Friday, March 16, 2018

Brian Bianchini

Brian Leo Bianchini was an Italian American male model and film actor who was known for his work in the 1990s through the early 2000s.

Born in San Francisco, during and after college Bianchi achieved significant success as a model. Bianchi was photographed by numerous renowned photographers including Bruce WeberDavid LaChapelleand George Machado. He was featured in advertising campaigns for ReebokVersace and Abercrombie & Fitch, among others.

Bianchini suffered from frequent bouts of major depression. On March 16, 2004, he lost his life to suicide. Brian Leo Bianchini was twenty five years old when he died.

Brian Leo Bianchini 
July 16, 1978 – March 16, 2004

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Beauty of Grief

Shawna Lammers lives in Denver, Colorado, where she creates beautiful personalized keepsake jewelry. Shawna began making memorial jewelry after creating a piece for her sister who was grieving the loss of her stillborn son. Now Shawna's selections include those that are appropriate for any type of loss. She has pieces that honor the loss of a child, a sibling, a parent, and more.

The sentiment in the piece above, 'always in my heart', represents one of the most beautiful things about grief in general. The fact that memories and love don't ever have to go away.

Much of Shawna's jewelry would be appropriate for those who are enduring the loss of a loved one to suicide. You can find her shop, Shawna Lane Creations, on etsy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Jang Ja-yeon

Jang Ja-yeon was a South Korean actress. At the time of her death Jang had been starring in the KBS television drama series Boys Over Flowers
She had been suffering from depression, and a police investigation concluded that her death was a suicide. Her death caused a national scandal when it was claimed that she had been sexually and physically abused by a number of prominent entertainment executives during her career, and that this alleged abuse had contributed to her depression.
Jang Ja-yeon was twenty nine years old when she died.

Jang Ja-yeon 
January 25, 1980 – March 7, 2009

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Beauty of Grief

Tom Hubbard is an artist living in Lee's Summit, Missouri. He says that when he is creating art, he draws form his emotions.

"It is my hope that somehow my art will help someone else. I say to people all the time to pour your feelings onto paper whether it be writing or with art. And I am not afraid to talk about my experience or how I am dealing with the struggle." 

Tom says he deals with anxiety, depression and PTSD. 

"My drawing is a coping mechanism to help with the anxiety. A little over six years ago I tried to end my life so I do what I can to help raise hope and stamp out the stigma of mental illness."

Tom created the feather artwork shown in this post, in the colors of purple and teal, which are the colors of the suicide prevention ribbon. 

He truly puts his heart into his work, and his pieces are impressive. Equally impressive is the courage he demonstrates by sharing his story in order to fight stigma. Bravo Tom!

You can find Tom's work on Etsy, here:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Beauty of Grief

Last week on Friday, Becky Alderman took this photo of the steps of the State Capital Building in Charleston, West Virginia. Becky lost her husband Matt to Suicide in 2017.

"I went to the Capital and AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) had a memorial of shoes for awareness on the steps. Many people there did not understand the meaning, but I was able to educate some. Still, they all were respectful and left it visible and untouched."

We must start to humanize the lives lost to suicide. Even just this display of shoes helps to put into context the fact that we are losing human beings who were loved and needed in this world.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Combination of Grace and Truth

Joyce Bruggeman holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from the University of California, Irvine. For many years she worked professionally at Cal State University, San Marcos. Eleven years ago, she was working full time in the Student Affairs Department while also married and raising children. Her life revolved around balancing the responsibilities of work and family.

Then, in 2008, Joyce's life was changed forever. Her husband, who'd suffered from mental illness for many years, died by suicide. 

One of the ways that Joyce's experience of loss is exemplary, however, is that early on she recognized that sharing her personal feelings and story could be of benefit to others. She knew that her perspective and experiences were important to share.

"My husband took his life after a twelve year battle with clinical depression. Living with someone caught in the turmoil of a mental health issue has provided me with a close up view of the impact of such illnesses," she explains.

After her husband's death, Joyce recognized the importance of speaking out about suicide loss. Even before he'd died, she'd been aware of the tragic consequences that stigma can have on those who are left behind after a loved one dies by suicide. When her husband was still a teen, his own father died by suicide.
"In society at that time, depression and suicide were completely taboo subjects, so my husband was never allowed to deal with his traumatic grief. Thirty years after the death of his father, life events triggered a depressive episode in him, and thus began our psychological battle. Sadly, he is a text book example of what happens when survivors are not given the opportunity to heal from the traumatic injury of suicide." 

