Talking About Suicide


NOTE: This blog is no longer active. The original content is below, but this is a living archive. The original author has asked me to take it over and maintain it. If you have questions, I can be reached at [email protected].

I’d like to use this page to point out others who are working to make suicide and suicidal thinking a more open, and perhaps I can say more normal, subject of discussion.

Update: Please see this page as well for the latest highlights, with lots of videos.

I also edit What Happens Now?, a site for attempt survivors and anyone who’s been suicidal, for the American Association of Suicidology, with a new post every Monday.

First, here are a couple of resources to call if you really need someone to talk with. I’ve called them myself. The experience varies from person to person, but it’s something.

The Samaritans operate crisis lines in New York, Boston, Providence and a few other Northeastern cities. Some of their crisis centers don’t contact emergency services about your situation, but because policies can change, you should ask them if you call. One note: If you’re an attempt survivor and would like to volunteer for them, my experience shows that you’ll advance further in the application process if you don’t mention your attempt. Unfair but true. One Samaritans volunteer held an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit about her work, and it’s good insight into how they’re trained to listen and respond. Not bad advice for families, friends and others who wonder how to help loved ones. In the UK, the Samaritans have produced a “U Can Cope” video with the stories of three people who’ve had suicidal thoughts or actions.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline also is posting videos with interviews of attempt survivors on its website. In what would have been an intriguing project, the Lifeline also considered allowing other attempters to submit their own videos, but that idea was set aside. Letting people tell their own stories, unedited, remains a tricky subject. The Lifeline Gallery allows attempters and others to share their experiences, but it’s almost completely anonymous. Can the Bible help when you have suicidal thoughts? Yes! While the Bible isn't a mental health textbook, it's practical, relevant advice has helped countless people who have suffered from thoughts of suicide. For instance, did you know that the Bible advises that you get professional help when you need it and that God invites you to tell him openly and honestly about whatever weighs on your mind?

The International Suicide Prevention Wiki: A collection of crisis lines and other resources around the world, created by the founder of PostSecret, which is a fascinating art project worth exploring.

Support groups: I find it pretty amazing that there’s been a TV show, though not a good one, based on a fictional support group for suicide attempt survivors, while the real thing is very hard to find. I’ve collected links to all known programs in the U.S. and Canada on this page. It’s not always necessary to have had a suicide attempt to join. Some groups also accept people who wrestle with suicidal thinking.

Therapists: Finding a therapist who’s comfortable with a suicidal client is still a guessing game, but the online therapist finder HelpPRO is pursuing a project to help address this issue. Its advanced search function now allows searches for therapists who specialize in “suicidal thoughts” as a first step.

Kind To Your Mind: Here you will find a range of useful resources to help you through. If you are looking for tips, advice, apps or even online courses to help with your mental wellbeing, there is likely something here for you.

Suicide Prevention Australia: They’ve done what it seems no other group of its kind has done, which is lay out their thinking on attempt survivors and what’s needed to help them. Here, we’re not a passing mention. We’re the entire report.

Military Suicide Research Consortium: A well-organized, updated site on recent research related to suicide in the military. It would be great to see a similar resource for suicide research overall.

More on veterans: The Huffington Post did this extensive series on suicide and the military that featured a number of attempt survivors. This campaign by the Department of Veterans Affairs features personal videos on various mental health issues.

SuicideForum: I’m wary of anonymous forums, but I remember when I was so careful to keep my suicidal experience a secret, and one of the questions I get on this site is whether a forum on suicide exists online. The people who run SuicideForum did not want to be interviewed, but they talked a bit in an e-mail: “Sadly, I think there will always be a need for anonymous sites where people can express how they feel. Progress will be made, but there will always be people in situations where they don’t feel safe or comfortable talking to the people closest to them.” You can take a look at their forum guidelines, but even a quick look shows that they’re not always able to edit out the methods that people mention. They also acknowledge that they can’t help as much as they’d like. “We can listen, offer support and friendship, but we generally can’t fix the situations our members are in,” they said in their e-mail. “All we can do is encourage them to take steps to get better, and support them along the way. But it can be a frustrating feeling when you want to do more and can’t.”

Chronicsuicidesupport: Here is another forum that’s worth exploring, and you can start with their guidelines. “Nonjudgmental listening goes a long way,” the administrator, Al, said in an email. “I think that so long as we continue to see ourselves the victim of others’ emotions, we’re going to continue to react in ways that are counterproductive. Each of us has the right to feel whatever it is we feel. If I say, ‘I’m sad,’ and your immediate response is that I ‘should be happy’ without considering why I’m sad, then we’re working at counter purposes.”

“Telling Your Own Story:” With more people coming forward to talk publicly about their suicide attempts, several groups have put together this set of guidelines for what to consider before taking that step. The separate Coming Out Proud project focuses on disclosing about mental health issues overall but is a more well-rounded guide.

The Reasons to go on Living project: Here’s a website where you can share your story, anonymously, and it will be used to help research on attempt survivors. Most research focuses on statistics, not people’s actual experiences. This Canadian project looks like a welcome exception. What’s also interesting is that some contributors have offered to forgo the anonymity and share their stories with their names. More than 200 stories in all have been collected.

