a group of people holding signs and wearing suicide prevention shirts

When 'Good Morning America' Staff Shut Down Suicide Awareness

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At 6:00 a.m. on Sept. 8, 2016, my daughter, son-in-law and I went to join our American Foundation for Suicide Prevention colleagues and supporters to appear on “Good Morning America.” We were all excited, dressed in our lively bright blue “Be the Voice #StopSuicide” shirts, with smiles on our faces, ready to talk about saving lives. Our sea of bright blue dominated the color palette of the rope line. People who hadn’t come with us reached out, let us know they supported us and in some cases revealed they had a personal connection to suicide loss themselves. Many gladly took a free shirt and put it on in solidarity. We’d been told that probably between 7 and 8 a.m., someone would come out and interact with the crowd. We were psyched and ready.

I was crushed when we were asked to step aside, take ourselves and our National Suicide Prevention Week signs out of the camera’s view, and given the explanation that, “It’s the top of our morning show. We don’t want suicide on the brain.”

I now feel more passionate than ever.

It’s not the fault of “Good Morning America” exactly. We know we had supporters inside the building. They knew we would be there, and wanted to feature us. Probably, one executive made a snap decision, not realizing that suicide is a health issue, that it is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and that it can be prevented. But only if we talk about it. And only if we educate people about what to look for in order to recognize the signs and get people help.

Thirty years ago, when I started working to prevent suicide as a researcher and clinician, no one wanted to even use the word “suicide.” In fact, I got into the field as a new psychologist because no one in the psychiatric department I joined wanted to focus their work on adolescent suicide. Lately, though, I have been heartened to notice a shift in the conversation. According to a Harris Poll, nearly 90 percent of people realize that mental health is as real as physical health. I now regularly hear people discussing their mental health and even their experiences with suicide just as they would talk about diabetes, appendicitis or a cold. Media has also begun handling suicide prevention from a more enlightened perspective. It’s a slow process, but progress is happening.

I am familiar with people being uncomfortable talking about suicide. Often, suicide presentations at conferences are slotted for the last day at the last hour. Yet when people attend, they feel it was time well spent because they realize they can make a difference. I am no longer stopped in the ladies’ room by people wanting to share their personal experiences about suicide; instead, I am approached in the open, in front of others and the discussions are often lively.

Thanks to all of our research, we know that suicide can be prevented: one life, one moment at a time. We know about risk factors like mental health conditions, early trauma and abuse, head injury, chronic pain and chronic health conditions. We know genetics plays a role, particularly in terms of sensitivity to stress and one’s ability to “bounce back.”  Most people with mental health conditions or major life stresses do not try to kill themselves. We have methods we know work to help people to manage suicidal thoughts without acting on them. All that needs to be done is to spread awareness and knowledge. Like the name of one of our educational programs, talk save lives.

The incident at “Good Morning America” just happens to be the latest reminder there is still work that needs to be done. We were in such good moods, standing there in our colorful shirts: far from a dour image that would have brought any early morning viewers down. We were ready to happily answer questions like, “What can we do to prevent suicide?” and, “How can you start a conversation with someone you’re worried about?” Simply giving people the answers to these questions saves lives. We just need to spread the word. Some of the bravest people I know have faced suicide and survived.  But we can’t bring people who need help out of the darkness if we’re pushed into the shadows for fear that it’s a sad topic. Our message is a hopeful one!

Before the camera turned to the people outside, Elizabeth Vargas sat inside the studio, being interviewed about her recovery from an alcohol use disorder, and the book she’s written about her experiences. Years ago, people didn’t talk about that. They didn’t even talk about cancer.

It’s time to talk about suicide prevention. We can’t be pushed aside. Talk. Saves. Lives.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Editor’s note: The Mighty reached out to “Good Morning America” for a comment, and have not heard back.

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To My Grieving Self: Let Me Tell You Why It's Better You Didn't Die by Suicide

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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.

I know swallowing pills by the handful was an attempt at killing you. I know all you wanted was the excessive pain to end, the spinning, obsessive, agonizing pain of losing your dad to be over. I know you thought the only way you could deal with the loss of the only true hero in this world was to die and join him.

You survived the stomach pumping. You survived the night in the hospital. You survived the hell that is living with the grief of losing the most important man you’ll ever have in your life.

Let me tell you why it’s better you survived.

It’s better you survived because someone would have had to explain to your little boys why their mom was dead. They would be feeling the same pain you were.

