I am still getting responses on social media to the tweet I did when Stephen Fry talked about a suicide attempt, and I asked those who were asking what he had to be depressed about whether they would pose the same question to someone with cancer, diabetes or asthma.
The latest was from suicide survivor Cara Anna, a journalist in New York, who asked if she could draw attention to websites which feature suicide survivors talking about their experience. Here is her guest blog.
Reading Alastair Campbell’s recent tweet in support of Stephen Fry after his latest suicide attempt was a jolt. Yes, exactly, “would you ask what someone has to be cancerous, diabetic or asthmatic about?”
“This man gets it!” I thought. And now he’s generously allowed this chance to talk about new websites that feature attempt survivors speaking publicly about their experience. Dozens of them, from several countries, including the UK. They agree to have their names, at times their photos, and the details of the most difficult moments of their lives published online _ where, once you “come out,” it’s hard to go back in.
Why on earth? Because people who’ve survived suicide attempts and decided to keep on living are survivors. That’s something to be celebrated, or at least respected and supported. Certainly not to be stigmatized, discriminated against or feared, which has gone on far too long.
I’m a suicide attempt survivor myself. I had a pair of attempts while working as a foreign correspondent in China, and the most recent was a little over two years ago. At that point, I decided it might be healthy to be open instead of guarding a stressful secret. It was the fear of being “found out,” in fact, that had driven me deeper into crisis.
I thought it would be simple: I’d reach out to the community of outspoken survivors and draw confidence from their recovery.
Well. There was nothing there. No organizations for us, no targeted resources. Anonymous suicide forums were shadowy and focused on feeling bad, not feeling better. I tried joining a depression forum or two, only to be solidly told that “we don’t talk about that here.”
I believed that having a smart, safe place online to share our stories would be a comfort to other lonely Googlers out there. So I started seeking other attempt survivors, interviewing them and posting our conversations online. We’re closing in on 50 so far, from five countries, at TalkingAboutSuicide.com.
Meanwhile, a young New York photographer had the same idea. She started posting the first in a remarkable series of portraits of attempt survivors on her own site, LiveThroughThis.org. The photographer, Dese’Rae Stage, is just as adamant: Being open about this is important, because it can happen to anyone.
I’ll repeat: It can happen to anyone. It isn’t always mental illness that drives someone toward suicide, though it’s often a factor. There’s also abuse, injustice, grief. There are the hope-sapping factors of unemployment, isolation, shame. If we feel we won’t be well-received in talking about these things, if we convince ourselves that dying is the only way to “save face” and somehow protect others … Is it any wonder why suicide so often comes as a surprise?
Some in the suicide prevention community are peeping cautiously between their fingers at these new projects. But others have welcomed them. The American Association of Suicidology took note and asked me to help them launch a site by and for attempt survivors, the first of its kind. People now share their firsthand stories weekly at AttemptSurvivors.com.
What if the millions of us who’ve had this experience discovered we can acknowledge it? What if we used that common foundation to be a far stronger voice for the changes we’d like to see?