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Playing the Blame-Game After a Suicide

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Man holding a rabbit
Steve

When I decided to go public with Steve’s story and write his memoir, I knew I was going to have to steel myself against those who misapprehend the motivations of a person who dies by suicide, and thereby stigmatize that person’s death, and the mental illness, which is the real cause of death. In looking for a cause, family members and close friends may try to place blame — on themselves, on others and even on the loved one lost.

We need to ask ourselves, is this a form of “blaming the victim”?  In a sense, anyone that loved Steve is a victim, a victim of losing a person so dear to them in such a sudden, tragic way and by his own hand. Unlike when loved ones are left behind after death by illness, old age or tragedy, those left behind after the loss of a loved one by suicide are called “survivors.”

And survive we must, left with so many questions that will never be answered; “Why? He had so much going for him…” “What if I had said…?” “What if I didn’t say….?” “What could I have done differently?” At times these questions still haunt me, however, for the most part, I have come to peace with my actions.

In their quest for answers, some will feel the need to place blame on someone else in order to wrap their own minds around why their loved one took his or her life. Any mental health professional I have spoken to (and there have been many) has told me there was nothing anyone could have done differently to prevent Steve from taking his life. He had already tried once before and failed, so it seems out of his hopelessness, he was determined to try again. That is how insidious this disease of the mind is.

My healing journey in trying to come to grips with Steve’s tragic ending involves raising awareness of mental health issues, and in the process, raising some money to help an organization that is trying to help those who are suffering from PTSD and depression.  Others may choose to channel their grief into bitterness, blame and anger. Yes, I too was in that place in the early days after Steve took his life. To comprehend such a tragedy, it is human nature to want to blame someone, falsely trying to alleviate our own grief.

When someone suffers from mental illness, sometimes that person’s loved ones try to rally around him or her. The problem is, we are not mental health professionals (even they could not help Steve in the end) and what we may have tried to do or say had no impact on the final outcome (Steve taking his own life). Also, as it is when multiple people are involved, there are differing opinions on what is best for our loved one. That was the way it was with Steve and those who loved him. It was another tragedy in the making. We all loved Steve and he loved us all, yet the family was torn apart. That in turn, added to Steve’s angst and further tortured his diseased mind.

I have said many times, I have no answers or solutions. I am no expert on mental illness, but what I’ve come to realize is that this disease can manifest itself very differently in people. The symptoms and outcome in one person can vary greatly from another. I can only share my experiences and perspectives on my life with Steve in the hope that others will realize they are not alone in what they are experiencing.

In the end, there is so much collateral damage from mental illness. In Steve’s case, it was the taking of his own life. In the case of his loved ones, it is the continuing damage to what were previously close and loving relationships, as blame is substituted for answers that don’t exist.

Steve and Jean
Steve and Jean

Follow this journey on Slipped Away.

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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A Day in the Life of a Mother Dealing With Suicidal Thoughts

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When the alarm goes at 7 a.m., for a split second after waking up I feel OK, maybe even happy. Then it hits me — I’m still alive and my chest suddenly feels as though an anchor has landed on it. It is a struggle just to move, but I have to put on my brave face and wake my daughter for school. Everything is a drag, walking hurts, breathing feels unnatural and wrong. Sometimes even the sound of my own voice leaving my mouth feels false. I question whether I am real.

When I get to the school gates, I feel a sense of dread, panic, a constant anxiety. Walking through the playground, it feels as though every single pair of eyes is staring straight at me, judging me, when all I really want is to just disappear into nothing. I put on a smile as other parents say, “Hello, how are you?” I always lie. “I’m fine.” I say, but inside I’m screaming “Help me!” My favorite part of the day is watching my little girl skip into her classroom, because I know in there she will be surrounded by happiness and safety. She won’t be stuck under the black storm cloud that hovers above my head. I love her so much. 

I commute on the London underground tube. Every morning as the train approaches, I feel the air sucking me towards the tracks, the lights enticing my every fiber, encouraging me to jump — maybe this will be easier than having to live in this constant turmoil. I never do it because I am all that my little girl has. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it every second of every day. On the train, I wonder if the other people feel the same. Do they notice me? Can they feel my hatred towards myself? Do they see the scars on my arms? Each one a cry for help.

At university, I sit with my friends, I laugh and smile and talk about the weekend and my daughter and I pretend I’m having a great time living out my youth in London. It is all a lie. It gets harder to lie as time passes by, but I think if I don’t lie they won’t like me anymore, they will leave me, I will be alone and I will have even more reason to die. I try hard to listen to my lectures, but I find myself zoning out. All I can think about is keeping a straight face, no crying, no digging my nails into my arms, I am not allowed to show them who I really am. I hear someone laugh and joke about suicide being attention-seeking. Sometimes I wish it was. I wish I could get the attention I need to get the help that I need, but it is the opposite. I want to hide away and never reveal how I feel. 