In the years following her husband's death, Joyce became an active volunteer in suicide awareness and prevention efforts. She sought out training in issues related to mental health. She became a volunteer facilitator for a faith-based support group for families living with a loved one with mental illness. Eventually her efforts changed the direction of her professional life as well. Today, she serves as the Executive Director of one of the United States' premier suicide related support groups, Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL) in San Diego, California.

I was honored to speak to Joyce Bruggeman and to learn more about her insights on these topics. I am equally honored to share what she had to say with you, now.

In order to get a sense of where Joyce's passion lies, one only needs to look at the mission of the organization that Joyce leads, Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL). According to their website, their goal is to provide a safe and supportive community where healing can take place. Founded in 1981, today SOSL has a newsletter, a helpline for those grieving, and their suicide postvention program includes sixteen groups every month in 10 different locations in San Diego and Riverside counties.

In her role as Executive Director, Joyce draws from her personal experience and speaks throughout Southern California to educate others and, most importantly, to reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues and suicide. The impact of losing a loved one to suicide is difficult to explain, and yet one of Joyce's gifts is her ability to do just that.

 "There really are no words to describe the pain. It is gut wrenching, intense, anguish, agony, despair,horrific," she says. "Your physical health is impacted, relationships changed forever, your faith challenged at every turn. It is a slow, painful, and agonizing journey to work your way back to life again."

But, one of the things Joyce wants her fellow survivors to know is that they will have an opportunity to turn their trauma into a new type of strength. When a grieving person is ready, she wants them to consider that their experience does not have to be viewed in a wholly negative lens.

 "Life will never be the same again," Joyce acknowledges. "For most of us, it is impossible to go back to what was. We must find the tools, skills, and courage to move into the what will be. Where I find myself today was not a part of my plans. Mental illness and suicide have impacted my life and changed me in ways I could never have anticipated. It is important to me that those left behind find the strength to move beyond just surviving and that they find a life that is good once again."

One of the common myths about mental illness is that it is a result of flawed thinking. This myth perpetuates the stigma felt by those who are suffering. Joyce agrees that this is frustrating. 

 "I think the biological component of mental illness is often disregarded by many unfamiliar with the topic. Many who are not educated about mental illness believe it is a character issue - rather than a medical issue," she says. 

 Joyce also describes the impact stigma has on those who have been left behind after a suicide loss. 

"Suicide is shrouded in tremendous fear - which increases the stigma. Because people are so afraid to talk about suicide, there continues to a tremendous misinformation in society. As a survivor of suicide loss, you learn very quickly that many don't want to hear your story, or don't know what to do when you share it. You can read the fear on the faces of people when you just say the word suicide." 

 It is because of the challenges that survivors face when it comes to reaching out that Joyce proactively shares her story.
"I break the silence so survivors can seek help and find healing."

After having talked to thousands of survivors of suicide grief, Joyce regularly sees what the additional trauma of suicide related guilt can do to a person. 

"It is estimated that after a suicide, there are approximately 6-10 people left behind who now carry a higher risk of mental health issues and suicide - if they do not get plugged in to appropriate care. Research also shows that if those survivors find a place and way to work through the suicide grief, they can reduce or eliminate that risk."

Joyce again refers to her personal experience to further explain how important it is to reach out and accept help when surviving a suicide loss.

"I lived many years in the aftermath of a suicide grief that was not allowed to be treated. When my husband took his life, I knew I did not want to repeat the same mistakes of his family. There are no guarantees that what I am doing will yield my desired outcome, but I know what doesn't work, and I am doing my best to change this sad legacy of suicide in my family. Organizations like SOSL exists to help survivors work through the trauma and grief of suicide."

Joyce points out that guilt and blame are some of the most difficult aspects of the way that stigma affects survivors of suicide loss.

"Due to stigma and the many misconceptions people have about suicide, survivors often experience intense feelings of guilt and shame, sometimes actually being blamed (or blaming themselves) for not being able to prevent the death," Joyce explains. "Anger misdirected outward results in blaming family, friends, medical or mental health professionals. Blame finds fault and levels judgment."

"Being blamed is one of the most painful things to experience." 

For fellow survivors whose grief if being compounded by blame, she says this:

 "In truth, you have no power to determine what others believe. Hard as that is - it is the only way I have found to deal with it. If certain people are too toxic, sometimes it becomes necessary to remove them from your life."

 And to those who feel that another person is to blame for a suicide death, Joyce reminds them that this is not a fair judgment.

 "Almost always, the truth is that the only person responsible for the suicide is the person who ended their life. But expressing anger toward the person who lived in such despair, feels wrong and uncomfortable. That is why it is important to understand that we can assign responsibility without judgment or blame. It simply states the facts as they are. For example, if the suicide followed years of clinical depression, it is likely a result of their illness. Coming to that understanding is a huge step towards acceptance."

