A teenage boy holding a tape

Parents: Read This Before Talking With Your Kids About '13 Reasons Why'

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Editor’s note: The following piece contains spoilers about “13 Reasons Why.”

The buzz about the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” is as loud as it is diverse — and if you’re a parent, it can be difficult to know what to make of it. Based on the book by Jay Asher, the series follows the aftermath of high school student Hannah Baker’s suicide. Hannah leaves 13 tapes explaining 13 reasons “why” she ended her life.

That, right there, is why many suicide prevention activists find the plot flawed and unhelpful (I’ll explain this below). But this criticism hasn’t translated to most general audiences, who have found the series inspiring for its depiction of hard-to-discuss issues like bullying, sexual assault and yes — suicide.

So how do we talk about it? For parents, and for anyone who feels a bit uncomfortable about “13 Reasons Why,” it can be intimidating to orchestrate a productive conversation about the topics and themes depicted in the show.

To find out what parents should think about when their child is watching “13 Reasons Why,” I spoke to three suicide prevention activists — Dese’Rae L. Stage, founder of Live Through This; Shannon Crossbear, a suicide loss survivor; and Martin Rafferty, Executive Director of Youth MOVE Oregon — and asked them what advice they would give parents who want to talk to their children about the show.

Here’s what they told me.

Ask, “What do you think is ‘Hollywood’ about this show?”

Although viewers of the show will know it’s fiction, Rafferty said it’s important to weed through exactly what makes the show unrealistic, besides the fact that its characters aren’t real.

Here are some good places to start:

Address the show’s representation of suicide as a way to send a message: Most people who die by suicide don’t get to leave a clear, definitive message after their death. To show suicide as an effective communication strategy (“everyone will see how wrong they are/learn a lesson about how their behavior affects others”) is misleading and perpetuates a “suicide as revenge” narrative — that people only kill themselves to teach others a lesson. While the series doesn’t undermine the real pain Hannah was in, it’s important to understand the plot itself is unrealistic. Those who are suicidal shouldn’t overestimate the clarity of the message they’ll be able to send after they die. “She made a huge splash, but most suicides are whispers,” Rafferty said.

Often, suicides are not orchestrated: Anywhere from 33 percent to 80 percent of all suicide attempts are impulsive. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, 24 percent took less than five minutes between the decision to kill themselves and the actual attempt, and 70 percent took less than one hour. “Parents should know the premise itself is unrealistic, no one, especially teenagers, a suicidal teenager, is going to take the time to make a long suicide manifesto and then remain in crisis,” Stage said. “Kids are usually going to act pretty quickly.”

Update April 18: To clarify, Stage added, “Most people act quickly in the window after they make the decision. That’s not to say that the move is necessarily impulsive. Many people think about it and plan (actively, or even as passively as, ‘If I were going to kill myself, I would take pills,’ or maybe they’d think about whether they would leave a note) over time. It doesn’t just arrive as a single thought out of mid-air for the first time and end in an attempt or a death.”

A suicide doesn’t leave behind a list of people/things to “blame”: When someone dies by suicide, there often isn’t a neatly, bullet-pointed list of “reasons why,” as the title of the show implies. Crossbear suggested asking your children, “Do you think when someone dies by suicide, there needs to be blamed assigned?”

“While we want people to be aware of how their actions impact other people, we also don’t want to put them in the position of feeling when someone dies by suicide, that it’s their fault,” Crossbear said.

Next, challenge the “bullycide” narrative. 

While we never want to underestimate the mental health effects bullying has on young people and the very real depression, anxiety and trauma it can spark, there’s often more going on when a bullied child takes their own life. “The bullycide narrative is problematic because it simplifies suicide too much,” Stage said. Instead, talk to your kids about the whole range of reasons why someone dies by suicide, including mental health, isolation and lack of support.

Talk honestly about the “kind of people” who die by suicide. (Hint: The stereotype is wrong.)

