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Guest blog from a suicide survivor who says we should talk about it more

Posted on 5 July 2013 | 6:07am

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

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, 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
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?

  • lucy

    I find it quite hard to talk about suicide, as for many including me, even the word can trigger unwanted thoughts. Those of us who have survived do need support and understanding to carry on, and to deal with what has happened. For me it still remains a horrendous continuing part of my life that I can’t really talk about. To talk to those who have been there feels triggering (possibly not even a word), but to talk to others just isn’t going to happen for me. “Why would you do it” is a question I simply can’t answer. Maybe the answer is to brave the thoughts and get on with talking but a lot of us don’t feel strong enough yet.

    • Roadie Ric

      Lucy, there is no shame in feeling sensitive. With that said, my experience has been that in order to conquer fear one must face it first, and not let it “creep up from behind” and possibly catch you unaware.
      Seek out some competent, compassionate help if that’s what’s required to beat this thing, because your “future self” deserves a chance to live, and please know that you are worthy, and you are NOT alone.

  • Michele

    I’m not sure there can or should be consensus about this.

    I’m afraid I think of suicide as legalised murder and come from a family where there have been a few attempts (one succeeded) and at least one attempt while it was still a crime.

    I don’t know how anyone can be thick enough to ask how someone who’s well off or talented or successful (or all that and more) can be depressed, it’s very very easy to reach depression but heck, catharsis is good when we’re out the other side so stuff suicide!

  • Iris

    Who is a “survivor”? The one who didn’t die? The one left behind?

    There was a local “survivor” group when my SO made his attempt. I never went because he lived. I felt I didn’t qualify. I didn’t feel like a “survivor”, just a nobody who had to swallow my fury lest he do it again. This ate me up in large ways and small ways for more than a decade.

    I’d been trained in prevention and intervention. That’s what saved his life. I knew of no training or counseling for the aftermath, and was only gradually able to make peace with him and myself. Reading about suicide is easier now, but writing about it even anonymously is like aggravating an old broken bone: it’s joined up again, maybe it’s crooked, but why go back in and break it again?

    • Michele

      Good post Iris and I really empathise.
      It’s a very intricate topic though isn’t it?
      I’ve posted previously that I regard suicide as (self) murder although I don’t feel that way regarding assisted suicide.

      I can empathise with that completely if someone has a terminal physical illness.

      Soooo, another contradiction as elsewhere on another topic I’ve posted that I don’t think the separation of physical and mental illness in to differing categories is helpful.

      If that’s so then I shouldn’t be so damning about someone who’s in a despair they can see no way out of – except that in so many cases these feelings do pass, sometimes slowly and sometimes jusslikethat!

      The stand out of it all is, as you say, the bereaved and their double whammy; a suicide vs any other sort of death and the doubt about whether something was intentional or accidental and how could they have helped someone avoid what they’ve done …

      Good luck with your situation.

  • Jimmy Arnold

    as a survivor of multiple attempts over the course of my almost 50 years here, I say yes.. get it out of the closet!
    The pain being kept in secret is the root of the crisis.. Truth, Honesty.. unvarnished.. unhidden.. unobscured.. How will we ever know if there ARE answers if we don’t examine our stories and find the key..? Sure, it’s painful, these experiences are.. enough to not want to be here anymore.. but even though the answers might not be obvious.. they are there.. in our stories.. somewhere.. Ms. Stage is a friend of a friend, and I am committed to participating in ANY discussion of this topic.. It needs to happen,, yesterday.

    • Roadie Ric

      Jimmy, your points are well taken. I have been involved in this struggle for awareness for MANY years now, & I have great empathy for your words. Please be sure to remind Ms Stage, should you speak to her, that advocates MUST speak out whenever necessary, as silence equals death.

  • reaguns

    Its been a long time, so infrequent the blogs are from Alastair now, but I thought I’d say hello.
    Regarding the topic, its just too damn difficult for me – I think there are some things people can understand and talk about even if they haven’t experienced them personally, but I don’t think this applies to depression and suicide, I just feel too uninformed to say much.

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