This week’s post is by Hollis Easter, who works at a suicide hotline. This is a condensed version of a recent post on his blog, where he writes frequently about mental health issues. “If you ask me why I’m not just over it already, I will ask you why you haven’t learned compassion yet,” he wrote this month about some of the annoying questions around depression. “What more important lesson is there?”
My work on suicide prevention really began in 2004 when I took a full-time job as a program director at a suicide hotline in northern New York. Our field has done a lot in the last 10 years. Here are some of the things that make me glad, and some thoughts about where we should head next.
A few days after making a wonderful speech at the American Association of Suicidology conference in April, an “out” attempt survivor was abruptly fired from their job at a crisis center. After five years of promotions and no disciplinary actions, the person was told their “skill set” no longer fit and was escorted from the building.
This was outrageous, and it made us wonder whether crisis centers across the U.S. value lived experience of suicidal thinking.
This week we hear from Danielle Hark, the founder of Broken Light Collective, the online photo gallery for people living with or affected by mental illness. She created the project at a time when she was going through severe depression, and as the site now explains, “it helped her get out of bed and begin to engage with the world again.” The site now has more than 10,000 followers.
This week, Josh Rivedal invites you to join a book project:
From January 2011 until mid-2013, I struggled with coming out of the closet … as a suicide attempt survivor, that is.
I also happen to be a survivor of suicide loss, of my father in 2009, and I have been talking about that to just about anyone and everyone who will listen since the day he died. I even dedicated my professional and creative career to helping people thinking of suicide or those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
This week’s post comes to you from prison.
I recently met Manny Bermudez in the visiting room of Great Meadow Correctional Facility in upstate New York, a few hours’ drive from New York City. It’s a stark place. Prisoners and visitors are separated by a low metal counter. Around us, inmates and family members handed little children back and forth while catching up on their lives. Outside, a massive white wall blocked the view of the nearby Adirondack Mountains.
Manny is slight, with glasses and dark hair cut so short that the scars on his scalp are visible. As we talked, he pulled back the long sleeves of his dark-green cotton shirt and showed off extensive tattoos.
A closer look showed the scars across his wrists.
I asked Jack Gorman to consider writing a post after I noticed a comment he left a few weeks ago identifying himself as a former psychiatrist who had treated many suicidal patients. “One of the many things I learned is that I never knew what it was like to be suicidal until it happened to me,” he wrote. “No clinician can possibly know exactly what that depth of hopelessness is like.”
Gorman came across this site while doing volunteer work with a suicide prevention organization in New York, where he lives. “I decided to share my story because my recovery involves trying to make amends for the many errors I made, and this includes being open to telling what I did, if it can be helpful to another person,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It is not, of course, easy for me and I am wary of the consequences of being public, but I think it is the right thing to do.”
Before turning today’s post over to contributor GC, who writes forcefully but anonymously because of family concerns, here’s an example of how some of us are taking the silence around suicide and shoving it aside.
Last week, I walked into a Brooklyn bar where several people who had attempted suicide had gathered to celebrate a unique project, Live Through This. New York photographer Dese’Rae Stage is taking a series of portraits of attempt survivors just moments after they tell her their stories, and now she’s raising money to take the project national and visit other cities. There’s no anonymity. Everyone shares their real names. One person involved is Kevin Hines, who’s well-known for speaking publicly about his attempt and recovery. In his portrait, he looks totally at ease, smiling.
Other beautiful portraits lined the walls of the candlelit bar, and in the young, impossibly cool crowd I could barely pick out Dese’Rae’s mingling subjects from anyone else.
For a person who’s tried to kill himself and is trying to understand what happened, there’s no awkwardness like Googling “suicide survivor support group” and walking into a room full of the bereaved.