 As for feeling guilty, Joyce has learned that guilt is often part of coming to terms with loss.

 "After working with survivors for a number of years now, I have come to understand the grappling with guilt is a necessary part of the recovery process - painful - but they must deal with all of those emotions and come to an understanding that they are not responsible for the suicide."

 Joyce suggests that having a better understanding of mental illness can help many to alleviate the worst of their guilt. 

"All survivors grapple with guilt on some level. For me, because my husband had been ill for so long, I understood the real cause for his suicide was his clinical depression and his reluctance to address his illness."

 In fact, Joyce also found that educating herself about mental illness and suicide prevention helped to process some of the shock and pain of her loss.

 "Learning the truth about the clinical depression that consumed my husband was an essential part of my healing process. Knowing the truth about suicide has kept me from carrying the responsibility of his fatal mistake."

While Joyce recognizes that everyone's journey as a survivor of suicide loss is different, she is happy to share the things that have helped her to find peace and moments of joy in her life, once again. She says that working with a good psychologist helped her to manage the challenges of living with her husband's mental illness prior to his death, as well as afterward. 

Joyce also says that leaning on family and friends was instrumental in her moving forward. She encourages all survivors of suicide loss to reach out to nonjudgmental people who will let them talk, cry, and yell, if necessary.

"Healthy loving relationships are key."

Like many survivors of suicide loss, Joyce has put thought into what she might say to her husband, if she were to have another chance to talk to him. She says that she knows that he had no idea how much pain his death was going to cause others. But she also wants him to know that his pain did not die with him. Instead, it was multiplied and transmitted to the people who loved him. 

"Now each of us is faced with the challenge of healing from this horrific wounding. If we do not, we will pass it along to future generations. I know you would not want that," is what Joyce would tell her husband.

She also wants her husband to know that his family is now committed to breaking that pattern.

"We are bound and determined to end the legacy of suicide in our family."

When Joyce explains how it is she's able to move through her own grief, tackle stigma, and support others as well, she counts spirituality as her chief comfort and greatest source of strength.

"Without faith in Christ, I do not know where I would be today. I was fortunate to have a grace filled faith community that addressed my loss and provided a place for me to heal," she says. 

As a fellow advocate on behalf of survivors of suicide loss, I am so thankful to Joyce Bruggeman for her honesty, commitment, and passion. There are so many things about her that I hope to one day emulate. Not the least among them is the clarity with which she explains her process of healing.

"The combination of grace and truth, in just the right measures, were vital in my journey back to wholeness." 

So to Joyce Bruggeman, I say thank you for your grace, your truth, and for helping so many along on their own journeys. 

We are lucky to have you among us.

Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL) has a website, here:

SOSL has a Facebook page, here:
Survivors of Suicide Loss - San Diego

You can find SOSL on Twitter, here:

Joyce writes more about her personal experience, here:
Enduring Legacy

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Beauty of Grief

Sender:Charul Bharat of North Atlanta, Georgia creates hand stamped jewelry to commemorate many different occasions. The key chain above can be personalized with any name.

While some assume that not mentioning the name of the person lost will lesson the pain experienced by survivors of suicide loss, the opposite is often true. We need an opportunity to share our memories. We need to be able to continue to say the names of those we are mourning.

Charul told me she has one message for those whose lives have been touched by suicide. "Talk to your children," she said. And indeed, talking is one of the most important ways to raise awareness, combat stigma, and begin to do the work of effective suicide prevention.

You can find Charul's store, GlitterazziJewels, on etsy.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Jayalaskhmi Red

Jayalakshmi Reddy, who's stage name was Fatafat Jayalakshmi (also known as Phataphat Jayalaxmi), was a popular Indian actress in Tamil and Telugu cinema. In Malayalam movies she was known as Supriya. 

Reddy acted about 66 movies in TamilTeluguMalayalam and Kannada.

It has been suggested that Reddy suffered from extreme depression following a failed romantic relationship. On February 23, 1980, she was at the prime of her career when she died by suicide. Jayalaskhmi Reddy was twenty two years old when she died.

Jayalaskhmi Reddy
1958 - February 23, 1980

Thursday, February 22, 2018

This is Why I Write

The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, 
but what we are unable to say.

We must speak up and speak out about mental illness and suicide. We must combat shame. We must end the stigma.

Silence contributes to suffering and silence contributes to loss of life. 

In the United States alone, 40,000 lives a year are lost to suicide. It is estimated that there are 240,000 survivors of suicide loss who are left behind to deal with profound grief. 