The part that bothered Stage, a suicide attempt survivor herself, was that the show perpetuated the myth that people who kill themselves are manipulative and vengeful. “It’s not fair,” she said. “Parents should know that the premise itself is unrealistic.” While you could argue people who die by suicide share a common pain, they’re diverse in what actually drives them and shouldn’t be simplified to a stereotype. 

Talk about the resources available for someone who’s feeling suicidal.

Another criticism about the show was that it didn’t show successful help-seeking. Use this as an opportunity to educate your child about what resources are available for someone who needs help. Here are some essentials:

Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741 to text with a free trained crisis counselor, 24/7.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: If you prefer to talk to someone over the phone, you can call 1-800-273-8255.

Teen LineIf your child would rather talk to a peer, they can text “TEEN” to 839863 between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. PST.

You can create a safe space for talking about suicide.

If the show sparked the first conversation you had with your family about suicide, don’t let it be your last. Make sure your children feel comfortable talking about suicidal thoughts in a shame-free environment. Tell your teen there’s nothing shameful about having suicidal thoughts and that they can talk to you and get support if they’re ever feeling hopeless.

Know the that last episode is graphic — and make sure your child knows how to get support if they need it.

It’s important for viewers to know the last episode shows Hannah dying by suicide — and that if they struggle with suicidal ideation (or not), it might be hard to watch. “I don’t know how one could properly prepare for that,” Stage said. “Not only was the suicide scene really graphic, you can get a sense in that last episode that you were watching a thriller.” Stage suggests to get support if you need it, or, if you’re not ready, skip the episode entirely. 

Lastly, know the “issue” with “13 Reasons Why” is not that it talks about suicide. We should be talking about suicide. But as arguably the most popular modern narrative that focuses on a suicide, this show has a lot of power to shape how young people think about those who die by suicide and why people die by suicide — and it’s unfortunately not enough. Especially if your child is being bullied, struggles with depression or has even survived a suicide attempt — they need to know there’s more information about suicide out there and that they’re not alone. Because while the fictional Hannah Backer left behind tapes, many, many more suicide attempt survivors and suicide loss survivors have stories to tell — and they also deserve our ears and hearts.

To connect with other suicide attempt survivors: Live Through This

To connect with other suicide loss survivors: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

To read the guidelines for reporting on/discussing suicide: Reporting on Suicide

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Lead image via 13 Reasons Why Facebook page

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Remembering Amy Bleuel; Her Story Is Not Over

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It is with profound sadness that I write about my friend who died by suicide recently. She was a passionate, creative soul who strived to live on daily. She was an artist with an astounding view for the world around her. Now more than ever, I can see how she beautifully captured it in her own unique way. Her perseverance, dedication and the persistence she carried helped her to face each day. Her compassion and love for others will forever strike a chord in those who knew her. Her name is Amy Bleuel.

As difficult as this is to write, I wanted to reassure everyone that Amy’s memory lives on; her story is not over.

After her death, I watched the community come together. It was beautiful to see her family, her friends and supporters join together to celebrate Amy’s life. As I sat back and listened to her friends and family share their stories of Amy, I could not help but think about how greatly Amy served others. In fact, it was the pain she endured that in turn allowed her to open up to love and help so many others.

Losing a loved one can indeed bring misery, hardship, strain, heartache and a great amount of hurt. What I have learned, though, is that we can begin to heal by sharing our loved one’s story with others.

Rocks with butterflied painted on them that say "Rise Together"
The rocks were a gift that we received form Amy.

It has been said that hope can be found right between faith and love. I believe this to be true. It is there that we can continue on, sharing time with those we care about, remembering those we have lost and raise the good memories that are so dear to us. We can remember the times we laughed, the times we got excited, the times we got angry, the times we dreamed, and even the times we cried. It is in those moments that we experience life together.