It’s better you survived because you have a mother who needed you. Siblings who needed you and still do, every day. Pain shared is halved. Joy shared is doubled. Now you are closer to your siblings than you ever were, and while that doesn’t make up for losing Dad, it’s something that losing him brought you.

It’s better you survived because now you can joke with your sisters about things Dad used to say, such as following up any statement someone made with “literally.” The pain never really leaves. It still hurts when you think of something you want to tell him, but now it comes with a sweet fondness of memory.

Like a faded photograph shows you what Dad looked like at his prime. The smell of cigarettes, Irish Spring and wood still automatically remind you of him, and you can hear his laugh. You remember the gravelly tone of his voice and the calloused feel of his hand holding yours. These memories are what make us stronger. They make us whole.

It’s better you survived because you are a stronger person for it, who can tell stories with your family about the man all of you loved and adored. You learned so much from him, from his strength and from the earliest memory you have of him to the last moment, sitting by his bedside as he slipped away into death.

It’s better you survived because you are part of your father’s legacy. You are part of his mark he left on the world. You aren’t perfect. You aren’t just like him. You may not feel as strong as him, but he was always proud of you. No matter what, he loved you.

I wrote this because I survived an attempted suicide a few months after the death of my father. To me, he was Superman, and losing him felt like the end of the world. I felt like I lost the only person who ever truly loved me, and I was wrong. Now, now I remind myself every day why it’s better I survived, and why it’s better I keep surviving even when I feel myself sinking again.

Image via Thinkstock.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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The Dream I Had After Losing My Father to Suicide

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It’s hard to talk about — mental illness. It’s not fun to discuss, for sure, and perhaps we feel if we don’t talk about it, the sadness will eventually go away. It simply doesn’t happen that way. The less we talk, the more the illness takes over. The more we stay silent, the more people will die.

I lost my father to suicide in March of 2001. I was pregnant with my first child, a baby I lost two weeks after my father took his own life. In September of that year, the Twin Towers fell. It was a year of total misery. Not long after, my beloved father-in-law died, and I lost the last dad I would ever know. I wasn’t sure I’d make it through.

For as long as I can remember, my dad had always been ill. The illness wasn’t physical, so it was hard to understand, especially as a young girl. Most of the time I thought my father just didn’t like me very much. There were daily struggles living with my dad; always feeling like I had to tiptoe around our house hoping not to say or do the wrong thing, or praying I wouldn’t forget to do a chore he’d asked me to do. I didn’t realize then that he was desperately struggling to keep himself alive.

Although he died on a chilly day, the sun was shining. I remember looking out the window shortly after hearing he was gone and thinking, how is it that the sun is shining, birds are singing and people are going on with their lives when I feel like my world has just ended? I was shocked, embarrassed, humiliated, distraught and full of questions. Who would do such a thing? Who would leave their family? Who would leave me? What am I going to tell people?

I had spoken with my dad just a few days before he died. I told him I was going to have a baby; his first grandchild. As I look back on that conversation, I remember him asking me more than once if I was OK, and if my husband was taking good care of me. “Are you alright? You’re OK, right? Everything is OK?” he asked. I told him I was pregnant, not sick, and that I was just fine. I realize now that he was asking me for permission to go. I had another man who was taking good care of me, so in his mind, it would be fine for him to leave.

I wasn’t fine. I struggled to survive it — his brutal and unbearable death. It was the last thing I thought about each night before I went to sleep and the first thing that hit me like a blow to the gut each morning when I woke. My heart broke every time I thought about how tragically sad his life must have been for him to have wanted to end it that way.

I dreamed about the last few minutes of his life; what it must have been like for him. Did he give his dog a cookie before he locked him out on the back porch? Did he have a glass of whiskey while he wrote the note? Before he walked out the door and leaned against the huge oak tree, did he look at the pictures of my sister and I on the desk? Did he cry? Did it hurt?

He did visit my dreams at night, and I remember this one best: We were in his police car, Billy Joel playing softly in the background, Doublemint gum in the console, and Dad, driving at least 30 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

I was angry. I was yelling at him,“Why would you do this? Why would you leave us? You have two daughters and you left us here to clean up your crap and live with all these unanswered questions. How do you think we feel?”

The car slowed and came to a gradual stop. My dad turned and looked at me, tears in his hazel eyes, and whispered, “How do you think I feel?” I had no words.

I have yet to feel a feeling like the one I felt when I lost him. There have been hard times since, and there has been sadness, but the pain of losing him the way we did was earth-shattering.  Sometimes the ache in my heart would stop me from breathing. It physically hurt to move.

