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I’m a suicide attempt survivor, and I’m glad the American Association of Suicidology is launching this blog to give a public voice to people like me. Because, frankly, where are we? Why do we have to hide?

To me, it’s been a relief to come across other people who’ve been through this and see that it’s possible to move on in life without a dark trail of stigma. But it’s very hard to come across these people when no one dares to say anything openly. It’s not enough to have a few brave attempt survivors speaking publicly for the many thousands of us. For one thing, each of our experiences is unique, and piecing together the “why” and “what to do now” can take more resources and insight than each of us alone can provide.

We are such a crowd of isolated people, not knowing who else out there would understand, and too scared to ask. Wasn’t homosexuality once this way?

Over the past year or so, I’ve been seeking out and interviewing the small number of attempt survivors who’ve made the decision to speak publicly about their experience. I’ve found that speaking about it doesn’t have to mean being defined by it. I’ve also found that even some of the people who study suicide for a living are nervous about us. When the president of AAS spoke with me last fall about creating and editing this blog, she asked me to write something that she could take to the board to justify why it’s needed. It makes sense to share it here, with a few changes:

Openness trumps anonymity, and it’s more healthy. After I decided to stop keeping my own experience a secret from everyone, including my family, I went online to look for guidance. Any national organizations for attempt survivors? No. Any regular publications? No. Any support groups? For the entire country, a dozen at best, and almost none are in our largest cities, including New York. The groups you can find for suicide survivors are for people who have lost someone, and they’ve had to make their own journey from widespread silence. I was left with the shadowy world of forums with no real names and no sense of who was talking. It was no way to make the connections I needed.

When we talk about the need to break down the stigma around suicide, it shouldn’t stop short of attempt survivors. Statistics say we’re more at risk for suicide than other people, but engaging us shouldn’t feel risky. When I started interviewing attempt survivors, among the frank, smart, funny, startling life stories were the reminders of fear. Therapists’ fear of treating people like us, tied to the fear of losing us or being sued. Fear of mentioning suicidal thoughts to therapists, tied to the fear of consequences. Fear of being rejected by family, colleagues or friends, or fear of letting them down. Fear of failing to meet our own standards. Fear of even saying the word. Is it any wonder that suicide comes so often without warning? We don’t reveal what’s going on. “We have to watch him from the outside,” Joan Wickersham wrote in her book “The Suicide Index” after her father killed himself. “He leaves no clues, his whole life is a clue.” I’ve even corresponded with a suicide researcher who fears mentioning their own attempt to colleagues.

We need more information, because suicide’s not going away. The rate isn’t even going down. Making it easier to talk openly would give us more resources to explore: Better firsthand knowledge of coping and recovery. Better understanding of motivations. Better statistics. Some people would rather pretend that a suicide attempt never happened, or that a suicide was an accident instead. Because of this, we don’t even know how many people kill themselves, or how many try. It’s hard to address an issue when that issue would rather hide.

Finally, a conversation about, and among, suicide attempt survivors is not going to inspire us to go kill ourselves. This is the fear I find the most astonishing. The biggest weight I felt before my pair of attempts in recent years, one that practically spurred me on, was the knowledge that I was alone and that nothing good would likely happen if I confided in the people around me. If nobody talks about suicide, how could I? Speaking with a crisis line or a therapist can be helpful, but that requires stepping out of everyday life into a world that reinforces the fear, “See? I must be crazy.” Surely, knowing that all kinds of people have experience a suicide attempt, and being able to speak with those people in the course of our regular lives, would be better than letting silence give another strong twist to our isolation.

Let’s relax a bit and explore an open conversation, as awkward as it may be. I’ve seen scattered sparks of discussion out there, interesting ones, when people comment on articles or blog posts about suicide. And then they fade away. But there’s no anchored discussion, no landing place for the lonely Googler. Without one, we’re left in the cycle of keeping everything carefully quiet and then, after another suicide, once again asking “Why?”

As you can see, this blog was approved. Now it’s a test, I suppose, to see if anyone responds. Who are suicide attempt survivors, and why us? Why did this happen? How do you move on? What would make moving on easier? What’s the best way to talk about this? How do you figure out who won’t panic if you tell them? What needs to be said? Or should we all just keep quiet instead?

I’m not so sure about that last question. I believe suicide is the most stubborn of the many topics that eventually have worked their way out of the world of unmentionables. More than one attempt survivor has pointed out that we used to talk about cancer, for example, in whispers. That seems almost unbelievable now.