You see, Amy and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye and there was a period of time that our friendship completely fell apart. During that time, I could have never imagined I’d be sitting here writing about her death, as we always want to believe we have more time. As heart wrenching as this is, it does bring me great joy that we were recently able to set aside our differences, let go of our resentments and begin to make amends. About a week before her passing, Amy and I were text messaging.

A crowd

Scrolling back on these final messages pains my heart greatly but also brings me joy. She was loving, caring and excited about life. I remember inviting Amy to speak on stage with me that day. We were in a casino of all places, speaking to over 1,000 youth from various tribal communities here in Wisconsin. It was great to see everyone working together to make a difference. We stood up and spoke out that day with strong compassionate voices. For Amy, I am sure it helped to inspire her to speak out even louder than she ever had before. I smile now, as I remember her even standing in the back and on the side of the stage taking photos. She was such a talented photographer. Man… what blast we had that day.

The last time I saw Amy was a few weeks before she passed. We met at Seth’s Coffee in Little Chute. We shared stories and conversed about life over cups of coffee. We talked about normal things, really. It was great to see a smile on her face. It was great to be sitting there just talking as two friends. We didn’t talk much about business, which was rare for us, but more about the good things we were experiencing. As always, she asked how my children were doing. She even brought a few jars of pickles for my son because she knew he loved them. That’s something I realized over the past few days. She always was giving her friends little gifts. It was her own little way to show appreciation.

As much as she will be missed, she will never be forgotten. I believe that we all can find some comfort in this. Whether you knew Amy personally or you recently have lost a loved one of your own, you can still help bring a voice to the voiceless. You can share these types of memories with the people and the world around you. In doing so, we can all find a way to smile even during the most difficult times.

“Everyone who knew Amy saw her passion and dedication to helping others cope with their struggles in life. She always wore her heart on her sleeve, which is never easy,” said Jeff Strommen, Executive Director of the Brown County Suicide Prevention Coalition. “Her passing is truly a loss felt in our community and across the world. If Amy were here right now, she would want me to tell you that your story isn’t over. Stay strong; love endlessly.”

My hope here is to help you understand who Amy was as a person, even outside of the project. We all know that we can’t change the past but what we can do is learn from it, grow from it and cherish it. I want you to continue walking with me in her memory and sharing her story with those around you; especially with those struggling. We must not give up. We must push forward and carry the power of love with us.

It is in these times that we can search for a greater understanding of mental illness and addiction. It is in these times that we can search for stronger preventative measures. It is in these times we can find allies, supporters, peers, friends and family to join us in these efforts to eliminate the stigma around mental health and addiction. It is in these times we can band arms together, support one another, unite and rise together to save lives.

I cannot fully understand what Amy’s family must be going through at this time, but what I do know is that we can call out to them with our support, our prayers and our condolences. Amy was more than her mission. She was a beautiful soul that will live on in our memories forever.

For everyone out there, keep the stories going. Share your own. Find your purpose like Amy found hers. Serve others in your own unique way. By doing so, I promise you this world will be a greater place to live than we may have ever seen before.

Much love always,
Anthony Alvarado
President of Rise Together

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Lead image via Project Semicolon

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Why People With Mental Illness Need to Be Careful When Watching '13 Reasons Why'

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Many of you have probably heard about the new Netflix TV Series, “13 Reasons Why.” If you haven’t, I’ll give you a quick description of the plot.

A girl named Hannah Baker kills herself and leaves behind a set of 13 cassette tapes that describe 13 reasons why she killed herself. Each tape belongs to someone who hurt her and made her want to kill herself. The tapes get passed along to each person who ever hurt her. Meanwhile, her parents are struggling to cope with her death and decide to create a lawsuit against the school in their frustration with the administrative board for not helping her when she needed it most.

The series follows Clay Jensen, a friend of Hannah’s. He receives the tapes on his doorstep one night and starts listening. As he gets deeper and deeper into the tapes, he loses his control of emotions and goes to each of the people on the tapes before him to get them to confess to what they did so he can find justice for Hannah.