The questions were the worst; questions I couldn’t stop asking myself, questions from other people. Why would he do it? What happened to make him want to do it? Why was the suicide note so incredibly impersonal and matter-of-fact? I finally had to learn I would have to live with never having answers to these questions, so I had to put them all away in a tiny little box in my brain and forget they existed.

Admittedly so, it was hard to live with him. But as I go through life, I realize it’s harder to live without him. He’s never met my boys. He’ll never know that Grant is great at Taekwando, loves video games and at 11 years old has a post-high school reading level and skipped a grade in math. He’ll never see Luc swim the 50-meter freestyle, watch him play baseball or see how well he can build robots. These are the kinds of things I could brag about to a grandpa, but I can’t and I never will.

The last three words my father said to me were, “I love you.” I truly believe he did. I don’t believe for a second that he took his life to hurt my sister or me. I know he felt we would be better off without him. He was wrong, but the illness in his brain made him think we would be fine.

We should have talked about it. We should have acknowledged that something was very wrong. I grew up silent, scared and confused. It doesn’t have to be that way.

After losing my dad, I started a non-profit chapter and worked to create awareness about mental illness. I met with other survivors, like myself, who had lost loved ones to suicide. I heard stories, so many much worse than my story, and I cried. I joined support groups, walked in prevention walks, and I spoke about my father’s death in front of hundreds of strangers.

I’m no longer humiliated or embarrassed. I’ve learned enough to know that although my father pulled the trigger, it was a mental illness that killed him. I have no doubts.

My heart hurts for every other family member who has lost someone to suicide. It’s a death like no other, and the path to survival after the fact is paved with almost too many obstacles to tackle.

But I did it. I had to work really hard, but I did it. I feel that I have had two separate lives; the one before my dad took his life and the one after. I sometimes miss the girl who lived less cautiously, trusted more, loved bigger and who wasn’t afraid. But I’ve learned to love the woman who is raising two wonderful boys and who isn’t afraid to stand up and speak for many of those who cannot.

I still miss him and wish he could watch my boys play. I miss his voice and his bright, wide smile. I miss hearing him sing Billy Joel songs. I miss hearing him talk about his dog.

Every so often, when I hear my boys laughing, I swear I can hear him laughing along. I hope it’s him, and I hope that now, wherever he may be, he is finally at peace.

This piece originally appeared on Her View From Home.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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To My Younger Self: You Will Be So Glad You Chose Recovery

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A letter to my suicidal self:

Dear Veronica,

I know you are in a lot of pain, pain you feel no one else could possibly understand. You are tired, oh so tired. Tired of the depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

The eating disorder has tricked your mind into thinking you will only be happy if you lose more weight, and that being skinny is the only way people will think you are pretty. The depression says you are worthless and a failure. That is so far from the truth.

You feel you will never be free from your addiction to self-harm. It will take many attempts, but one day you will be able to resist the urge to harm yourself. You think the doctors do not listen. They just prescribe more pills and tell you things will get better. They tell you to give it time. You feel your time is up.

I promise you everyone is trying their best. They do care and they are listening. Your boyfriend loves you and would do anything to take your pain away. He is terrified you will end your life one night once he leaves. That is why he sleeps on the floor of your dorm room every night.

You need to be honest with everyone. You need to tell your mom and the doctors how you are truly feeling. When they ask if you are suicidal, you need to say yes. I know you are terrified, but things will only start to get better once you are honest with yourself and others.

I know you don’t want to be sent to the hospital. You think it will ruin your future, and you will be labeled as a “psycho.” That’s so far from the truth. You will go there more than once, but they will help you and give you a safe place to recover. I promise you things will get better.

It will not happen overnight. Recovery will be the hardest thing you will ever do. You will learn to be honest with your mom, and you will come to a point where you can share your story without shame and fear of judgement. In fact, you are still in recovery and fight every single day.

Some days you want to give up, but you now know you are stronger than the depression. The depression only has control over you if you give it the power. You will be so glad you chose recovery and reached out when you did. One day you will come to a point where you no longer feel your life is destined to end as a suicide.

Love,

Your future self

Image via Thinkstock.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

 If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Just Because I Didn't Attempt Suicide Doesn't Mean I Wasn't Suicidal

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There was a point in my life when I felt hopeless. It was such a continuous roller coaster of emotions, uncontrollable urges and self-hatred, I decided I did not want to live anymore. 

I made a choice: I was going to overdose on medication in the hopes I would go to sleep and not wake up. What led me to this choice? After receiving the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, my already heightened awareness of my feelings was intensified by this cruel illness I would have for the rest of my life. Of course, I know now a diagnosis is not a life sentence.