We can draw other parallels between cancer and suicide. In both cases, we often can’t single out the cause. We don’t have a certain cure. We can’t guarantee it won’t return. It’s also safe to say we didn’t want it to come upon us at all.

In either case, that’s a lot to take on alone.

Editor’s note: Cara Anna is a journalist in New York and a former foreign correspondent in China.

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17 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. I think it was about time that this blog came out for the surviors of attempt suicide. I have attempted many times and by the grace of god or whatever i always survived. I have been in and out of phys hospitals and they do help in a crisis with their group therapy and all that. But when you get on the outside it is a whole new feeling like what to do what to think or am i here for a reason. You can go to all the therapy sessions and take all the meds they give you but you have to do the work they give to you for you to see things differently.

    Thanks for the blog great idea

    Reply

    • Tracie – I am glad you are a survivor. Can you talk about what worked and what didn’t from your family and friends who meant well and really wanted to help you as you worked through your struggles?

      Reply

      • I can say what worked for me was all the help i got and doing the work that was given to me and to do them every day like writing in a gratitude journal about what you are grateful for and just doing daily journleing. Unlike most people friends family were at a lost as to help me. It was very hard on friends who i lost because of the attempt and family was at a lost even at the hosptial when they told them i was barley alive. They wanted to help me but i had to let my walls down and let them help. The right medication for the surviours does help when you get on the right ones that help you as it took me several types of meds to get the right one. Let me tell it is a struggle to get out of bed sometimes and deal with all the stuff in your head and it can completly control you but you have to regain the control by doing the work. The therapists casemanager group therapy and md does work as long as you go through the work.

      • Thanks – She got out of the hospital on Friday and will go back to school on Wed. Good advice on not crowding her, she had a quiet weekend at home and saw a few friends. I think she feels ashamed like you did, but she knows we love her and she is important. She has really low self esteem, which suprises most because she gets really good grades. We hope to let her take one day at a time. She will get counceling at a center near her home – we hope it goes well. I may come back with more questions if that is OK with you .

  2. My 14 year old niece attempted suicide last week. She is still in the hospital but will be getting out soon. I have been searching for guidance on how to help her and her family when she returns home. I too found that when I searched suicide survivors, I was brought to many sites and support groups for those that had lost loved one’s to suicide. I finally found out about NAMI and that brought me here. Reading your blog gave me hope – I am so sorry you went through what you did over the years. But am glad you are here as an advocate to those who attempted suicide and survived – I agree with you, these are the Suicide Survivors and there is no shame in that.

    Reply

    • the best thing you can do for your neice is to be there and to support her through the next couple of days. Do not crowd her like my family did and it set me back but be there when she asks for help. Make sure she gets a good therapist md to help her with this and tell her she is important to you and everyone else. Tell her she does not have to be ashamed of what happened that is the most important as i was ashamed of letting people know what i did and living with it but now i can speak openly about it as it is a problem people who survived do not know where they are go or how to feel.

      Reply

    • I am glad that she got out of the hospital and doing good at this point. the first day back at school is really going to be a tough one for her and just let her know that you are by her side during that day. You can contact me with any questions as you want as i been there and know how it feels. that is a fist step is to get her into counseling. She was like me i had real low self esteem and was happy on the outside but hurting inside. She will get through this but it will take time and support. I had no one supporting me and i did it on my own with help Good luck

      Reply

      • Thanks – she goes back to school tomorrow. They met with the school counselor today and she has already been in touch with her closer friends. She says she is ready to get busy with things again. She is just how you describe…low self esteem. Happy on the outside and hurting on the inside. I’m going to see her this weekend (I hope) I have not seen her yet but have talked a few times. We have tickets to go to a show. She was excited about going to see it when we bought the tickets, we know one of the lead performers. She has told her mom she is nervous about seeing the family, (me and her Grandparents) I think the play will be a good distraction to keep the focus off of her, but be together. I may mention this blog to her. Like you said I want to be careful to be too pushy, but maybe you could be or recommend someone she could blog with. Anyway Happy Valentines day. I am glad you have started this blog. Unfortunately too many people feel so alone in this world.

      • That is good news that she goes back to school tommorrow as it help getting her back on track and being with others. I think it is good to have the school involved with her to let them know that she has problems and they can help her when it gets tough in school and believe it will be hard. I hid from my parents and family it took me a long time to reconnect with them as i felt ashamed for what i did. I amd glad that you are seeing her as she needs to be around people but do not crowd her she might feel like being trapped as far as meeting with the grandparents just tell her that they love her not what she did and they will be there for her no matter what.