This series really gives a powerful and important message on bullying, mental illness, rape, self harm and suicide, but if you’re not in a good place, it can be dangerous to watch.

I was told by a couple friends I probably shouldn’t watch the show because there are so many ways I could get triggered. But I wanted to see the show for myself to see if the message of the show was true to my understanding of mental illness, self harm and suicide.

The show is dark and despairing. There is so much hurting, and for someone who is already in a bad place, the show has the potential to send someone off into a much darker abyss than before.

There are many scenes when your heart is wrenched in emotion and sympathy for what Hannah experienced, and scenes when you see the issues are so real. Much realer than you would imagine from a Netflix TV series.

The scene at the end of the series when you actually see Hannah die is the most dangerous scene to see as someone struggling with mental illness. It’s blunt and honest, and there’s nothing left out. You see everything. Before getting angry over this triggering scene, you need to understand this detail is actually pretty relevant to the show in order for your eyes to be opened to suicide. However, this “detail” can easily send a recovering self-harmer into a relapse, so there is a positive and negative.

I do honestly believe this show was very real and for the most part quite accurate to what mental illness is like. Obviously they can’t get everything right, but they truly got close. I think this show is good for people who don’t understand suicide or the warning signs to watch for. More than being a form of entertainment, it can be a form of education.

This is not me saying you need to watch this show. In fact, if you are struggling, I suggest you wait. I think you will understand when you are ready, because I knew when I was. I was told by friends to be careful about watching it, but I was ready for what was to come and I felt I was at a good enough place where I could watch the show without getting triggered. And that’s a decision you have to be able to make. Only you can decide what you can and can’t handle. Keep yourself safe.

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

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

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Photo via “13 Reasons Why” Facebook page.

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6 Reasons I Believe High School Students Should Watch '13 Reasons Why'

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Wow. I am almost done with the first season of “13 Reasons Why,” and my heart is heavy. My heart is heavy because I was in Hannah’s shoes. I was that high school kid who contemplated suicide but didn’t go through with it. I’ve seen criticism of the show, and can understand some of the concern. But in my opinion, this is a must-watch — especially for high schoolers.

Here are six reasons why you should watch the show, from a kid who almost shared Hannah’s fate.

1. It realistically portrays what far too many high schools are like in America, today. The bullying, the rampant peer pressure and constant desire to fit in.

2. It shows just how powerful words and actions are, and how real their consequences can be.

3. It shows the need to rethink how counselors talk about mental health and bullying, especially at the high school level.

4. It accurately shows just how clueless some parents are when it comes to their child’s behavior, and the stunning lack of accountability there is when it comes to technology and online behavior.

5. It can make us question what someone is going through, and the potential need to reach out to others who could be hurting.

6. Finally, it shows high schoolers just how toxic their environment can be, and the real need to be a friend to all — regardless of looks or socioeconomic status.

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

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

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

Photo via “13 Reasons Why” Facebook page.

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People Who Attempt Suicide Need Compassion, Not Criminal Prosecution

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Where I’m living right now, taking your own life or attempting to do so is considered a grave sin and must be punished accordingly. I am currently facing a hefty fine or imprisonment of up to six months for attempting suicide and also for having medication in my possession that is illegal in their country — even though I have a certified prescription from my home country for it. Although I am an expat and not Muslim, I live in their country and must abide by their rules and law.

I had the opportunity to retract my initial statement and “phrase” it differently in order for me to walk free. However, I felt this would deny everything I believed in. I not only wanted to stand firm by speaking the truth even when it was the hardest thing to do, but also not to minimize the toll depression can take on those who live with it. Telling them what “they wanted to hear” would simply sweep this immense problem under the rug and the desperate focus mental health needs will get lost.