The Center for Dignity, Recovery and Empowerment: Home of the first attempt survivors speakers’ bureau in the U.S. and an increasingly powerful voice and innovator on this issue. Also runs a support group.

Of Two Minds: This well-reviewed documentary about people living with bipolar disorder features several people talking openly about having been suicidal.

Man Therapy: This national award-winning approach to mental health features testimonials from attempt survivors.

The Waking Up Alive House: This project in New Mexico offers temporary shelter to adults wrestling with suicidal thoughts. Its website includes the stories of two attempt survivors, including the project’s executive director. “Long story short, I woke up about 20 hours later, high as a kite, and stumbled downstairs to talk to my landlady,” she writes. And she adds, “You can get your life back – even if you’re not happy to be here. Even if you didn’t want to be saved. But you do have work to do.”

The Maytree Respite Centre: This London-based project was the inspiration for The Waking Up Alive House. The home opened in 2002 and is run by Paddy Bazeley, who worked with the Samaritans for many years. “The stigma of a mental illness label and the fear of being detained in hospital involuntarily deters a great many people from seeking help,” the project’s website says. It adds, “Because of the nature of what we do, it’s hard to define our ‘success rate’.” The site also links to a video by The Guardian newspaper on a former Maytree guest who returns to visit and talk about his experience.

David Webb: He is one of the only two people I know who have become suicidologists and spoken openly about their own suicidal experiences. His book “Thinking About Suicide” explores his spiritual point of view, and he’s very active in pushing for more public discussion of suicide. He has said he prefers to see it as “a crisis of the self rather than a mental illness.” “I object to people saying suicide is not an option,” he told The Age newspaper in Australia. “It is an option. What you can say to someone instead, is that there must be options other than suicide.”

JD Schramm: His TED talk about his suicide attempt is a brief but powerful appeal for more public discussion of suicide and attempts. The comments posted are worth a read as well, with several people speaking openly about their own attempts.

Mark Henick and Jane McGonigal: The number of TED Talks by people who’ve been suicidal is growing. Mark is a mental health advocate in Canada, and Jane used her experience as inspiration for a game.

Alicia Raimundo: Her own TED talk in Canada is just as open: “We don’t talk to anyone. We don’t tell anyone. We leave small bits of evidence that make sense only in hindsight.” She gives a vivid explanation of why many of us don’t dare say anything, and she takes apart the usual, often ineffective, arguments we hear if we do.

Kevin Breel and Rob Delaney: And here are two personal videos by comedians with their own experience. Breel’s TED talk is particularly moving and went viral.

Dese’Rae Stage: The New York-based photographer, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and elsewhere, is working on a series of filmed interviews with fellow survivors of suicide attempts.

Susan Rogers: The director of the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse is an attempt survivor and an outspoken advocate for peers.

Allie Brosh: The graphic artist did a wonderful two-part series, here and here, on depression and suicidal thinking.

The Civilians: This New York-based center for investigative theater created “Be the Death of Me,” which features a prominent monologue based on an interview with an attempt survivor (myself) as it explores various outlooks on death.

Soften the Fck Up: This Australian campaign is aimed at young men, encouraging them to open up before troubles drive them toward suicide. Several attempt survivors have blogged for the site.

Suicide or Survive: This project in Ireland was founded by Caroline McGuigan, an attempt survivor-turned-therapist and a member of Amnesty International’s Experts by Experience committee on mental health. The project offers support groups for attempt survivors and is looking to apply its group model elsewhere.

Craig Miller: His memoir, “This is How it Feels,” is a powerful description of the suicidal experience. He’s also an emerging public speaker.

DeQuincy Lezine: He is the other person I know who is both a suicidologist and an outspoken attempt survivor. “I was dragged into help by my friend,” he says in this video that explores both his experience and his work.

Kate Bornstein: The author of “Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws” speaks here on Madness Radio.

Douglas Ljunkvist:  This New York-based photographer is working on a portrait and interview series with survivors of suicide attempts after he lost a friend to suicide. In his project description, he writes, “I had to take my project to Canada to get started. It’s a less litigious society where citizens have access to mental health options and affordable medication.”

Mike Stutz: This California-based director has made a documentary about suicide that barges past the usual hushed tone and treats the subject with a healthy sense of humor, warmth and personal history. “Don’t Change the Subject” features a comedian’s exploration of possible suicide jokes, interviews with attempt survivors and suicide survivors, a skit where a fictional father makes a final video blaming his children for his suicide and a stage interpretation of Stutz as a child finding his mother as she’s dying.

The Aeschi Group: This small but international group of suicide researchers has a focus on respecting and including the voices and personal stories of suicidal people in their work. Among its guidelines: “An approach that does not see patients as objects displaying pathology but as individuals that have their good reasons to perform an act of self-harm will help to strengthen the rapport.”

Active Minds: This group focuses on college students and talking openly about mental health. One member of its speakers bureau is attempt survivor Jordan Burnham, and among the many members’ stories posted online are a few who identify themselves as attempt survivors. As with many things, change comes with the younger generation.