Growing up, I felt everything so intensely — joy, fear, rage, sadness, rejection, love, compassion and despair. I always felt like there was something different about me, that nobody cared about me, that other people didn’t hate themselves like I did. I would be sad or angry for seemingly no reason at all. As I got older, these emotions that seemed to come out of nowhere increased and intensified. All my life, I was told that I was “oversensitive,” “dramatic,” or “seeking attention.” Of course, statements like these and many others made me feel like what I was experiencing was invalid, and that there was just something wrong with me. I didn’t feel like I was living. I felt like I was merely existing.

I remember calling my mother and telling her I didn’t want to live like this. I wasn’t afraid of death, I welcomed it. Death meant an end to the ups and downs, the embarrassment, the constant struggle just to get through the day. I truly felt like I would rest in peace.

I had a suicide plan. I made a list of things I felt needed get done to lessen the burden on my family. I was crossing items off the list one by one as I completed them, but one day I decided I couldn’t make it any longer, it would take too long for the list to be complete.

I don’t recall picking up my phone or dialing my parents’ phone number, but I do remember being hysterical and crying saying over and over “I want to die, I want to die” to my mother. I told her I needed to go to the hospital.

This was not because I wanted to live. It was because I was taught that if I, or anyone else, was suicidal, you go to the hospital. It wasn’t self-preservation, it was obligation. It was just what I was taught to do.

But just because I didn’t make an attempt on my life doesn’t mean my feelings were not valid. But that is how I was treated. I was not hospitalized at my own will, I was being held there legally. I wanted nothing more than to go home and take every pill I could get my hands on, but I was put in the psych ward, monitored by cameras and in a hospital gown so that I could be identified as someone who was at risk.

Doctors and nurses came and went and they all kept telling me I didn’t really want to die, or else I wouldn’t have called my mother and would have actually made an attempt. They told me some small part of me wanted to live. These things were said to me over and over with the best intensions, but it completely invalidated my experience. I felt empty inside. I felt like I had already died and that I was in Purgatory, waiting for my time to ascend or descend to where ever I was going to spend my afterlife.

I felt as if I wasn’t being taken as seriously as someone who had attempted suicide. I felt like I was treated as if I “cried wolf.” For a medical professional to look me in the eye and say, “You don’t actually want to die” — it was like getting punched in the gut.

I truly felt like death was my only option, but was made to feel experiencing that level of hopelessness was completely invalid and irrational. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to feel traumatized because I didn’t have a physical attempt, but in reality I experienced the same feelings as those who had, and isn’t that traumatic in itself? For me, trauma isn’t always based on a physical act or experience, but can come from the feelings driving those actions. I was fortunate enough to have someone to intervene. My crisis is just as valid as someone who makes an attempt.

If I could give one piece of advice to medical professionals, family, friends or anyone who is touched by mental illness in any way, it’s that every person who’s suicidal should be taken seriously. Instead of dismissing their experience as “less real,” tell them you are sorry they’re experiencing those feelings, and ask how they feel and why. And then, just listen.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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A Letter to Myself the Day I Was Admitted to the Psychiatric Hospital

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Hey you, I know you’re in there. I can see past that blank stare, through that brick wall you’ve built around yourself to the scared person inside. I can feel the emotions you are so desperately trying to block out. I can hear your silent screams for help, for relief and for any way out the suffocating darkness called depression. I know your pain. You are not alone. I have been there. I can help.

I know you are terrified right now and suicide seems like the answer. You just want to end the pain and spare your loved ones the burden of you and your depression. I am here to tell you to hang on. Hang on one more minute. Hang on one more hour. Hang on one more day. Hang on. There is help coming. Hang on just a little bit longer.

This hospital may seem scary, but the staff here will help you. They will keep you safe. They will keep you alive. They will teach you new tools, and soon enough, they will give you hope again. The other patients will show you that you are not alone. Their stories will make you realize others out there know and truly understand your pain. In time, you will even come to call some of them “friend.

You will come out of the hospital a changed person. You will be able to see the light of the sun again. You will know while there is still darkness and depression in your life, there can be joy and laughter, too. Not every day will be easy or good, but you will have the strength to keep fighting. You will become the bravest person I know.

You have already survived the hardest part. You found the courage to ask for help. You are doing it. You are here. I can tell you it gets better because I am you. We made it. We are still hanging on. We are still here. We are still alive.

Image via Thinkstock.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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