Tracey, Families for Depression Awareness Volunteer
Tracey’s life experience brought her to work as a certified peer specialist, helping people in crisis situations. She lives in Massachusetts.
I’m a visual kind of person. I need to see things, touch things, rather than read about them in a book. When I got involved with a domestic violence task force, it was because I believed it was a good thing to do. Two years into our work, we were all out on the Taunton (MA) Green holding a silent vigil for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. A reporter walked up to me and asked why I was there, why I felt this was important. Out of my mouth fell, “I was molested as a child. That should never happen to anyone, let alone a child.” It was a “did-I-just-say-that-out-loud?!” moment. That’s what ended up on the front page of the paper, much to the horror of my family.
I finally felt as if I belonged, that I had the right to advocate against violence. I had lived that experience but needed to see and hear it out loud myself to finally accept that it was another one of those “Yeah, me too” moments.
Four years later, at an event held by our newly-formed suicide prevention task force, I sat and listened to a suicide loss survivor for the first time. I could see, hear, and feel her pain and sadness. I thought my heart would break, I couldn’t breathe listening to Rosie share her story. The tears wouldn’t stop.
The thought racing through my mind was that I almost caused my family that devastating pain. I still make it clear today that Rosie, a suicide loss survivor, probably saved my life. I am a suicide attempt survivor. Until that day, I had never fully acknowledged or admitted to anyone except my therapist that I had attempted suicide. I’m very happy to tell you that Rosie and I are good friends. When I’ve had some darker moments – and there have been more than a few – I picture Rosie again and step back, pause, and remind myself that suicide is not an option.
That day was the beginning of my advocacy and activism within suicide prevention. I can’t write or develop programs the way my mentor and friend, Annemarie, can. But I can contribute to the content, as I did with our wellness check workshop series for attempt and loss survivors. My opinion mattered.
I experience anxiety when I’m asked to speak at events, but I do it because I’ve seen the positive impact it has on others. I can feel the hope filling them. My story of resilience matters. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. All of our stories matter. We need to break the silence around mental health issues – depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and more – so others won’t feel ashamed or afraid to reach out and get the help they need. Staying silent for years almost killed me.
That really hit home a few weeks ago when the CDC released the not-so-shocking data that the number of teens dying by suicide had drastically escalated: the suicide rate for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 doubled between 2007 and 2015, and that figure doesn’t even address the number of attempts that go undocumented. I was one of those teen girls, silent and suffering.
So I did what I know I can do well: I spoke up. We have a film camera in the house, so we set it up and I filmed a quick PSA to address the CDC report. I urged teens to please, please, speak up, seek help, that they DO matter to us, they are loved, and they are important. In the video, I also spoke to the parents: please, listen to your kids without fear-driven reactions. Those reactions will shut down communication with your teen. Love them. Hug them. Respond as if you are hearing they have cancer; give your teens all the compassion you can and support them in getting the help they need. Do it with them, not for them.
This is what I bring to my job every day. I work in an emergency services response unit as a certified peer specialist. Yup, me, a suicide attempt survivor! Who better to be there to sit down with someone in a suicidal crisis than someone who has not only been there/done that, but who has survived to live a fulfilling life? Of course, it’s taking some of the nurses and clinicians a little time to get used to having me around and being so outspoken about my lived experience, but they can see the positive impact it has on our clients. The clients see me as a peer and accept me without a problem. They know I really do understand.
We need to encourage more attempt and loss survivors to step into the peer specialist world. We can help with our lived experience where others can’t. And we need the others in the field to more openly accept that we have a tool that can save lives: our stories.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Annemarie Matulis, director of the Bristol County (MA) Regional Suicide Prevention Coalition, for her assistance in writing this post. Learn about Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention and the regional organizations at www.masspreventssuicide.org.
If you are considering hurting or killing yourself, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or click on the link to chat; or text HOME to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line. Please get help now.
- Your experience with depression, bipolar disorder, or suicide may inspire others. Submit your story to be considered for publication!