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‘To boldly talk about suicide’

25 comments

 

My name is Lisa Klein, and I am a documentary filmmaker. A documentary filmmaker who has never written a blog entry before today. The ones I’ve been asked to write never seemed as urgent as this one.

While working on our previous film, “Of Two Minds,” about people living with bipolar disorder, we learned that suicide is too often an option for people struggling with mental illness. Way too often. But if there ever can be a silver lining to the suicide option, it comes in the form of attempt survivors, people who live to tell their stories. No matter how hard you try to conjure up clues, answers, should haves, all the retrospect in the world cannot take you into the mind of somebody who is willing to die to escape the pain of everyday living.

A suicide attempt survivor can, and will, save lives.

As a survivor of both my father’s and brother’s suicide, I have struggled with the “why”s for years, along with the guilt, shame and confusion that lingers in suicide’s wake. I’ll never know why my dad chose to die. And nobody talked about my brother. My mother could never bring herself to say the words, “My son killed himself.” No mother should have to say that. Ever.

I will probably spend the rest of my life searching for reasons that I can live with. Even though I know that I will never find them. But the insights that we all can gain from those who have stood on the precipice, those who are still there, are worth so much.

And yet …

… that word.

That word, “suicide,” that brings conversations to a halt and evokes primal fears of the darkest of all human experiences. But speaking the word itself is not the problem.

The silence that so often follows is.

Our upcoming documentary, “The S Word,” will tackle one of the most unfathomable and cloistered issues of our time by exploring suicide from many points of view. We are talking to scientists, clinicians and advocates, yet focusing primarily on the intimate voices of those with lived experience _ both attempt and loss survivors _ and their loved ones.

Many have not only survived, they have courageously turned their experiences into strength and hope in the struggle toward suicide prevention. We think that speaking with this range of people will provide perspectives, emotions and academic reasoning in a personal way. It will put a human face on this very painful, yet potentially hopeful, topic.

Several members of our filmmaking team have been touched by suicide in some way as well, either as attempt survivors themselves or through family members they have lost. We all have experienced the deafening silence that accompanies the S word. We don’t want to hear that any more.

We want to blow the doors off the gallery of secrets and open the conversation, extinguishing the shame and silence that has clung to suicide for way too long.

There is no more highly charged and personal issue for me, and for that reason I am driven to document it and open the conversation. It is time for our society to boldly talk about suicide because no family should have to experience that which radiates outward for generations to come.

Thomas Joiner, a leading psychologist in suicide research and one of the subjects in our film, said of his father’s suicide, “I want to go to war. Something killed my dad … I’m out for revenge.”

This documentary is my war.

That’s why we’re making it. That’s why we want to dig into this topic. That’s why we want to meet as many people as we can who are living through this, every day.

When I told people we were filming at the American Association of Suicidology conference in April, I was met with two responses: boring and depressing. I wish it had been boring, because the interviews and the panels we shot there are so vivid that we are faced with way too many editorial choices, particularly for somebody as indecisive as myself.

And depressing? Nope. Quite the contrary. I’m not sure if “hopeful” is the exact opposite of “depressing,” but it sure felt like it when the attempt survivors stood up and became part of the conversation.

I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t a lot of tragic stories, because the reality is that losing somebody to suicide is the worst thing ever, from my experience. However, saving lives through really effective suicide prevention, that’s world-changing stuff that so many of you in the suicide prevention community have been working toward for decades.

We want to be part of that.

We want “The S Word” to be part of that.

25 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. As a “planner”, I don’t know how the views and perceptions of the rational actively planning sufferers are portrayed, but I look forward to watching. Perhaps there remain unconsidered insights. At this advanced stage, I am doubtful, but I don’t foreclose any possibilities. Good luck with your work.

    Reply

  2. I am the loved one of a multiple suicide attempt survivor. I have researched and interviewed other people affected by suicide attempts and can attest that we also grieve, fear, struggle and fight to keep the person with suicidal thoughts, or actions alive and also work through our own grief and circumstances surrounding the suicide attempt. http://www.AttemptedSuicideHelp.com was created to support all people affected by a suicide attempt and to provide resources, insight and support.

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  3. The more we educate about mental illness and suicide, the more we take the shame away from talking about them. It takes all of us who are survivors of suicide loss, suicide attempt survivors and people living with mental illness and managing it =to speak up! I believe your film will make a difference!

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  4. We certainly can do more to recognize mental illness and suicidality. Regretfully, the tools for treating mental illness are often ineffective. They pharmaceutical industry is abandoning its antidepressant drug research after admitting that decades of effort and billions of dollars of research (and profit) have not yielded treatments any more effective than what already existed.
    As a patient struggling with decades of refractory/malignant depression, suicide becomes an increasingly rational and desirable treatment option. Living with untreatable major depression is less and less preferable with the passage of each day. Perhaps this video can help others to understand the extent and nature of suffering that drives people to suicide. while helping to prevent those suicides that stem from temporary or situational turmoil.