Some countries are more focussed on hiding negative statistics, the economic stability a healthy flow of tourists will bring and their image, that they are ignorant as to what is truly going on with the working class and the toll mental health issues have on the emotional well being of its citizens. According to an article published on The National, “Doctors believe that although many know more about mental health issues now, the stigma associated with these still poses a global challenge.” Also, many health insurance companies do not cover psychiatric problems, which adds to the stress and concern of people who cannot afford treatment and then prevents them from seeking further help. Although a lot of effort has been made to bring awareness to mental health issues and thus encouraged people to seek treatment, there is no follow through. So, not only do many expats find themselves alone, without family or friends for support, in a foreign country where they cannot afford the help they so desperately need, but they also face criminal prosecution when they end up hitting rockbottom and attempting suicide.

After leaving the public prosecutor’s office earlier this week after being questioned, alone, for almost an hour, I realized something. I realized why being treated and tried as a criminal for an illness is not going to resolve anything. One of the biggest triggers for my mental health issues is stress, anxiety and lack of sleep. I attempted to take my life early September 2016 and shortly after I was discharged from the hospital, I had to give my statement to the police. They confiscated my passport and the investigation has now been going on for almost six months. Therefore, for six months I have been dealing with feelings of guilt, shame, fear, disappointment, loneliness, despair and agonizing over what will happen with my future — all adding to my worst triggers of being stressed and having anxiety, which leads to little or no sleep.

I understand that I am not exempt from any country’s law, but criminal punishment is not the solution. With depression you already feel like a worthless human being that will not amount to anything and feel like you have failed yourself and everyone around you. To then be ostracized and prosecuted on top of that only adds to the critic inside of you. Instead of sentencing you to prison or inflict a fine that you cannot afford (after all, you did struggle to afford the treatment in the first place) we should be finding ways to help people who struggle with mental health issues. Being new to a foreign country, not knowing many people and only having my husband as a support system, I didn’t know how or where to find help and I didn’t want to be a financial burden. I had to deal with the emotional roller coaster of being a newly wed, quitting my job (therefore being completely financially dependent on my husband) and moving to a Middle-Eastern country, leaving my trusted psychologist of 15 years as well as family and friends behind, and my dog which has been a form of therapy in so many ways. My entire world fell apart and I fell into one of the worst depressions I have ever experienced. Not only is awareness crucial for mental health issues, but creating the means to obtain help is vital. Without help and the proper support system awareness means nothing. Going through this experience has truly humbled me, but also it has been difficult to remember who I am. It is heartbreaking to be treated like a criminal when I am not; I am a good and honest person. People who live with mental illnesses are not “less than” — we are still us. We can still laugh, love, care, dream and hope. We also seek connection and companionship. Mental illness is not reserved for any race, religion, social class or sex. Anyone can fall victim to its cold grip and we must all work together to lift the stigma surrounding it.

Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have known that when I woke up in the hospital, I would face another form of prison. When you find yourself in such a deep, desperate and dark place that you feel like you have to die by suicide just to find peace from the monsters plaguing your mind, I would l say that you have been punished enough and don’t need another prison to do so.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741

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

Thinkstock photo via IgorKozeev

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What It Was Like to Be on Suicide Watch in a Psych Ward for 16 Days

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

16 days.

I was in the psychiatric ward of a local hospital on suicide watch for 16 days. I attempted suicide twice within 12 hours. 16 days of eating plastic food, sleeping in a slightly too uncomfortable bed, having meeting after meeting with a psychiatrist, night after night of laying in bed wondering what was to become of me. 16 days of being a psychiatric patient who could barely function some moments.

patient's hospital bed in psych ward

16 days.

It seemed like I was in there forever. The stifling off-white walls and blue hospital gowns submerged in bottles of pills to sedate the pain makes you feel like you’ll never leave once you’ve been admitted. The screams were the worst; patients yelling back and forth at each other and the nurses doing their best to help. An enclosed nightmare is what I would define it as.

author looking into mirror wearing blue hospital gown in psych ward

16 days.

