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

Nothing much compares to the pain of losing a child. When you become a parent, it can feel as if your heart walks out your body and attaches itself to the person you’ve created. To then lose that child is a gut-wrenching, soul-splitting and life-crushing experience.

When a child dies by suicide, there’s usually additional stigma and shame added to that grief. Sometimes parents have to deal with stigmatizing comments made by other people, or intrusive questions about their child’s death. Some have been indirectly blamed for not seeing the signs, or may feel a sting of abandonment when their loved ones stop reaching out and offering support.

We wanted to share the experiences of parents who have lost a child to suicide, so we asked parents in our Mighty community who have lost a child to suicide to share one thing they wish others understood.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “Coming from an extremely religious community, I would like people to understand mental illness is an illness… and sometimes it kills. And when it does, [I believe] our loved ones are in heaven with God, not sent to hell as a punishment… My baby girl is in Heaven with my loving Lord and Savior.” — Gail J.

2. “Don’t think I don’t see you trying to avoid me because you feel uncomfortable knowing I have a child who died from suicide. I live with [the] pain of losing a 31-year-old daughter who was brilliant, beautiful and had a mind that tortured her to the point where she chose to end the pain. I miss Katie every day.” — Gregg A.

3. “I wish people understood suicide is not a big sign or a flash of light to show the world. It’s the fake smiles, ‘I’m OK’s,’ the hiding out from the world.” — Tam M.

4. “He is still my child. I need to know he is remembered, that he was important. My child didn’t choose the easy way out, the decision to leave this life was the hardest he ever had to make.” — Liza C.

5. “Know our pain is life long. We don’t move on. It becomes a part of us until we die. And with all their good intentions, they will never (hopefully) understand the depth of losing a child by suicide.” — Linda M.

6. “We lost our son to suicide three months ago, aged 30. We torture ourselves with ifs, whats, whys and wherefores, but in a video he left us, [he said] he couldn’t live his life like he was anymore, regardless of how much we tried to help him. We are truly broken, but hang on to each other to get through, one day at a time.” — Clare N.

7. “I wish they understood this is not something we ever get over. We carry this with us ’til we see our children again. We need people to understand this and accept this is part of us now.” — Kellie B.

8. “My son was 23 when suicide took him. He was handsome, smart and funny… and felt he didn’t fit anywhere. It took about five years to put my pieces back together, but I am not the same and neither is his sister, 17 years, and we manage by holding on to each other. We aren’t afraid to mention him and wish others weren’t. He is still in our hearts and our lives. We celebrate his birthday, and commiserate on the anniversary of his death. His friends still post birthday wishes on his Facebook page. It will always hurt like it was yesterday, but we’ve learned to carry the pain so no one else can see us flinch.” — Lesley R.

9. “As a parent who lost a child to suicide, I wish others understood that sometimes the things you say do hurt. Don’t talk about how if things don’t go your way you could ‘just die’ (just one example) or minimize suicide in general.” — Kristie M.

10. “I wish they understood there isn’t always a why. People always want me to answer this question. It doesn’t work that way — mental illness is complicated.” — Angie M.

11. “We can’t ‘get over it,’ and shaming a parent for their child’s suicide is bullying.” — Adel E.

12. “Don’t pity me or feel sorry for me. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed about my girl. She was a beautiful soul, inside and out, who was gentle and kind and pure. I’m so proud of who she was and miss her every day. I honor her by looking forward and living the best life I can because she lives in me and her siblings. So it’s OK to say hello, to ask how I am, and it’s also OK if you don’t know how to respond. I know it’s not a ‘pass on by chit chat,’ but do say hello. A smile given here and there does wonders!” — Fa’auly F.

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 “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Thinkstock image by AntonioGuillem


According to a Hanes’ commercial, Michael Jordan hates labels. He rips them off strangers in movie theaters and airplanes. And Michael has a point — clothing labels can be irritating and painful — they can stop you from shrinking a favorite sweater or ruining your best pair of jeans.

Similarly, labeling people can also be irritating and painful. However, proper labels or diagnosis can prevent you from putting your child on the wrong medications or sending them to the wrong therapies.

I know many parents who fear the stigma of labeling their children’s mental illness. Afraid, I suppose, of admitting there’s something wrong with their child. Or that perhaps a mental illness label will somehow make them look like bad parents. In my children’s father’s case, he fears labeling our son will make him lazy and that he won’t try to “snap out of” his condition.

Today, after 11 years of labeling and mislabeling my son, he received a new label, a diagnosis actually, of schizoid personality disorder. Right now, there’s no known medicine or therapy to treat this disorder. Like a patient with a chronic illness, it can be managed but not cured.