I manage to make it to the end of the day without killing myself, even though I feel like somebody has cracked open the top of my skull and poured cement inside my body. I ache, I hurt all over, but there is no reason why. I think back on the time I was sectioned by the police for trying to jump off a bridge. Even then I was able to put on a normal face and pretend like I was just fine. They believed me and let me go home the same day.

I’m scared to tell anybody how I really feel in case they take my daughter away from me. I wish I could just turn it off and be normal. I hate it when people ask “but what is normal?” Normal is not wanting to kill yourself. At night I lay awake for hours, with thoughts running through my mind of all the hurt, abuse and abandonment I have experienced in my life. I never sleep.

Maybe one day, I can look back on this period in my life and be thankful I kept on grinding through each day, but for now, hindsight isn’t possible, neither is rationality. This is who I am and my existence is painful. 

Although my situation hasn’t changed and I still feel like I do, I have found a huge relief in slowly talking about my experiences. It can be hard to open up, especially with the stigma attached to suicide, but talking opens up the doors for recovery and I know that it can be possible to reclaim life. If you feel this way, I’d urge you to talk, whether it is with somebody you know, someone online or on a crisis helpline. It could just save your life, giving you an opportunity to find services that can help you get through the darkness. You are not alone, however lonely you may feel. 

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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Why I'm Telling My Mental Health Story After My Brother-in-Law's Suicide

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I imagine depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders as a dark shadow looming over you, whispering your biggest insecurities, worst fears and deepest scars in a continuous loop. Sometimes the voice mimics people from your past, even loved ones. The worst and most frequent is your own voice. How do you ignore your voice? You isolate yourself because you feel inadequate, but the more you isolate yourself the louder it becomes. You want help and often know you need it. Someone who is depressed isn’t always capable of opening up. Asking for help means burdening someone with your problems. It’s also risking they wouldn’t understand and might treat your issues as insignificant. It will pass… until it doesn’t. 

Brian Heng was my brother-in-law for many years, and he called me his sister even after my divorce. I watched him graduate from high school, and we had our noses pierced together. A wonderful uncle, Brian loved each of his nieces and nephew dearly. He loved writing poetry, drawing and painting. On October 23, 2014, at the age of 35, after a life-long battle with depression, Brian took his own life. He left behind his mom, his dad, his stepmom, two brothers, three nieces, one nephew, three sister-in-laws, a ton of devastated friends and other extended family members. There is not an easy way to sit down with your children and explain their uncle took his own life.

Man wearing a green hat and a green button up shirt.
Brian

I found one of my old journals while searching for something else in a closet. I thumbed through my words, written around age 18. “I enjoy imagining my suicide. The shot, footsteps running, finding my body. Calling everyone and telling them. The funeral. Mom and Dad would be devastated.”

I read my words, remembering how it felt to hear the dark shadow whispering to me. I had never told Brian about any of it. If he had known my story, would he have talked to me? I will never know the answer to that question, but I know Brian would never want anyone else to follow his path.

The journal entry I read wasn’t uncommon. I skimmed some of my older books, finding similar entries at low points in my life, as early as age 14. I wrote poetry about death, day-dreams about razor blades, pills and guns. At one point I had even cut. These things were all symptoms of something bigger, which I was unable to see at the time. Around the time of the journal entry mentioned above, I was 18, and living in my first apartment all by myself in another state. My dad and stepmom lived in one state and my mom lived in another. I was completely on my own, but I was independent and stubborn. After a series of poor decisions, the results of self-destructive behavior that pushed away most of my friends, I lost my job and feared I would lose my apartment. Feeling like a complete failure, I attempted suicide.

Sitting in my dark apartment, I thought about my parents, my friends and everything I would be leaving behind. I picked up the phone in my haze and called my best friend. I don’t remember what I said to her, but she was at my door within the hour with her mother.

A rescue squad took me to the hospital. “You’ll remember this for the rest of your life,” one of the nurses said. I’ll never forget that line. I realize now they were trying to scare me so I would never try to harm myself again. While my life has been far from perfect, it has been filled with perfect moments; amazing people, laughter, creativity and love. I am thankful every day to be here. If I would have succeeded, my daughters never would have been born. Raising them has been the most wonderful and challenging thing I have ever done. I tried not to discuss what happened. I worried people’s opinions of me would change if they knew about what I had done. 

I think one of the best things you can do for someone with any sort of mental illness is stop trying to fix them, and let them know you will be there no matter what happens — no judgments. All of us were so determined to get help for Brian that we lost sight of what he really needed — our love and support. There was so much more to him than his depression.

I feel those of us who have struggled with any kind of mental health issue have to be brave, uncomfortable, and therefore we must be vocal. Silence only serves the illness, feeding the isolation and self-destruction. After his death, I realized it was time to share my story in order to help others. I realize now I am proud of all aspects of myself, the dark and the light — even the shadows.

A little boy and girl lay on the floor with a framed picture of a man.
Peyton and Ayden, with a picture of their uncle. Photo by Photography by Bethany.

For those who have never suffered from depression, anxiety or other mental health disorders, here is a link with more information about mental health disorders: Suicide Prevention Toolkit.

A version of this piece originally appeared on Family Fusion Community

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 the Media Shouldn't Forget When Covering the Rising Suicide Rate

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Text reads I Lived over the image of a wave.
Image by Chris Maxwell.

In June 2006, at 23 years old, I survived a suicide attempt. I felt hopeless, futile, unloved, unworthy, without a future. I thought there was nothing else I could offer the world, or the world could offer me. So I tried to die.

A CDC report released last week shows a steady 24 percent increase in suicide rates from 1999–2014. The media are already running in some dangerous directions with this information.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, in partnership with several leading suicide prevention organizations, released a statement in response to the CDC report, urging safe, hopeful media coverage:

“The CDC data remind us that there is more we must all do to prevent suicide in our communities. However, it is important to be aware of data that indicates suicide prevention is effectively occurring daily, in ways that are rarely finding headlines. For every one person who dies by suicide in the U.S., there are approximately 278 people who have moved past serious thoughts about killing themselves, and nearly 60 who have survived a suicide attempt, the overwhelming majority of whom will go on to live out their lives. These untold stories of hope and recovery are the stories of suicide prevention.”

Ten years after my suicide attempt, I can say with confidence that life is good. It was worth sticking around for. I wish I could say I was cured of the depression, self-injury or of the suicidal thoughts, but I’m not. They still pop up occasionally.

The difference is that I have tools now I didn’t when I was 23. I have a community. I have people to turn to. So, even when my mind is trying to sabotage me, even when I think I’m the most useless, burdensome human on the entire planet, I know better. I use my tools: I feel my feelings; I wait it out; I get a giant, too-expensive Starbucks coffee and I wander around; I talk to my wife or my friends or my mom or my therapist; and eventually, it’s OK again. It’s not always better right away, but it’s OK enough to live through for another second, minute, hour, day, week.

I think you get it: we can live. It’s not easy. We’ll still suffer. But we can live.

Please remember when you read the sensational stories, the gross stories, the emotionally manipulative Shonda-style stories, the media can do better than this. They can report the facts, but they can also instill hope in those who need it. We all need it sometimes.

Today is a day when we need to remember those we’ve lost, and those who continue to live.

As loved ones of those lost to suicide, as those with lived experience of suicidal thoughts and attempts, as loved ones of those who struggle every single day, our voices are important. Our voices can inform and guide productive change. Let’s raise them, because our stories can save lives.

If you want to raise your voice right now, get on Facebook, get on Twitter, Tumblr, MySpace (wherever it is that you go and talk to people), and post something about how you lived through your own suicidal thoughts, through your own attempt or through the loss of someone you loved. Use the hashtag ‪#‎ILived‬ (as well as ‪#‎suicide‬ — activity on that one is skyrocketing this week) and this beautiful image made by Chris Maxwell.

Roar! This is how lives get saved.

If you’re in a rush, here’s a quick, pastable tweet to use with the image below: “For every person who dies by #suicide in the US, 60 will survive a suicide attempt. livethroughthis.org #ILived”

If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255 or Trans Lifeline at 1–877–565–8860. If you don’t like the phone, check out Lifeline Crisis Chat or Crisis Text Line. If you’re not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.

For true, honest, hopeful stories of those who lived through suicide attempts, take a look at Live Through This.

If you’re a journalist and aren’t sure how to report on suicide, here are recommendations compiled by the world’s top suicide prevention organizations: http://reportingonsuicide.org.

This piece originally appeared on Medium.

Lead image by Chris Maxwell.

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 Teenager Who Thought She Didn't Want to Live

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Dear teenage me,

You don’t have to have all the answers all the time. You don’t have to be everyone’s definition of perfection and constantly changing for the guy you’re with right now. You don’t have to change who you are for a single soul. Be yourself, darling. You are so perfect just as you are. You don’t have to be friends with people who are mean with you or shut out those who are nice just because the mean friends don’t like them.

You don’t have to stay in that relationship with that person you don’t love. You don’t have to be in relationships with men you don’t like just because they anger your parents. You will have a relationship one day with a man you love, who treats you so wonderfully you’ll think you’re trapped in a dream world. You won’t even believe he’s real. He will save your life eight times. You will finally realize he really does love you and you don’t have to live in fear of losing him.

Sweetheart, put the knife down. Put the pills away. You don’t have to hurt yourself. You don’t really want to die; we both know that. I can promise you it really does get better. I know you think all that “It Gets Better” stuff is bull, but as your future self, I can promise you it is most certainly not crap.

My love, you will live through all the horrible, traumatic, hard things you’re going through now, and you will be so happy when you’re 25. I’m not saying it will be easy, but it will be worth it, and for the first time in your life, you will go a year without suicidal thoughts and two years without acting on any self-harm thoughts. Though there will be some struggles, it is all so very worth it.

Yes, you absolutely are strong, but, you do not have to be the strong one all the time. You are allowed to break down sometimes. You are allowed to break down in front of more than just your very best friend or yourself. Let more people in; it’s so worth it. You will find a wonderful community, amazing friends, the most beautiful love and last but most certainly not least, you will find yourself and start loving yourself. Please, be here for that. You can do this. We can do this. We have the strength of a thousand storms inside of us; we’ve seen it when we’re angry. Let’s use it to keep the fight to live going, OK?

I love you, always and forever,

Scarlett

A version of this post originally appeared on survivalscars.

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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You Can Now Donate Your Social Media for Suicide Prevention Research

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When someone you love dies by suicide, unanswered questions may overwhelm you. But according to psychologist Dr. April Foreman, after the shock, many go on to ask: What can I do so this doesn’t happen again?

A mom who had lost her son to suicide was trying to answer this question when she approached Chris Maxwell, Coordinator of Member Engagement for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. She told Maxwell she had some money she was interested in putting into an app. She wanted to create technology that would allow parents or friends to get notified if their loved one was planning on taking his or her life.

Maxwell called Tony Wood, co-founder of Suicide Prevention Social Media Chat, who called Foreman. All three are interested in the overlap between technology and public health, specifically suicide prevention. As they discussed the idea, they realized the issue wasn’t the app itself. It was that with lack of current research on suicide, they had no way of building an app they were confident could work.

“You know what would be more useful?” Foreman said, thinking out loud. “If we had her son’s data, so we could get a greater understanding of her son’s death.”

Data, meaning his social media accounts, and what Foreman calls the new “fossil of human behavior,” is what researchers need to get into the minds of people who have died by suicide. To learn about their behavior. To see if they can notice patterns. To see if they can then use those patterns to develop techniques or technologies to actually lower suicide rates, which despite the growth of technology, has increased by 60 percent worldwide in the last 45 years.

Then it hit them — maybe to fill the lack of data that has delayed substantial suicide research, they had to simply ask for it. Ask people to donate it. Like you would a kidney, or blood.

“It’s a game changer for suicide prevention researchers,” said Glen Coppersmith, CEO and founder of Qntfy, the company that took Foreman’s musings and made it a reality. “It’s the current day version of organ donation. And for people who care about suicide prevention, this is a way to help people who are suffering in a real way. I don’t want your money, I want your data.”

The process is much simpler than donating blood. Anyone interested can go to OurDataHelps.org, and in less than five minutes become a “data donor” by supplying your social media links and filling out a quick survey that includes your age, any mental health diagnoses you have and how many times you’ve attempted suicide — although even if you haven’t attempted suicide, Coppersmith said, your data can still help. You can also donate the data of a loved one who died by suicide, if you have access to his or her social media accounts.

Once you donate your data, the site automatically anonymizes the data by removing indicators like photos, names and e-mail addresses — any information that could reveal your identity.

“It’s an opportunity to make a real impact in the research,” Wood told The Mighty. “There’s simply not enough data available now. With the data that’s available now, you can do this kind of vague analysis, but you can’t really get into nitty gritty stuff. In order to push forward and get real results, we need data from real people. And we need a lot of it.”

Once enough data is collected, they plan to give it to leading suicide prevention researchers. They hope the information will be a big leap forward for developing technologies that can help prevent suicide.

“We have never found a way to put a dent in the suicide numbers,” Foreman said. “The only thing standing between us and using these new technologies is having enough information to study. And if you donate your or a loved one’s social media data, we maybe be one one step closer to saving someone else.”

If you’re interested in donating your data, visit OurDataHelps.org. There, you can read Frequently Asked Questions, and to learn more about how your data will be used, read their Privacy Statement.

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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