  3. I attempted suicide four months ago and I survived. I am seeing a therapist twice a week and taking medications. I have been looking for a suicide attempters support group but I couldn’t find any in my area. I only seem to find support groups for survivors, those who have lost someone. Even though it must be extremely tough to lose someone who committed suicide, I think attempters should have their own group as well. We have been and we still are going through a lot and we deserve peer support groups. Therapy isn’t enough. One thing is sitting on a couch talking to a professional whom you pay lots and probably has never been through what you have, another is to sit in a circle and share your experience with people who felt what you felt and survived one of the hardest things in life. People willing to help you and eager to be helped. People like the ones who made this blog and the ones who read it and comment on it.
    So, in a society where you need to pay to be helped even when you are helpless, I guess this blog is a blessing. It might not be the attempters support group I so much desire, but it is something. It is hope.

    Reply

    • Alice:
      I am glad you wrote your note and I hope you are doing better.
      I am the father of a daughter that recently survived and have not been able to hear her voice which is very painful. Please read the note I wrote in the response to Tracie a few minutes ago. I would be glad to write to you if you want. Thanks for having the courage to write, that is a gift for anyone that reads it.

      Reply

      • Hi Rick,
        Thanks for your kind note.
        I am so sorry to hear about your daughter, no one should ever go through this. However, as I said previously, I’ve been through that as well and can tell you that the first months are very hard. Some people say it is just a matter of time and you will feel better, but I disagree. Time certainly heals but you have to be willing to work on yourself a lot, too. Your daughter needs therapy AND time. When I was hospitalized I, too, couldn’t speak to my parents and even though it seemed awful, they just do that to keep you safe and prevent you from any other emotional breakdown. Your daughter will be released when she shows to be doing better and when they set her up for a follow up with a therapist. I know it is impossible to not worry about her right now, but you should know she is in good hands.
        Regarding support groups, I don’t know of any for people who have loved ones that tried to kill themselves. It is already hard to find some for the actual people that attempted suicide. However, you should call your local crisis hotline and I am sure they can give you more info.
        All the best to you and your daughter, keep me posted.

  4. Tracie:
    I am new to this and had a hard time finding information for families of the surviving suicide person. Two days ago my daughter attempted suicide and is still in the hospital. They are talking about discharge which is a positive thing. The challenge is I live quite a distance away and have not been allowed to speak with her or get information from a doctor. I have been getting communication through my son-in-law and I know he is doing the best he can. My daughter does not want to speak with anyone at this time and I feel very isolated and in pain. I know this is about her getting better but feel lost. Not looking for answers just wanted to tell someone.

    Reply

    • Rick
      I am so sorry to hear about your daughter. I hope they gave her help wile in the hospital while she was there. You need to be patient with her right now as she is feeling guilt embarrassed depressed. She will come around like i did with my parents it took me some time to face them and i did have anxiety with them. They were at the hospital being told i barely survived mine and let me go home with my parents which was bad as i did it again a week later and ended up at a good psy hopsital where they taught me alot fo coping skills and as long as she does it it will help her but she needs to do the work. Again i am sorry and wish you the best you can ask me any questions as i know what it is like.

      Tracie

      Reply

  5. My names Jessie and I’m a senior in high school. I’ve wanted to die for many years now. My grandparents were abusive and so was my dad when I lived with him. When I was a spohemore I tried to kill myself. I took a bottle of sleeping pills hoping that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning, but I did. I have just recently started getting help for my problems. I see a therapist every week and a psychiatrist every month. I’m on anti-depressants, but life’s still hard. I don’t want to die anymore, I do want to live. And knowing that there really are people out there who have been through some of this like me, it gives me hope that I can live. So thank you to the ones who lived and have given me hope to live and hope that life will get better.

    Reply

    • Jessie
      I am sorry to hear that you went through a hard time. When i did my attempt i did the same thing od on pills but always woke up alive. I have been on medications and group therapy and do see a psychiatrist every month. It helps but lately i have been dealing with alot where i would prefer to be dead but i choose to stay alive and get on with life. I hope you will go through all advice fromt your family and medical team as it does help.

      tracie

      Reply

      • hello everyone
        I have a question about talking with family memebers. I just had a conversation with a family member and it did not go good at all being accused of doing it for attention which my attempt was not asking for attention i was in trouble and needed to get some help. Has anyone dealt with something like this

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