But this label fit him well. I knew it the second I found it on Google last week. People with schizoid personality disorder present themselves as indifferent, unattached and unmotivated to succeed. They are not in touch with their emotional state and have a hard time connecting with or empathizing with other people. My conversations with my son are almost always more of a monologue than a dialogue.

Imagine how someone with these challenges would fare in psychotherapy. Not well, not well at all. Countless well-meaning therapists, counselors, teachers and medical doctors have thrown up their hands and said, “I can’t get through to him.” Or, as one particularly humorous physician said, “Your son is above my pay grade.”

Yesterday, when I asked his psychiatrist if perhaps he had schizoid personality disorder, she looked a bit sheepish and said, “I hate to label young people, but yes, this is what he has.”

Her fear of stigma around a label unfortunately has done my son more harm than good.

For the year we have been seeing her, he has been to three therapists, including a three-week stint at an intensive outpatient program 100-miles away from home, that cost thousands of dollars, cost him mental anguish and eventually cost me my job.

A doctor wouldn’t prescribe a medicine that wouldn’t work and in fact, could be harmful. A doctor wouldn’t avoid giving you a diagnosis because of the stigma attached to it. So why do we avoid proper diagnosing and labeling of mental health conditions?

Now that I know about my son, I can accept who he is and stop trying to fix him. I can find a therapist who will mentor him toward goals and not try to get him to “open up.”

Yes, my son has a label I would prefer he didn’t, but Mr. Jordan, if you see him in a movie theater, kindly keep your hands off of him.

A version of this piece originally appeared on @Wit’s End.

My daughter was born on my father’s 51st birthday. As I lay in my hospital bed watching him cradle his first grandchild, I hoped and prayed the baby would make a difference. At the same time, I knew not to expect a miracle. Just weeks before giving birth I had been in the emergency room with my dad, having him hospitalized for another episode of mania. Still, when I saw him look at his granddaughter with genuine joy, I had hope.

My daughter’s first birthday/my dad’s 52nd was celebrated in the psych ward. There was no candle and a nurse held the knife used to cut the cake. “Happy Birthday to Harriet and Papa,” I sang, willing my tears to wait until I made it back to the parking lot. My dad’s smile was gone, and so was my hope.

One of the most painful parts of my father’s illness has been my struggle to reconcile the boisterous, social man who parented me with the subdued, lethargic man I now call dad.

My father used to be a social butterfly – a magnet. He was someone people wanted to be around and who wanted to be around others. Looking back, it’s clear now my father’s “normal” ran on the manic spectrum through my childhood. So much of my father’s flamboyant personality was actually his disease. I’ve struggled to accept the dad I grew up with, is – at least for now – gone. My husband hasn’t met him, and even my younger siblings struggle to remember the dad I knew and still love. For years before my daughter was born I mourned the fact that my children wouldn’t know the wonderful man who raised me.

But when my daughter was born, that changed.

In the early weeks of the summer, my dad would drive to my house to visit the baby. I inwardly cringed when he held her, exhaling the smell of stale cigarettes onto her and nuzzling his bristly, unshaven face into her delicate skin. Sometimes he stayed only minutes, and sometimes he stayed too long. I was harried and tired, but even in my postpartum fog I could see that these visits were offering all of us a chance at a new life together.

When he was hospitalized during the winter, I drove two hours each way to visit because seeing his granddaughter brought him joy. She was a balm for unmet expectations and awkward silences. She allowed me to visit with my dad and simply be present — not pushing him, giving suggestions or carrying on one-sided conversations.

During his second emergency room visit of the winter, I stepped into the hall while the psychiatrist interviewed my father. His massive frame was curled into the fetal position, looking small on the hospital gurney. He delivered one-word answers until the doctor asked if there was something – anything – that made him happy. “My granddaughter,” he whispered. “She makes me smile.”

Now my daughter is 17 months, and when my dad comes into the room she shouts “Papa!” It doesn’t matter whether he is clean-shaven or hasn’t showered in days. If he’s wearing pajamas or dressed up, if he is manic or depressed – he is hers. I no longer worry about my daughter not knowing the man I grew up with, because she knows the man who she will grow up with just fine. I never know how long we have until my dad, this dad, slips away, for an episode or forever. But instead of worrying about that or fighting against the impossible, a little girl has taught me to let my guard down and love my father just as he is.

This piece originally appeared on Stigma Fighters.

I wish I could stop pretending not to be mentally ill.

I no longer care to keep my mental illness hidden. Yep, I’m no longer ashamed. I have worked really hard to get to this point. I’m not depressed right now, it appears my anxiety will never go away. Does that make me weak? Should I hide my illness like the dirty little secret the world wants me to think it is?