Each day was the same routine: Wake up, have breakfast at 7:30 a.m., take meds at 8:00 a.m., wander around aimlessly until 9:00 a.m., go to groups until 12:00 p.m., have lunch at 12:00 p.m., go to groups until 2:00 p.m., wander around aimlessly until 5 p.m., have dinner at 5:00 p.m., wander around aimlessly until 8:00 p.m., have a snack at 8:00 p.m., wander around aimlessly until 11:00 p.m., go to bed at 11:00 p.m. Repeat the routine again the next day. Over and over and over again. It was sickening.

hospital food in psych ward

16 days.

The deafening echoes of the voices of the other patients jostling around the back of my mind. “Bunch of assholes they are,” “I’m afraid I’m losing God,” “I can’t hear a word you just said,” “I just called the FBI and they will be at the door and they will find the bombs that are all around the building … tomorrow no hospital,” “My husband was murdered, my brother was murdered, my whole family was murdered,” “Nobody ever said that to me before,” “So you’re the one in school,” “What are you studying?”

patient's arm in psych ward hospital with tattoo and apparatus

16 days.

The putrid smells that wreaked the hallways still burn my nostrils. The cries, the pacing of feet back and forth, doors opening and closing, the locked doors, the fights, the squeak of the food trolley arriving, the vicious mood swings, no motivation, the hopeless looks, the doctors and nurses; on and on and on. Like a vicious cycle of horror that never ends.

author in psych ward with hospital bracelets

16 days.

I was one of the lucky ones. I brought a few books to read and my laptop to write and do some schoolwork whenever I felt up to it. It wasn’t often but I managed to get some things done. Other patients took to drawing or doing puzzles or even writing. We got 20 minute breaks throughout the day if we had the green privileges bracelet. I had one.

patient's feet in psych ward

16 days.

I made some amazing friends there. Funny I know, to think you could make friends in the psych ward. But I did. These people were not “crazy” or different to me. They are real people struggling with real illnesses, just like I am. I know that whenever I feel alone and need someone, they will be there. They are my support group just as much as my family and my doctors are.

patient holding coffee cup in psych ward with tattoo on arm

16 days.

I cannot thank those who went through this rough time with me enough. Day after day they were there, loving me and giving me the support I needed. Even when I was acting out or screaming or crying or feeling hopeless, they were there. They walked through fire for me and I am forever grateful. They were a true blessing for me.

patient's table in psych ward with books and flowers

16 days.

This morning at 11:30 a.m., I was discharged from the hospital’s psych ward. I walked the long corridor to the doors leading to freedom and beyond for the very last time. No more blue hospital gowns or plastic food; no more stifling off-white walls, uncomfortable beds and screaming patients. No more scheduled vitals check and blood work. No more of any of it.

patient's armband

16 days.

Now as an outpatient, I am able to return to society and go school. I am able to go for coffee with people I enjoy spending time with. I am able to live with my mental illness in a manageable way. I am in no way “fixed” or 110 percent better. I never will be. But I will do the best I can to live a “normal” life without letting my illness stop me.

16 days.

Recovery is complex, and in no way a “quick fix.” It is grueling and long and can feel useless at moments. I will admit I have felt that way at times during my time in the hospital. I used to think the doctors would make me better and I didn’t have to do anything. Wrong. I had to work my butt off to get to the place I am in right now. It was very difficult for me. Seeing what other patients were dealing with made me feel sorrowful, which made it extra difficult for me to learn how to cope with my illness. Coming from me, recovery is hard!

16 days.

I want to express to you that I am who I am and I will never be able to get rid of my illness or become “fully cured.” Mental illness is something I will live with for the rest of my life. I have accepted that fact. But even though my illness is lifelong, it should not be life-limiting. I should be able to do all the things I want to do, like travel, study, work, etc. I should not have to succumb to the grasping claws of my illness. I am not my illness.

16 days.

Writing this has been freeing for me. I feel more confident in my words and I will hopefully feel the same in my actions going forward. This is a reminder to me that I am worthwhile and a precious gift from God. I am worthy of life and all that it has to offer.

I am human.

xoxo

-E

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

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