None of us are alone. 

Speaking up helps us to remember. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

She Is the Change She Wishes to See In the World

Tensie J. Taylor is a red carpet host for the online Rich Girl Network TV. As a host, she has interviewed numerous celebrities at everything from galas to film festivals. Tensie has attended the Oscars, People’s Choice Awards, BET’s Celebration of Gospel, NAACP Image Awards, Grammys, and the BET Awards. Still, some would say that Tensie's success in the arena of internet media is the least of her accomplishments.

Tensie holds a Masters of Education from the University of Southern California. Currently, she serves as the Assistant Director of the USC Black Alumni Association. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the We Are Ohana Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to providing resources and help to children in foster care in Los Angeles. 

As someone whose achievements are admired, one would assume that this mirrors her experiences as a child. However that wasn't the case. In fact, Tensie suffered from severe bullying during her youth.

On a very personal level, I understand the courage required of someone in order for them to publicly discuss having been bullied. Being bullied can lead to humiliation and shame. It takes a brave person to confront these feelings and share them in order to help others.

It is because of Tensie Taylor's bravery that I was honored to speak to her, and I am equally honored to share her words with you now.

Tensie Taylor is from Louisburg, North Carolina. In addition to her professional work, volunteer efforts, and public speaking, she has many hobbies.  She enjoys reading and writing. She is also a musician and enjoys singing, playing the piano, and trumpet. Tensie's love for music crosses over to her professional life. She has sung and played piano at numerous concerts and performances both in the United States and internationally.

One of the most admirable things about Tensie however, is her proactive advocacy on behalf of others like herself who have experienced bullying. She has written a book that chronicles what happened to her as a child. She is a public speaker and she provides unflagging support to others whose lives have been impacted by bullying.

Tensie's autobiography, Bullied, From Terror to Triumph shares her inspirational story of transforming tremendous pain into the motivation to be successful. In the book she tells the story of the near daily bullying she experienced from kindergarten all the way through to her high school years. 

Tensie endured all forms of bullying including physical, verbal, and social. She recounts the difficulty of making friends, being called names, and having things thrown at her. She says she often felt alone and scared. There were times when she did not want go to school so she would pretend to not feel well. 

"There were many times throughout my life where I felt hopeless as a result of being bullied. High school was rough because there were cliques and I wanted to fit in. I was in Honors and AP classes and that helped deter some of the bullying, but when I had to go to lunch, students who were not in these types of classes continued to make fun of me. In one instance, a student threw food at me outside the cafeteria, and in another, a student threw chips at me and then told me to eat them." 

Because of these painful experiences, Tensie says that she understands the critical need to address the impact that bullying has on a person. When she was sixteen years old, she herself contemplated suicide.

"I felt so low and depressed that I said, 'Why continue with life? No one likes me, I am vilified every day, I don’t have any friends. What is the point of living?'”

However, she was able to focus on how much pain her family would go through if she ended her life. She knew that if she died by suicide, the lives of those who bullied her might go on as usual, while those who loved her would go through tremendous pain. Tensie reminded herself that she had a lot to live for and she began to work on building her own sense of self worth and confidence.

"The words from my bullies still hurt, but I never wanted to find myself in such a low place again."

Now, Tensie is thankful that she did not follow through on her thoughts of suicide. But, she is concerned about the impact bullying is having on the number of childhood and teen suicides today. She is not alone in her concerns.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged ten to twenty four years old. Research has shown that the relationship between bullying and suicide can not be denied.
The United States Centers for Disease Control states that:

We know that bullying behavior and suicide-related behavior are closely related. This means youth who report any involvement with bullying behavior are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior.

The link is so closely related, schools often have zero tolerance policies around bullying. Kids engaging in the behavior may be suspended or even expelled because of their actions. Further emphasizing the horrible consequences of bullying, there are now laws in many states that criminalize the behavior. These laws now extend to adults as well as children. Bullying in the workplace is seen as unacceptable, and documented bullying that contributes to a suicide is starting to be seen as an intentional act leading to the death of an innocent person.

Tensie also recognizes that the advent of social media has significantly worsened the impact of bullying on an individual. She says that she is very thankful that during her youth, social media was not as prevalent as it is today. She knows that it would have made her reaction to the bullying even worse.

"To have been physically and verbally bullied at school by my peers and then to come home and have people bully me on Facebook or Instagram, I would have been devastated and might have gone through with taking my life."

Cyber bullying is largely considered responsible for the sharp rise in youth deaths by suicide. Tensie acknowledges that one of the complications is that bullies can create anonymous accounts and write mean comments and derogatory words on people’s pages. In regard to this action, Tensie does not mince words.