I think not. But here’s the thing — I’m looking for a job. I’m working with my university’s job placement service and they think I should keep it hush-hush. I was forced to leave my last job when they refused to allow me a reasonable accommodation to mitigate my anxiety. Their HR department was appalled that I had told my coworkers and supervisors the reason for needing the accommodation. They said something to the effect of, “You know, you don’t have to tell anyone.”

Yes, of course I know that! I’ve wasted years of my life concealing my mental illnesses!

I’m proud of what I’ve done to live life to its fullest. I’m proud that I can manage my illness. I’m proud that even if anxiety won’t go away, I’ve learned how to live with it. I’m proud I’ve achieved as much as I have while battling a sometimes life-threatening illness. I’m proud that I never succumbed to my suicidal ideations. I’m proud I somehow never gave up on myself, even though I really wanted to.

But I’m not allowed to even acknowledge what might be my greatest achievement in life in the workplace or when seeking employment? This makes me angry and feels counterintuitive. Sure, I’ve achieved many other remarkable things, but I’ve had enough pretending that I never suffer from depressive episodes. Or that I’ve never become paralyzed with panic. The depression and the anxiety are a huge part of what makes me who I am. My ability to overcome those monumental obstacles is remarkable and something any employer should value.


Instead, I have to feed the stigma? Even though I’m done hiding? Hiring managers and HR departments are just not ready for my lack of shame. This feels so wrong. I must begrudgingly conceal what to me is one of my greatest strengths. Anyone who has had recurring bouts of major depression knows that just the fact that I’m writing this shows I fought and I continue to fight. I fought hard and with everything I could muster to beat that last episode: the one caused by my employer failing to allow me a reasonable accommodation.

But part of my self-care strategy is learning to choose my battles. While I want to fight this battle, I need income. But this is not how I would like to get a job — by lying. Oh sure, I’ve done it before. I’ve honed the skill of masking my symptoms to the point where HR departments don’t believe me when I say I have anxiety. I suppose I’ve lied my way into every job I’ve ever had.

Maybe I have to sit out this battle, but the war isn’t won. I will be a good little job-seeker and pretend I don’t have a life-altering illness just to get hired. But just because I can’t fight this round doesn’t mean I’m done. In fact, it has fueled my desire to stop the charade. You better believe I’ve only just begun to fight the stigma we all know needs to die. This little setback is just more motivation for me to stop pretending that I’m not mentally ill, because I am. 

Five years ago at the age of 17, I was diagnosed with a mental health disorder for which I had symptoms ever since I was a child. It was a shock. At the same time, I was relieved to know, at last, what had been happening to me for so long. Quickly, I decided to fight and to do everything in my power to not let this illness define me. Five years later, I can now affirm that I’m on the road to recovery and stability. I’m leading a happy and successful life on many levels, and I hope my story will be one of resilience, hope and courage.

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photo: Daniel Levesque, TEDxQuebec

On December 1, 2015, I shared my story on the stage of TEDxQuébec in front of 200 people. Deciding to share my story wasn’t easy. I wanted to do it for a long time, but I hesitated and felt extremely anxious about my decision. Here are four reasons why I almost didn’t speak up about my mental illness. (And why I eventually did.)

1. I didn’t want to be labeled.

I’m an individual, not an illness. My struggles with my mental health are only a part of who I am but don’t represent the woman I am as a whole. I’m still an outgoing, happy, strong-willed and passionate person even with a mental illness. I didn’t want people to put me into a small box and to not look beyond that. I didn’t want to be treated or perceived differently than I currently am.

2. I didn’t want people to pity me or to feel sorry for me.

Although I went through a difficult time due to my life experiences and the symptoms of my mental illness that arose from it, I still consider myself a lucky and fortunate woman. I appreciate life and everything that I do precisely because I have been in pain for so long. Living with a mental illness forced me to question what I wanted to do in life and made aware of the person I wanted to be early on. I have a clear direction of where I want to go because I have struggled for so long with my mental health. Some people who are much older than I am and don’t live with a mental illness aren’t as fortunate to have this sense of direction.

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photo: Stephanie Pineau

3. I didn’t know how people would react.

Let’s face it. There is still a lot of stigma regarding mental health. And it’s something that scares a lot of people. I’ve come to realize that society tends to treat people with mental health issues differently than those who live with physical illnesses or injuries. However, I realized my real friends would stick with me. Those who walked away from it out of fear or discomfort are simply people I would have turned myself away from at the end of the day.

4. It’s not often talked about in the black community.

People of color are often ignored in this conversation altogether. As a black woman, I believe that each and every one of us should take care of our mental health. Yet, most of the stories we hear, even if they’re very inspiring ones, tend to be about white people, leaving people of color out of the picture. Dior Vargas, a Latina feminist and mental health advocate, has made an excellent point of that. We need to be more inclusive when we talk about these things. So I decided to stop waiting for someone to represent me and be that person instead. I decided to be the change I wanted to see in the world because I have the intellectual and personal resources to talk about this topic.

