and acting for us.

What about the kids, bullied for weeks, months or years on end? Do we blame them for having a hand in their own deaths? We shouldn’t. The failure wasn’t on them for not being strong enough to stand up against a daily torture.

Sitting here, drinking my tea and watching through the window at the birds coming and going from the new feeder on my deck, I am unable to think of an instance where the blame of suicide should fall to the victim.

No, suicide does not exist in my mind, and I will do my best to end the use of the term and how we use it. In an era when we are working to end victim blaming, it’s time to stop it in these instances as well. We can do better than we have, and I will take a stand, finally, for what I believe.

None of us exist in a bubble that keeps us from interacting with the outside world. Everything we do is the result of an interaction of factors, and assigning a death as simply a “suicide” implies a blame that doesn’t belong. We need to start talking about what really caused the death — it wasn’t me who wanted to pull the trigger that night a few years ago, it was the voice in my head created by my depression.

Until we find a way to reach out to more people and show them that ending one’s own life isn’t the selfish choice of a healthy mind, we’ll never make any headway. We need  a call to action, a group of us to stand up and say, “No more.”

Where does that leave us now? We live in a time unlike any other in history. Technology has us advancing as a species quickly and unpredictably. With that, words become common vernacular quickly while others fade into memory. If a few of us stand up and speak out, we can change the conversation. We can, over time, stop the use of a word that often means the opposite of what it intends, and reframe the conversation so it is clear that those who are victim to mental illness or bullying are not to blame. 

I will fight until the cause of death is never just “suicide,” and we look further.

Follow this journey at Shawn Henfling.

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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We Need to Start Talking About Suicide Without Shame

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

Suicide. A single word, which invokes fear, shame, misunderstanding, anger, confusion and a stigma equaling the weight of the Titanic. It will make those you think are your closest allies go running so fast, it’s as if they are being chased by the burning flames of a rapidly spreading bush fire. The word is associated with selfishness, with weakness and with a lack of willpower. The reactions to the word run the gamut from “that’s ridiculous, who thinks about that” and “what is so wrong in your life,” to “how self-centered you are” and finally “I can’t deal with this.”

Suicide. The action generates feelings of grief, terror and trauma. It carries the misconception of irrationality, instability and egocentrism. It will cause your relations to judge you, hate you, love you and mourn you. It will leave them with questions that will remain unanswered for perpetuity, for the only true motivation for your action perished when your life flame extinguished.

What makes this word materialize from an assemblage of letters, to a culmination of ideations, to an objective, to a precise action of irreversible finality? Stigma. The topic of suicide is still taboo, disapproved and in some places, forbidden. One may be strong enough to disclose their diagnosed mental illnesses — borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, bipolar, just to name a few — however, when one reaches the absolute darkness of self-extermination, it is as if their tongues have been cut out, eliminating the capacity to  even verbalize the word. The fear in sharing the darkness of the ideas and emotions that run through the self-destructive mind is so immeasurable, that letting go of the rope that has kept you from falling seems effortless. The angst of judgment, the trepidation of rejection and the fear of hospitalization often making the ability to ask for help an insurmountable chore.

The stigmatization of the word itself has to end, in order to see any reduction in the number of actual actions. Very few wake up one morning and spontaneously choose to end their lives. Suicide is the complete and utter loss of hope, strength and desire to exist. The survivors you leave behind questioning why you left them, why you did not reach out for help or speak the words “I’m feeling suicidal,” yet the answers, for you, come as easily as flicking on a light switch. Fear and stigma. No one climbs a ladder from the first step to the top without the rungs in between. The same could be said for suicide. It starts at the bottom and slowly creeps up until it not only reaches the top; it jumps off and drags you with it.

What if the thoughts of suicide could be as openly discussed and accepted as the myriad of mental illnesses? What if someone could safely and honestly express those ideas and emotions with no fear of condemnation or repercussions, while still on the ladder’s lower rungs? Would it help decline the speed of the ascent or perhaps eliminate the need to reach the peril that lies atop at all. Could becoming educated, understanding and less judgmental of one single word effectively make a difference in a single life, or even in societal views? Is it possibly as straightforward and uncomplicated as that?

As a suicide survivor, I will answer the above questions from my perspective. Yes, it can be as simple as that. In some instances, the people on the top rung will jump off before you even notice they started to climb. Their ascent so rapid it leaves not even an indication of a footprint. They are silent, focused and prepared, their actions usually a success. The others climb at a slower pace, leaving behind traces of their emotions and intentions while screaming ever so quietly for help. They wish for someone to hear them and provide a sanctuary for that one deadly word. These are the people that could be helped if we reduced the outside noise in our lives and took a moment to focus on the silence. Listen carefully. Pay close attention as the cries for help are there, and truly hearing and finding them could not only be a preventative measure but actually save a life.

So if you are at the top and at risk of immediate of danger, hospitalization or intervention is a must. If you are at the bottom and feel yourself gradually and uncontrollably making that ascent, stop. Reach out. Scream it, shout it and write it. Express it without shame or fear of repercussions from the ignorant. Know that someone, somewhere is not only listening, but hears you. Know that as much as you feel it, you are never alone. Know that by reaching out, your voice can start a momentum so powerful it instills the same fearlessness in the masses.

Destigmatizing begins with you, right here, right now. After all, it is only a word.

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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Facebook Creates New Support Tool to Help People Who Are Suicidal

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Update Jun. 14: According to the New York Times, on Tuesday Facebook officially announced it introduced new suicide prevention tools that are now available globally. Facebook also said posts flagged as potential self-harm or suicide notes will be expedited and reviewed more quickly by community operations team members who are given special training.

People across the world can now flag a message as one that could raise concern about suicide or self-harm; those posts will then come to the attention of Facebook’s global community operations team, a group of hundreds of people around the world who monitor flagged posts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Posts flagged as potential self-harm notes are to be expedited and reviewed more quickly by the team members, who also examine posts that Facebook users have reported as objectionable. Community operations team members who evaluate potentially suicidal content are given special training, Facebook said.

start with a drop-down menu that lets people report posts, a feature that was previously available only to some English-speaking users.

Seeing a friend post a cry for help on Facebook can be scary — especially if you’re unsure of what to do. But now, instead of just reporting the post to Facebook and hoping for the best, Facebook has created a new suicide prevention support tool to help those who may be feeling suicidal.

The new tool aims to give friends and family more resources when they think a loved one needs help. Facebook partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education and Forefront to develop the initiative.

“One of the best ways to prevent suicides is to promote caring connections between people,” John Draper, executive director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, says in a video explaining the new tool. “With its newest initiative, we can leverage the Facebook community’s biggest asset to preventing suicide — and that is each other, and the support we can all provide to our friends in crisis.”

Here’s how it works:

When you see a friend’s post that seems concerning, you can click on the “click down” arrow, like you’re reporting any other content:

A Facebook post that reads: I can't do this anymore. Death is the only way to end the suffering. I love you all! The "click down" arrow is circled.

Then, select “report post.”

A Facebook post that reads: I can't do this anymore. Death is the only way to end the suffering. I love you all! Reporting options are visible.

When prompted to choose a reason for reporting, select, “I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook.”

Text box that reads Help Us Understand What's Happening. The options are It's annoying or not interesting, I think it shouldn't be on Facebook, and It's Spam. "I think it shouldn't be on Facebook" is selected.

Next, choose “It’s threatening, violent or suicidal.”

Text box with the options, It's rude, vulgar or uses bad language, It's sexually explicit, It's harassment or hate speech, It's threatening, violent or suicidal, something else. The option, it's threatening, violent or suicidal is selected.

Then, choose “suicidal content.”

Text box reads Choose a type. Options are Credible threat of violence, self-harm, suicidal content, graphic violence, theft or vandalism, drug use. Suicidal content is selected.

Now, a menu of support options will appear on your screen:

Text box reads, What can you do? Options are Offer help or support, Reach out to a friend, Chat with a trained helper, Call lifeline, and ask us to look at the post.

If your friend is in immediate danger, they suggest you call emergency services right away. If it’s not an emergency, your options are:

Offer help and support: This option lets you message the person directly, with suggested text in case you’re unsure of what to say. But, you can also write your own message.

Message that reads, "Hey Todd - your post really concerned me, and I'd like to help and support you if you'd be open to it."

Reach out to a friend: This option prompts you to message a mutual friend or a friend who lives in your loved one’s area.

Chat with a trained helper or Call lifeline: Both these options will bring you directly to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s services, where you can either chat or talk to someone on the phone about how to best support your friend.

Ask us to look at the post: Facebook will look at the post and offer resources to the person in need. Facebook will not reveal who reported the post.

Once you’ve reported a post, the friend you’re concerned about will automatically receive a pop-up message with support options:

Text box with the options: Todd, can we support you? Talk with someone. Contact a support service. Get tips and support. Skip this.

“In the past, our focus has been on helping Facebook members report friends… so Facebook could get their friends the help they need,” said Draper. “This new approach is not just about reporting friends in a suicidal crisis, it’s about supporting them.”

Watch the full video explanation below: 

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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What Losing My Sister to Suicide 17 Days Before My Wedding Taught Me to Do Now

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My sister was a heroin addict.

While she wasn’t your stereotypical, stuff-of-crime-dramas, visibly strung out drug addict, her demons were real nonetheless, and they threatened to take her from us long before they actually did.

That doesn’t mean she didn’t fight as hard as she could. And it doesn’t mean I’ll let her addiction define her.

Sarah was beautiful, and strong, and hilarious, with one of the biggest hearts this world has ever known. She was a voracious reader who could usually be found with her nose in the latest Harry Potter book; she talked about Hermione and Ron as if they were her own family. Her laugh was so contagious she’d have everyone in the room in hysterics before they even knew what was funny. She’d almost lose control of her body when she laughed really hard; we rated people’s jokes based on how slumped over she was in her chair, and if there were tears in her eyes when she finally managed to sit up straight.

Munchie's sister, Sarah, laughing in a while dress.
Munchie’s sister, Sarah.

That’s what I miss the most.

That laugh.

In the last year and 10 months, I’ve seen Sarah’s smile on 10 thousand passing strangers, heard her laugh on the lips of countless others and felt my breath catch in my throat every time I realized it wasn’t her.

It will never be her again.

Because 673 days ago, while my then-fiancé and I were meeting with our wedding florist, deciding things like how many stems of succulents to put in my bouquet, my little sister killed herself.

Sometimes it feels like just yesterday my best friend’s parents knocked on my door to tell me Sarah was dead. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday when I looked out the window to see the man who would be officiating our ceremony 17 days later, walking up to my door with ghosts in his eyes. It feels like just yesterday when I opened the door, happy to see these two people who had known me since the day I was born, who could always find my smile beneath my perpetual frown, who loved me like I was their own.

Right away I realized they weren’t meeting my eyes, that they were looking anywhere but at me, that something was terribly wrong, that my world was about to be shattered as soon as they opened their mouths.

“Something really bad happened.”

I waited.

“It’s your sister.”

I stood there, still as stone.

They stared at the floor.

I stood there and I waited.

“It’s Sarah. She died. She’s gone.”

I walked away, sat on my couch, tried to breathe.

“You’re kidding me, right? This is some kind of joke?”

It was April 1, after all. The day of fools.

“I wish we were, honey.”

“How?”

“She killed herself, Munchie. I’m so sorry.”

And in that moment, I knew there’d been a mistake. She would never take her own life.

She would never.

“No, she didn’t.”

“Yes, sweetie, she did.”

I calmly stood, walked through my house to the downstairs powder room, and I threw up.

And then I sat on the floor and debated locking myself in there until they left. Because maybe then it wouldn’t be real.

Maybe if I just stayed in that bathroom, she would be alive.

Four days later I was standing in the receiving line at her funeral.

I stood there, feeling like a diver all of a sudden down too deep, sensing my bones slowly shattering inside my skin, trying to look anywhere but at the life-sized portrait of her that was hanging above her casket, willing myself not to break into pieces right in front of everyone.

“Pretty terrible timing, isn’t it?” someone said to me that day, because my wedding was less than two weeks away and I was standing at my sister’s funeral trying to remind myself to breathe instead of punching whoever said that in the face.

The day came and went. I never wanted to hear the phrase “she’s in a better place” ever again.

Ever.

And then 17 days later, I found myself standing in front of our closest friends and family, marrying the one person who knows my true being like no one else on this Earth. Every single thought, every single detail we had visualized in the months before that day and every piece of the puzzle magically fit together. Our day was more perfect than either of us ever dreamed it could be.

If you had asked me two weeks earlier if I thought I would even be able to walk down that aisle, I would have said no. If you had asked me if I thought my family would have been able to find a way to see the sun through all of the darkness that suddenly surrounded us, I would have said there’s no chance.

But there we were.

And here we are.

Almost two years later.

The day after she died, I started writing. I posted something on my Facebook page, and I was brutally honest about her addiction. Within three days I had over 500 messages from people all over the world, sharing their stories with me, thanking me for my honesty, giving me the strength to put my feet on the ground just by sharing their souls with me.

In the following months, I found an army of love and support in a local organization called atTAcK addiction; I felt at home in the arms of people who had been right where I was, or where my sister used to be. My friends and family rallied around me and lifted me into their light instead of letting me wallow in my darkness. My husband found a way to sift through my rage and tears and instead of running away, he held me close and helped me find my smile again.

Now, I’m able to look at things in a different light. And in retrospect, maybe it wasn’t bad timing.