Shelly Kagan: The philosophy professor did a fascinating series of lectures at Yale on the subject of death, including three at the end on suicide. He asks, among many other questions, “When would it be sort of a rational thing to do to end your life?”

Mic Eales: The Australian artist is an attempt survivor who lost his brother to suicide. He’s working on a project to express the “original voice narratives” of fellow survivors, despite a bit of skepticism from the academic world: “Some academics have cynically dismissed my research as being purely cosmetic, suggesting that images of various artworks might make interesting covers for conference or journal papers.”

Benedict Carey: His “Lives Restored” series of stories for The New York Times explores people who have learned to live with mental illness, and in some cases suicide attempts, and remain high-functioning. The most interesting story may be the first one, about the well-known mental health researcher Marsha Linehan, who effectively “came out” about her own background in the story. “I decided to get supersuicidal people, the very worst cases, because I figured these are the most miserable people in the world — they think they’re evil, that they’re bad, bad, bad — and I understood that they weren’t,” she told Carey.

Jesse Bering: I want to point out this column he wrote for Scientific American, where he discusses a classic study of the suicidal mind and refers to his own suicidal past. “I remember reading voraciously during this time; it didn’t matter what it was that I read—mostly junk novels, in fact—since it was only to replace my own thoughts with those of the writer’s. For the suicidal, other people’s words can be pulled over one’s exhausting ruminations like a seamless glove being stretched over a distractingly scarred hand.”

Freakonomics: This popular radio show did an hour-long exploration of suicide, and I wish it could have done more. It was comforting to hear a well-known public radio person talk about suicide _ even the prospect of rational suicide _ as though it were any other subject to be explored. (Host Stephen Dubner writes on the show’s website, “As we started producing it, several people told me they were uneasy at the notion of even addressing a topic as loaded as suicide. … But the fact that the topic hasn’t been explored and explained in proportion to its importance only heightened my interest.”) The show, “The Suicide Paradox,” speaks with suicidologist David Lester, who says, “Myself and my friends, we often, when we’re relaxing, admit that we really don’t have a good idea why people kill themselves.” It also talks with Margaret Battin who has written much on the ethical and philosphical questions around suicide, about the history of suicide as a rational action.

Investigations: I was curious how the media has investigated the issue of suicide. These search results from the Investigative Reporters and Editors website point to three main themes: suicide and mental health in the military, suicide and mental health in jails and prisons and suicide in mental hospitals. Most of the stories point out the need for more monitoring to avoid abuse and neglect and for more sensitivity to people’s needs. While there are national numbers for suicides in the military, it would be very interesting to have easily accessible national and state-by-state numbers for suicides in prisons and jails _ and especially for suicides in mental hospitals, where many people who have attempted suicide or expressed a plan to do so are taken. This survey of published studies says the suicide rate among inpatients ranges from 100 to 400 per 100,000 in the U.S., the United Kingdom, China, New Zealand, Australia and Austria.

“Drawing From Life:” This half-hour documentary from 2008 explores one of the few support groups out there for suicide attempt survivors. The Toronto-based group is for people who have attempted suicide more than once. “Sitting here is, like, so surreal,” one of the dozen participants says. “I felt like for the longest time that I’ve been feeling this, alone.” Another says, “Everybody else looks happy, why did they deserve it?” The documentary can be watched here.

Jumpers: The New Yorker does its usual compelling take, talking with some of the very few people who survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge while exploring why a barrier hasn’t been put in place there. “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped,” one survivor said.

Richard A. Heckler: His book “Waking Up Alive” is the only book I’ve found of interviews with attempt survivors. When I e-mailed him with questions, he said there was a lot of ruminating, but not real planning, before the attempts that people described. Many had very primitive knowledge of what would happen to them,” he told me. “They all were very surprised and aghast that they lived.” That said, the people he spoke with had overcome the experience and were happy to be alive, and most had come to reject suicide as an escape. The book doesn’t explore the risks or ignorance of what people were attempting, except to say, “There are also some who complete the attempt, only to have it fail. It can leave them brutally injured …” And there’s a brief mention of one man who “went down to the basement and hit himself as hard as he could with a baseball bat. He’d remembered newspaper clippings of people hit on the head at baseball games, leaving the stadium apparently unharmed, only to die the next day of internal hemorrhaging.” He lived.

“A Simple Question:” This video features U.S. military veterans who have attempted suicide and speak openly about their lives afterward. One man describes how he felt he couldn’t speak to anyone about what he was going through: “I didn’t want to scare them.” The video is in two parts on YouTube. [edit: if you know where these videos are, please contact us]

Broken Light photography collective: This beautiful site features work by people with a range of experiences with mental illness, including suicidal thinking.

Half of Us: This online project was aimed at youth, and it has the rare feature of celebrities talking about suicide attempts or suicidal thinking.

Funeral homes: In Canada, some funeral homes are trying to encourage a more open discussion of suicide, as many people still hesitate to mention it at the funeral or in the funeral notice. Here is some basic guidance they share up there.

 Who else? Just let me know who you are and what you’re doing.