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  5. I am a multiple attempt survivor now living with hope and, yes, joy. My mental illness and subsequent loss of myself, was as a result of childhood sexual abuse, from 1+ toddler to age 17. As my illness and journey through the hell of my abuse progressed, my hope and any zest for life faded. The pain and acceptance of what I had gone through soon became too much. I began to look for relief, through any means, some magic elixir for the devastating emotional pain that I was drowning in. I turned to self-harm, to cutting, physical pain to lessen the emotional pain. But, eventually, this too was not enough, and so began my series of attempts to end my life. My journey has been a long and arduous one, but, I have survived and I am slowly taking back my life, my hope and my joy. I too, strongly believe that attempt survivors have been shut out of dialogues concerning suicide for far too long. We have stories to tell, of triumph over immeasurable pain. I too believe that we can make a difference, that we can inspire, that we can provide incredible insight. I look forward the release of “The S Word”, and hope to continue my personal crusade to end the stigma and shame associated with being an attempt survivor. I know myself only as a survivor.

    Reply

  6. I am an attempt survivor, just 10 months out of rehab. I am so happy to have found this site to be able to share and listen to others who understand. It’s been a rough year, but I am in a better place then I was last year at this time. My biggest goal and desire is to get a Suicide Anonymous meeting started in my area. I live in Knoxville, TN. Anyone in this area and interested please let me know. Look forward to sharing.

    Reply

  7. Lisa,

    I wish you the VERY best with this movie!

    I spent years living in a world of dark depression and my days were filled with the idea of death and suicide. 3 days before my friend suicided I was contemplating jumping from a high-rise in my city. It was not until I lost him to suicide in 2005 that I actually started to have a break-through. I am now 45 years old and NEVER imagined I would make it to my 30th birthday.

    I have been facing the same struggle you mention in your video preview clip. People recoil when the “S” word is mentioned. I have often felt like a one-woman army trying to raise awareness, however; things are starting to change.

    There is light beyond the darkness…there is love, joy and laughter. If you are still in the depths of struggle and reading this: Don’t give up on yourself or on this life. The possibilities for happiness and joy are endless.

    We must continue to have this conversation but also offer HOPE and solutions to people who struggle.

    Lisa, I welcome you to connect with me anytime.

    Best wishes,

    Christa Scalies
    Founder, Giggle On
    @GiggleOn

    Reply

    • It is important to have these conversations of survivors. For those who are struggling in the depths, we need to be able to offer them real help and not empty platitudes and promises. They have lost their ability to envision a future. We need to help them regain that ability and have them experience progress sufficient to re-start their desire to live. It will take time and effort, but each suicide prevented serves to avoid the creation of 6 suicide survivors. That’s a pretty good return in my book.

      Reply

  8. Survivors need to be heard. It is part of healing.
    Each suicide intimately affects at least 6 other people (estimate)
    • Based on the 805,286 suicides from 1987 through 2011, it is estimated that the number of survivors of suicides in the U.S. is 4.8 million (1 of every 64 Americans in 2011); that number grew by at least 237,108 in 2011.
    • If there is a suicide every 13.3 minutes, then there are 6 new survivors every 13.3 minutes as well.

    Taking measures to treat and prevent suicide is imperative. Each averted suicide prevents 6 times as many survivors from their anguish.

    Learn and give back. Be proactive. Find suicidal people, talk with them. Stay with them. Ensure they get effective treatment. Maintain communication. Make sure they aren’t slipping back toward suicide. It’s hard work but worth it.

    Reply

    • I agree with you! Here is math I chose to do to further what you supplied:
      • 38,364 (suicide completions in 2010) X 8 (lowest estimate of attempts per completions) = 306,912 x 6 (estimate of people affected by a suicide) = 1,841,472 people affected annually by a suicide attempt of a loved one
      • 38,364 (suicide completions in 2010) x 25 (highest estimate of attempts per completions) = 959,100 x 6 (estimate of people affected by a suicide) = 5,754,600 affected annually by a suicide attempt of a loved one
      • 105 (suicide completions in the US each day) x 8 (lowest estimated suicide attempt rate) = 840 x 6 (estimated people affected by a suicide) = 5,040 people affected daily by a suicide attempt
      • 105 (suicide completions in the US each day) x 25 (highest estimated suicide attempt rate) = 2625 x 6 (estimated people affected by a suicide) = 15,750 people affected daily by a suicide attempt

      2010 statistics indicate that between 1,841,472 and 5,754,600 are affected annually in the United States by a suicide attempt (including the attempter). Or between 5,040 and 15,750 people are affected each day in the United States by a suicide attempt.