Let me explain. I would give anything in this world to go back to that day and stop her. I would do anything in my power to go back to that week and find a way to let her know she was stronger than her disease, that she had 10,000 reasons left to fight, that she was so incredibly loved and admired by the same people she thought had every reason to hate her for who she was when the heroin took over. I wish with every ounce of my being I could go back and tell her I still believed in her, that the world she thought had been shattered could be pieced back together, that the person she was before her addiction was still in there, and I would help her find her again.

I would have given my own life to save hers.

But everyone keeps telling me not to think that way, and I’m trying my hardest to take their advice. Every single day I have to find a way to convince myself there was nothing I could have done or said to save her from herself. I can’t spend the rest of my days fighting the “what ifs.”

And now, I’ll be holding my breath for a couple of weeks or a month before the anniversary of her death. Maybe that time will dwindle as the years pass, but it will never go away.

This much I know for sure.

But then I’ll watch the flowers start blooming, Sarah’s smile covering the Earth in the form of daffodils and magnolia trees and all the beautiful colors of spring. I’ll finally be able to exhale, and celebrate the anniversary of one of the happiest days of my life – our wedding day.

You see, that’s what I do now.

I search the stars for silver linings.

It’s what I have to do now, in her absence, without her here to find them for me. It’s so my grief doesn’t swallow me whole.

I look to the sky and I stare at the stars and I see her eyes in place of them and I find a silver lining to hold onto and it is there that I find my breath again.

I take my husband’s hand and it’s there that I find the strength to share her story with the world.

For the last year I’ve been writing blogs for White Sands Treatment Center in Florida, sharing every soul shattering detail of my journey on the other side of addiction, in the hopes that my sister’s struggle will bring strength to “someone else’s Sarah.” So far they’ve been read by over 60,000 people.

60,000 people have gotten a glimpse into my sister’s heart. And mine.

Every time I find myself getting discouraged, or thinking my words aren’t enough to save anyone, I get a message from someone telling me my writing resonated with them, brought them comfort, gave them the strength to fight another day.

I keep all of those messages in a journal, and when I need a little reminder of why I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, I flip open to a random page and I read. Those words have helped me find my faith.

Faith in myself, faith in my marriage, faith in the fact that Sarah is still with me every day, faith in the fact I will find a way to wade through my grief and come out on the other side. Faith that her story is helping people, faith that there’s a reason why I keep pushing myself to dig deeper, to speak my truth more freely, to stand up for those who don’t have voices. Faith in the unknown; that one day I’ll be able to find my sister somewhere in the stars and I’ll make my home in her laugh once again.

Faith in the lessons I’ve learned, and faith in the fact that it is possible to find yourself, your true being, even in the throes of what seems to be an insurmountable grief.

Maybe it’s because you have to reach to the depths of your soul and draw on strength you never knew you had. Maybe it’s because you’re all of a sudden forced to spend your days questioning everything you thought to be true about your world, and coming up with different answers than what you once knew.

Maybe you just have no other option, because you’ve already lost who you were before.

Maybe you endure, simply because you have no other choice.

And sometimes, just sometimes, in the midst of the journey you never wanted to embark on in the first place, you find your purpose. 

So to all of you out there feeling like you’re at the end of your rope, or that nothing good could possibly come out of whatever situation you’ve found yourself in:

It can. It will.

In the words of Sarah’s favorite headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

All you need to do is this: hold on.

Just hold on.

Munchie and her sister, Sarah, smiling
Munchie and Sarah

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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In One Tweet, Chris Brown Proves There's a Problem With How We View Suicide

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Tuesday night, singer Chris Brown tweeted about 20-year-old singer Kehlani Parrish’s alleged recent suicide attempt, MSNBC reported, and in 140 characters, managed to perfectly exemplify what’s wrong with how some people view suicide.

“There is no attempting suicide,” he wrote. “Stop flexing for the gram. Doing shit for sympathy so them comments under your pics don’t look so bad.”

Kehlani had posted a photo of herself in a hospital bed Monday night with an IV in her arm following her attempt, TMZ reported.

Some have spoken up against Brown’s tweet:

Taking a suicide attempt lightly is no laughing matter. About one-third of people who attempt suicide will try again within one year.

We think Chris Brown could benefit from reading some stories from our brave writers who speak up about suicide. Because no one who attempts to take their life should be condemned for “seeking attention” — but offered support.

Here are some of our favorites:

5 Myths About Suicide That Need to be Challenged

Think Before You Say ‘I’m So Bored I Could Kill Myself’

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

Why I’m Too Scared to Stay Silent About Suicide

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.

Lead photo source: Chris Brown

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