I don't watch award shows. With the exception of the Tony awards I rarely even know when they are on. So this morning when I work up and saw everything about The Academy Awards I was surprised to see quite a bit of talk about suicide.
I've made it no secret on this blog that I am a suicide attempt survivor, I've studied Psychology, I've worked in mental health, and I'm a mental health advocate in many ways. I had figured at first all the talk was as a result of Robin Williams death, but I was stunned to find out that much of the discussion was as a result of the Best Documentary winner "Crisis Hotline:Veterans Press 1" and the acceptance speech of Best Adapted Screenplay winner Graham Moore, for the film The Imitation Game. Both acceptance speeches talked about suicide and how it's time to break the silence. Graham Moore bravely even spoke about his own suicide attempt, "I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I'm standing here," he said. "I
would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like
she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and
then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass
the same message along." To my amazement, everything I have seen and read about these speeches and winners has been positive. I say to my amazement because I know firsthand that there is still a very big stigma associated with mental health, and especially suicide.
I don't keep it a secret to friends and family I struggle with my own mental health, and have attempted suicide in the past. I also don't really bring it up in day to day conversation either. So even though I know people know, and I know that they know, we don't mention it. I was having a discussion with a friend I'd only known a short time a few months back, he didn't know about my attempts so he was wondering why I was so passionate about my job and why I did it. I was working for a non-profit organization that went to high schools and taught business skills to help students build a business to combat the root cause of suicide in their own school community. It really was unique program because it wasn't just a let's talk about our feelings type of program, but a lets go out and address it type of program that I was able to see was having a bigger positive affect on students. In any case this friend asked me about this job. Our discussion went something like this.
Him, "I just don't understand why anyone would want to kill themselves."
Me, "You do know I've attempted suicide...a few times actually."
Long awkward silence.
Me, "How did I try to die? Like what did I do?"
It was at that point I realized why the questions had really began. I shared with him anyways the different methods I'd used to try and kill myself, and a little bit about why I'd tried. But I knew there was something else, someone in his past had either attempted, or died by suicide.
Normally when you share that you're an attempt survivor there are two responses from people. The sympathy, "I'm so sorry you felt that way/" and the why, "but why did you feel that way?" There's really nothing to say to the sympathetic response, and it can often be difficult to respond to the why because even you yourself may not fully understand why you did. That's why I always told the kids I worked with when they shared their attempt stories with me "thank you". Thank you for trusting me with this highly personal experience, thank you for feeling comfortable enough to share this with me, thank you for being brave and sharing, and thank you for still being here right now because I'm so grateful to have met you. When the first response from someone is about the how it happened, normally there is a personal connection, normally there's still a stigma about suicide with them.
This friend later shared with me that he did in fact have a close connection to another suicide attempt survivor, and that after having had her in his life he swore he would never again be involved with someone who struggled with suicidal ideations at any time in their life. It broke my heart to hear that, because what he failed to realize in making that statement was that not only was he not willing to be involved with me and rejecting me, but he was someone who believed that this was a weakness in a person, that they could help having those feelings in some way. This friend and I have since parted ways, partially as a result of this.
It was great that at the Oscars last night suicide and mental health were talked about, but there is still a long ways to go before the stigma is erased. People who struggle with mental health are not weak, they are no different than someone who breaks their arm. They are sick and hurting.
I've be an advocate for mental health and suicide awareness for some time now, and I've been blessed that this is the first first-hand experience I've had with a negative stigma. It was a wake up call to me, and I now understand why so many never share their own hurting. For this one person, there have been so many others that have embraced me and my story, so I'm not going to stop sharing as a result of this. I do want to say though that I hope one day I can share even more openly than I do now, and no one would look down on me as a result. That's what I'm hoping for, that's what I'm trying to do for future generations, and that's why I continue to talk about it, whether or not I lose friends as a result or not.