      From Suicide.org
      Survivors of Suicide
      • Each suicide intimately affects at least 6 other people (estimate).
      • Based on the 742,000+ suicides from 1977 through 2001, it is estimated that the number of survivors of suicides is 4.45 million (1 out of every 64 Americans).
      • Since, on average, a suicide occurs every 16 minutes, then there are about 6 new suicide survivors every 16 minutes.

      Using the above statistics there are 30 million Americans living that have survived a loved one’s suicide attempt compared to the 4.45 million who have survived a suicide loss.

      There is help, support, resources and understanding for loved ones at http://www.attemptedsuicidehelp.com

      Reply

      • The consequences of suicide and attempts need help and understanding. But please don’t ignore the root cause and don’t admit powerlessness and accept that the suicide rate is fixed/unchangeable.

        Addressing the source/s is the most effective way to reduce the numbers of suicide and attempt survivors for the future. After all, isn’t that part of the larger vision?

      • I completely agree with you and you make a great point.
        When my father attempted suicide twice in 8 months I felt very powerless, isolated, confused and desperately searched for resources on how to help him, myself, my siblings and parents, and my children. I contacted every mental health and suicide prevention organization and was told there was nothing for loved ones of suicide attempters except personal counseling. I was actually told once there was no help for me “until my dad killed himself.”
        It has been a very long road for me and my family and through it I have researched and interviewed people world wide who have attempted suicide and have had a loved one attempt suicide. The research I did to overcome my own feelings of powerlessness lead me to create the website I mentioned.
        It blew my mind that family members are blamed for a suicide attempt but then the person who attempted is sent home with us after the 72 hour hold with NO resources but we are left to “keep this person alive”. In addition, my research has shown that after a loved ones suicide attempt people also suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicidal thoughts and actions and feel very powerless and isolated. What I hope people realize is that they are not alone. There is a resource for loved ones. What they are feeling and thinking is not strange and that these millions of people deserve resources as well so that we can address and work together to reduce the suicide rates instead of ignoring loved ones of suicide attempters until someone dies.

  9. This is brilliant, and I am so impressed! Thank you for being willing to speak about something that most people are far too afraid to even consider addressing.

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  10. As a suicide attempt survivor who has only been ‘out’ since February, I look forward to your film and how it is received.

    Reply

  11. It is important to coordinate efforts to provide greater support to suicide survivors and to help prevent suicide. This cycle needs to be broken, or the suicide epidemic will soon make everyone a survivor.

    The INTERNATIONAL SURVIVORS OF SUICIDE DAY is held each to help survivors heal and connect. There are some great resources available at:

    https://www.afsp.org/coping-with-suicide-loss/international-survivors-of-suicide-loss-day

    https://www.afsp.org/coping-with-suicide-loss/find-support

    Survivors should work to coordinate resources and establish a larger community to educate and provide support. Thanks for all your efforts to contribute to this large effort.

    Reply

  12. I am the “…lived experience…”. My journey continues. I have a three-generation family history of first-hand experience with suicide. For a long time, I was a “Suicide Survivor” — a person, a family member or a friend who survives the loss of a loved one to suicide. Since 2009, I am an “Attempted Suicide Survivor”, I am the person who attempted suicide. Today, I continue to struggle, to come to terms, with the pain. The pain I felt and still feel. The pain that I caused to my husband and children, The pain, the shame, the guilt, the fear, the disappointment, the isolation — these are the feelings that are the hardest part to deal with on my “road to recovery”. The silence and shunning that is dealt with every day — it is a terrible weight to bear. I am breaking the silence, and I hope that it helps someone. I am walking out of the darkness and into the light, and trying to make a difference in my life and other peoples lives. Hopefully, in time, to attain a better, “weller”, fitter physical, mental and emotional self.

    Reply

  13. I can’t wait to see how the document handles this crucial discussion. I have suffered through my SI for 20 years, mostly in silence. It seems like there is more dialogue lately. I hope it helps the situation at large.

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  14. My husband was diagnosed with bipolar this past January after a manic episode following a detox off of painkillers prescribed after a car accident. After the manic, came the depressed. On May 8th, he shot and killed our four year old daughter and then himself. I found them. I applaud this project on bringing to light a silent epidemic. There needs to be more awareness, support, and follow up care. People should not be afraid or ashamed in any way to reach out, raise their hand and say help. I would be happy in any way to help support this and share my story if it would help.

    Reply

    • Silent epidemic indeed… but you are also courageously sharing through your own pain. I am so sorry for your loss.

      Reply

  15. Reblogged this on boondockmom and commented:
    The S Word is not just for Suicide but the Stigma that prevents us from talking about it! I applaud Lisa Klein for taking such a bold but necessary action! Kudos!

    Reply

  16. I was six years into my career, as a medic, with the fire department, when my father commit suicide in his home, with a shot gun. His body lay in the house for two months before it was discovered. He was an artist, and the house was full of his work. In my grief, I made the worst decision of my life, to go into that house, after his body had been removed, to salvage the art work. When I emerged, the world had changed. I had changed. Nothing, would ever be the same again!
    I returned to work (as a medic) and quickly descended into Post Traumatic Stress. Over the next six years, I had disconnected with almost every friend, and family member I had. My life had become a living hell. Nightmares, and hallucinations, had become normal. My wife would shake me awake almost every night. She was the only one, that knew of my secret. Of the many dead, that I had worked on, as a medic, some had followed me home, and were living in the fruit orchard, behind our house. My life was completely out of control! Twice, I met with a therapist, but both times, it was just too painful to confront.
    Finally, I hurt my back at work, and was off for about six months. Away from work, I began to sleep a little better, and in turn, to feel better.
    When my doctor gave me the OK to return to work, my wife said she would leave me, if I did. I never went back. I just walked away from a twelve year career, without ever telling anyone why.
    We moved to a new house, and had two kids, I went to work, for the county Agriculture dept.
    I tried so hard to put my old life behind me. For years, it seemed to work.
    When the economy collapsed, I was laid off. I spent three years trying unsuccessfully to find a job. With all the worry, and stress, the nightmares had come back again, and my marriage fell apart very fast. I lost what little hope I had left. I’d been suicidal, for quite a while, and my wife knew it. I didn’t have the strength to make it back again. She knew that to.
    On “that day”, I wouldn’t answer my cell phone. That, and the look in my eye, when I left, (she said) is what made her call the police.
    I wound up, an hour’s drive north, on the beach, with two bottles of wine, and a hand gun, watching my last sunset. I remember thinking that someone was going to suffer the trauma, of finding my body out there. I felt bad about that, but that’s the way, it would have to be.
    I was almost through the second bottle, as the sun, disappeared below the horizon.
    I had no idea that a sheriff had seen my truck parked along the highway, and had been watching me from the cliffs above.
    I HAD SEEN ENOUGH! I was very drunk, but remember it so clearly. I took the gun out, pulled the hammer back, and pressed it hard to the side of my head.
    That’s when the cop yelled out “PUT THE GUN DOWN SEAN” This guy knew my name!
    I looked up, to see him standing there, with a bull horn, forty feet above me on the cliff. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was actually on the phone with my wife. She had been telling him my story.
    I remember feeling relieved. There was NO CHANCE that some kid, would stumble over my dead body now! There was also NO CHANCE that I would have ANY words with this cop. It was time! I was ready! But then he destroyed my plans, with his next sentence…..
    “YOUR ABOUT TO DO, THE SAME THING TO YOUR KIDS, THAT YOUR FATHER DID TO YOU!”
    It was a horrible truth, and to ruin my plans further, he continued….. ” ONE, OR MAYBE BOTH YOUR SONS, MAY DO THIS TO?” ” MAYBE RIGHT HERE, ON THIS SAME BEACH?”
    For an hour, and a half, I sat on my knees, crying in the sand, refusing to throw down the gun, but he was right. It was no longer an option. I finally gave up.
    I spent a couple weeks in the hospital, where I was diagnosed with Bipolar.
    While there, I was told : You are 900 times more likely, to take your own life, if a parent has commit suicide.
    After leaving the hospital, I attended a six month “out patient” program, and have been seeing a Trauma Therapist now, for about two years.
    I’ve made a lot of progress, and my life is much better now, but things are still very hard. Life is hard. But hard, doesn’t mean bad.
    I hope my story, can be of help to someone out there.
    Things are not always, the way they seem.
    Talk to someone! ANYONE! There is help out there, and this doesn’t have to be the end!
    “THE END” will come soon enough!
    Breath!
    Find the beauty in life! It’s all around you!
    You matter to someone out there………. and it just may be, that you haven’t even met that person yet!

    Reply

    • Thank you for sharing your very powerful story. God bless you;)

      Reply

  17. Lisa, I’ve enjoyed your previous work very much! I own a copy of your most recent, “Of Two Minds”. It helped my family understand me better, and shed some light, on the inner workings, of the world of Bipolar Disorder. I’m looking forward to this new documentary on Suicide. I think few people realise, how quickly lives can be turned upside down, and altered permanently, by this silent thief. Thank you. The difference you have made already, is great. Only good could come of this! Sean Miller

    Reply

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