"People who do this are cowards because they hide behind their computer screen or phones." 

Cyber bullying occurs on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The bullying can also happen via text messages. Like all forms of bullying, these cruel actions must be called out. Those who know about it should respond by reassuring the person being bullied that others do not agree with what is being said. Just as important, the person doing the bullying should be confronted directly and told that their behavior is unacceptable, must stop, and that it will be reported if it continues.

Tensie believes that parents can have an important role in protecting their children from this version of bullying.

"I did not get a cell phone until I was 17 years old, so I know my parents would not have let me sign up for Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter in school. When I speak to parents, I tell them to not let their child be on social media at such a young age. This can help deter cyber bullying and protect their well-being. Parents do not always know what their child is putting out there on the web."

Personally, I agree with all of Tensie's sentiments. 

It is important to note that bullying can have a profound impact on adults as well. The bullying I experienced after my boyfriend's death (even though it was only from one person) directly contributed to exacerbating my own suicidality.

Survivors of suicide loss have an increased risk of dying by suicide themselves. It was for this reason that many professionals who were aware of my situation urged me to get a restraining order against the person who was lashing out at me. 

While I chose not to pursue that course, I did reach out to the many friends who supported me. They reassured me that others felt the bully's behavior was reprehensible. They encouraged me to block the incoming messages. Another friend helped me figure out how to save future messages without having to see them, so that I could use them if legal action were needed in the future. This type of practical support made a tremendous difference in my ability to process the bully's cruelty and move forward in my healing.

Tensie believes that bullies behave the way they do because they are insecure and do not feel their own self worth. She wants them to know that while their behavior may make them feel powerful, the act of belittling people actually serves to show how damaged the person doing the bullying is. She has a message for those people who are engaging in this behavior.

"STOP! You are better than this," she says. 

She wants bullies to understand that their words and cruelty can cause a suicide. 

"Know that your behavior is wrong and step back and ask yourself, 'Why am I bullying?'" 

Tensie suggests that bullies consider the fact that their behavior speaks to their own lack of character. She also hopes that bullies will realize that their actions can have legal consequences.

Research shows that it is not just the person being bullied who suffers, but suicide rates among youth who do the bullying are also higher than that of many others. Ultimately, Tensie recognizes that the bullies themselves need intervention.

"Any person who gets satisfaction from seeing another person in pain needs help." 

Tensie's most important message though, goes out to those who are experiencing the pain of being bullied. She wants them to find a person they can confide in so that they do not feel alone. She wants bullied children to know that they are important and that they matter. She wants them to have hope.

"You have so much to live for. You have memories to make, places to go, love to find."

She also believes that having a better understanding of why people bully others is helpful.

"The reason why you are being bullied is because the other person sees something special in you and wants to break you and bring you down in hopes that you don’t see your worth. You overcome these things by finding your self worth and realizing your purpose,” she says. "Know that there are better days ahead. In your moment of despair, it is hard to see that you can be happy, but it is possible."

Tensie encourages people who are being bullied to build upon their confidence and courage.

"Every day, find something positive and good to say about yourself, and this helps build your self-esteem. The more you realize your worth and how powerful you are, the easier it will be for the negative comments from others to roll off of you. Ask your parents to enroll you in martial arts classes. The times I was physically bullied, if I had been able to defend myself, the physical bullying would have stopped sooner."

Tensie also says that she is a strong proponent of getting counseling if necessary.

"A counselor or psychologist can not only help you realize your worth, but provide you strategies on how to build your self-esteem."

Finally, Tensie says that she found comfort and strength in her spirituality.

“It is really the grace of God that saved me because I wouldn’t be here to tell my story if I didn’t allow God to take control of my situation.”

I hope that Tensie knows that she herself is a blessing to all who are presently being impacted by bullying. Through her book and her honesty, she spreads an important message of hope. 

One of the things she told me when I asked her what she suggested to young people who were being bullied, was they they should read biographies.

"It always amazes me when I read about someone I find inspirational who went through the same things as me, sometimes much worse. If that person got through it, so can I."

The fact is, Tensie is one of those inspirational people. Perhaps the reason she is so committed to her efforts is explained by one of favorite quotes by Mahatma Ghandi. It more than speaks to her motivation.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Along those lines, undeniably, Tensie is succeeding, and for that, I thank her.

You can find Tensie Taylor's book on Amazon, here:

Tensie has a website, here:

You can find Tensie on Twitter here:

Tensie has a page on Facebook:

And Tensie's Instagram account can be found here: