Today’s post is written by guest blogger Dese’Rae L. Stage, creator of Live Through This—a one-of-a-kind public awareness project that humanizes the issue of suicide through sharing portraits and stories of suicide attempt survivors, as told by those survivors. To learn more about Dese’Rae and her project visit: livethroughthis.org.
Suicide Can Affect Anyone
We have to find ways to talk about it.
By. Dese’Rae L. Stage
“Suicide” is a dirty word in this country. It’s a sin. It’s taboo. It’s selfish.
I get it: we’re afraid of death. Especially the death of teenagers and young adults, and more especially when that death comes at their own hands. But avoiding it and pretending it doesn’t exist is nothing more than willfully perpetuating ignorance.
Did you know that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds? The only other causes of death more common are accidents and murder. Numbers can be a little arbitrary, so let me put it another way.
If you’ve moved on from high school, use your imagination here. If you’re still in high school, do an experiment for me. Look around you when you go to class. Don’t just look at your friends. Look at the people you don’t like too, and the ones you don’t even know. There will likely be three people in the room who have attempted suicide in the past year. Every two hours or so, 150 of your peers across the country attempt suicide; one of them will die. One day, it will be someone you know.
I lost a friend to suicide for the first time when I was 16. At the same time, I was struggling with self-injury (and that would continue for the next 7 years). Through all of it, I remember feeling like there was nowhere to turn, no one to talk to who would understand, no one who could help me. I felt the same way after I attempted suicide, myself.
The Internet puts the entire world at your fingertips—in both good and bad ways—and I remember looking for people like me, people who had attempted suicide, lived, and didn’t know what to do next. I Googled “suicide survivor” and found some resources for family and friends of suicide victims—loss survivors—but no one was out there saying, “I was in so much pain that I tried to kill myself. What now?”
I decided I was going to find them. I was going to ask them to share their stories and to show their faces—to take ownership of their experiences and, in doing so, to show everyone that suicidal thoughts can happen to anyone. I started Live Through This in 2010 with my camera, the audio recorder on my iPhone, and a Craigslist ad. It was slow going for the first two years or so; one successful Kickstarter campaign and a little over a year later, I’ve collected the portraits and stories of 65 attempt survivors across the country. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Young people think about suicide all the time. I certainly did, and statistics further prove that point. The problem is that the community at large only talks about suicide when they can try to pin it on something else. Bullying and sexuality have been trending in past years, but these are just tipping points. They’re catalysts.
The news might make you think otherwise, but suicide doesn’t just affect the gay kids, or the kids who get picked on, or the “fat” kids. This can affect anyone: Whites to Hispanics to Native Americans; rich or poor; gay, straight, trans, or somewhere in the middle; the jocks, the band geeks, or even the valedictorian.
Yes, most youth suicides can be attributed to interpersonal conflicts. This includes bullying, but what about breakups or trouble at home? There’s pressure to perform, unplanned pregnancies, drug or alcohol problems, the terrifying onset of a mental illness, like depression. It could be a hundred different things, separately or together, that incite that deadly decision, but it’s never so simple as being bullied or coming out of the closet.
There is almost always a history, some trail, that leads up to a death by suicide. You might have noticed a friend giving her things away. Maybe she started doing dangerous things, things she never would have done before. Maybe she said something that felt off to you, almost like she was trying to say goodbye. Maybe she lost a friend or a parent recently and feels like she’s never going to get over that grief (this is especially important if that loss was suicide-related). We all have a story and a past that goes so much deeper than what we see with our eyes.
We have to pay attention. We have to learn what to look out for. We have to be kind. We can’t assume someone is just manipulating us or asking for attention. We have to take it seriously, no matter what. We have to find a way to talk about this. It could save a life
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone. Tell them how you feel. Tell them you’re scared or pissed off or confused—whatever it is that you’re feeling. Ask them for help. It will be hard, but worth it. If you’re not comfortable telling someone you know, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Both of these organizations also have chat options, and while the Trevor Project is mainly targeted toward LGBTQ teens, they won’t turn anyone away if they need help. If it’s an emergency, please call 911 or go to the hospital.
Help is out there. You’re not alone. You’re never alone.
Learn more about Dese’Rae L. Stage and Live Through This by visiting:
Twitter: @deseraestage or @lttphoto