At the end of the day, I didn’t know what the consequences would be, positive or negative, regarding my choice about speaking up. Seeing many young people around me being isolated and treated differently solely on the basis of their mental health issues gave me motivation to speak up. I gathered the support I needed to do that from local organizations and talking about my decision with my parents.

As a counselor and a social work student, I feel it’s important that I embody the values I find important in my profession. And part of that was to let myself be truly seen, as the professor and author Brené Brown would put it. I decided to speak up not only to help others but also out of authenticity. Being able to admit one’s own vulnerabilities takes courage. And there is strength in that.

I decided to talk about my mental health because I want to make the point that it’s OK to talk about these things. I want people to understand that living with a mental illness is not the end of the world once you get the right tools and the proper help. I want people to understand that we can all struggle at one point in our lives, that every experience is valid and that there should be no shame around these discussions.

Asking for help is actually a sign of humility and self-respect. And more importantly, I want people to understand that it’s possible to lead a joyful, happy and successful life despite living with a mental illness. There is always hope. I am the living proof of that.

The Mighty is asking the following: Give advice to someone who has just been diagnosed with your mental illness. What do you wish someone had told you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

The holidays are a time where relatives often come together, whether for good or for ill. And for those of us who are ill, it can sometimes contribute to that part of our lives. Family support is important, but when your relatives won’t stop asking questions or offering unnecessary advice, it can get overwhelming. Here’s your guide to surviving the nosy relatives of your holiday season.

Note: You know your family best — if any of these points sound like they won’t be effective for you, don’t do them. Your results may vary on all these suggestions, but these are some strategies that help me.

1. Changing the topic can work wonders.

Whether your relatives see and respect the topic change, or let it whiz right past them without realizing what you’re doing, a good old-fashioned “Oh hey, that reminds me!” goes a long way. For example, if someone asks why you don’t have a job yet, a great response is something like, “It’s complicated. But I hear cousin George has a new job doing fecal transplants. That sounds fascinating.” Or if you’re feeling spunky: “Have you tried the fruitcake yet? It’s truly delicious.” Topic changes are especially great for those awkward lulls in conversation after things have turned to a truly uncomfortable subject.

2. Honesty is (sometimes) the best policy.

Sometimes being grossly honest is the way to go. If your relative asks why you’re not eating enough, you can stay straight out, “Well, I’m getting over a nasty case of the eating disorders so sometimes food is a little hard for me.” This is best if you know your family has some awareness of mental illnesses and is likely to respect boundaries. It can absolutely be intimidating, but you’d also be surprised how supportive some people are once they know what’s actually going on.

3. Recruit a friend.

During the holidays, I often question whether I’m being oversensitive. For a while, I thought I was just a mean, nasty person because I had a hard time being around my grandmother, who can seem overbearing. This year, I talked to my dad about it and he confirmed she can be somewhat on the abrasive side. It helps to know I’m not making it up or ruining the holiday. Having someone else whose eye you can catch or who can laugh uncomfortably with you goes a long way.

On that note, it helps to prep your closest family members. That way, you’ll have someone willing to swoop in and either explain or distract as necessary. For example, anxiety and I have a close relationship, which is made worse by holidays and large groups of people. I pretty regularly sneak off for a few minutes (or hours) on my own to read a book or just decompress. When I give my dad a heads up, he makes excuses for me. This way, my family doesn’t feel unwanted or ask if I’m feeling OK when I get back.

I also have some family members who like to push my buttons, and when I talk to my parents they’re usually really good about inserting themselves into a conversation for me.

4. Set your boundaries.

Setting boundaries is a skill, and it’s one you can learn with practice. With some people, being straightforward that you don’t want to discuss something is a good option. Ideally, you can describe what they’re doing, tell them how it affects you and ask them to stop. Then you can introduce a consequence if they don’t stop. For example, if someone keeps asking you about your mental health in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you can say, “You keep asking me personal questions. It makes me uncomfortable. Let’s talk about something else, otherwise I’m going to go hang out with the kids for a little bit.”

This may seem mean or as if you’re stirring up drama, but you have every right to ask a family member to respect your boundaries. Think about how much you’re willing to disclose ahead of time, and then decide if you want to set and enforce a boundary with those who continue talking and asking.

5. Have a sense of humor.

If having a sense of humor is how you cope, embrace it. “Oh, it’s time to talk about personal health issues now? Do tell me about yours!” Humor often gets the point across quite quickly.

Follow this journey on We Got So Far to Go.

The Mighty is asking the following: As someone who lives with — or has a loved one with — a mental illness, what’s one thing that’s particularly challenging around the holidays? Why? What advice would give someone going through similar challenges? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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