Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Beauty of Grief

You are my hero.

These words are so important when talking to people whose lives have been touched by suicide. 

Survivors of suicide loss must fashion a new life with a heartbreak that, although its ability to incapacitate us lessons, never fully goes away. It will never be ok that we lost someone we loved to suicide. We do however learn to live on. Many of grow and learn to love harder, forgive more quickly, and advocate for those who are still suffering. All of us enduring this loss are heroes.

Those living with mental illness and suicidal ideation are heroes every single time they reach out for help. They are heroes every single time they hold on for another day. Until we have more research, better treatment, and resources that are more readily available, support services for those who feel suicidal are often sub par. Many of those struggling with suicidal feelings are working desperately to stay alive and they are doing it for their family and loved ones. Most definitely, that is heroic.

And survivors of suicide attempts are heroic too. Many of them have had to endure people telling them that their despair makes them selfish or cruel. Many of them struggle with profound guilt and shame. And many survive just to be confronted with a lack of effective treatment and relief from their despair. The decision to recommit to life is often made, once again, for family and loved ones. 

I believe that all those whose lives are touched for suicide should be reminded that they are heroes every single day.

When I found this beautiful card, I reached out to the designer, Tiffany from Bay City, Michigan. Tiffany sells this card and others in her online shop, InvitesDotTiff. Tiffany was happy to let me feature her card on this blog. She explained her reason for the message on the card:

"There are tons of cards out there that say "I'm sorry for your loss", but none that ask what they can do to help, none that say that they will be there for you, no matter what and none that recognize the true heroism of holding on when everything in you is telling you to give up. This card is for those people, the secret heroes of the everyday. "

Thank you Tiffany for your acknowledgement, and thank you to all the heroes out there whose lives have been touched by suicide. 

You can find Tiffany's store by clicking on the logo, below:

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Mary Elizabeth Hartman

Mary Elizabeth Hartman was an American actress. She starred in the 1965 film A Patch of Blue, opposite Sidney Poitier. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for that role. She also appeared in Francis Ford Coppola's 1966 film, You're a Big Boy Now, for which she was nominated for a second Golden Globe Award. She also had an active stage career.

Throughout much of her life, Hartman suffered from depression. She tried to get help for her disease. She was hospitalized briefly and attended day treatment programs in search of relief, but her depression persisted.

On June 10, 1987, Mary Hartman died by suicide. She was forty three years old.

Mary Hartman 
December 23, 1943 – June 10, 1987

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Beauty of Grief

I've known Heather Simpson-Bluhm for many years through my extended art community. In recent years, Heather's work has focused on beautiful hand lettered sayings that are painted onto wood boards and other rustic backgrounds.

Although Heather did not lose her mother to suicide, she did lose her in an unexpected manner. Along those lines, Heather can relate to a part of the emotional overwhelm that so many of us who are survivors of suicide loss experience.

Heather painted the quote by the poet W.S. Merwin above, in honor of her mother. Merwin puts into words perfectly what it is like to forever carry with us both the love and grief inherent in losing a loved one.

Thank you Heather, for letting me share your beautiful work.

You can find more of Heather's lovely pieces on her Instagram account, here:


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Ray Combs

Raymond Neil Combs, Jr. was an American comedian, actor, and game show host.
Combs began his professional career as a stand-up comedian in the 1980s. His popularity on the stand-up circuit led to him being signed as the host of the revival of the game show Family Feud. The show aired on CBS and was in syndication until 1994. From 1995 to 1996, Combs hosted another game show, Family Challenge.
However, his second game show was not a success and Combs had continued difficulty finding success following his stint as the host of Family Feud. Due to poor financial management on his part, he squandered his earnings from the show and he soon had significant money problems. The pressure he was under impacted his marriage and he separated from his wife, eventually getting a divorce. The combination of his financial, personal, and professional problems were overwhelming for Combs.
On June 2, 1996, Ray Combs died by suicide. He was forty years old.

Raymond Neil Combs, Jr. 
April 3, 1956 – June 2, 1996

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Giving People Courage and Strength

St. Albans in Herfordshiree, England, is a city in the commuter belt north of London. It is known for its vast centuries-old cathedral. St. Albans is also the home since childhood, of Verity Bramwell. Now in her mid twenties, she has completed a Bsc in Psychology at The Open University. Verity is active in her community and after receiving her Bsc, she volunteered for six months as a student mentor at a local secondary school.

You wouldn't know by looking at her, but Verity has also struggled with thoughts of suicide. She is the survivor of four different suicide attempts. The most recent attempt took place in the summer of 2017, and it was very serious. After the attempt, Verity knew that she wanted to find a way to live, and she began a journey of healing. Today, she uses her experience to benefit others. Verity's courage and dedication are making an undeniable difference in the fight for suicide prevention. Her bravery is remarkable. It is for these reasons that I am honored to share her story with you now.
Verity's honesty and self awareness make her an excellent advocate for suicide prevention. She has a good understanding of the reasons why she has struggled, and what she needs to do to stay healthy today. Verity says that an event that occurred when she was a child had a large impact on the beginnings of her suicidal thoughts.
"I was exposed to suicide at seven years old when my half brother tried to end his life multiple times, but his suicide attempts were never really discussed openly."
Having been close to someone who attempted suicide when she was a child was not Verity's only risk factor. While she does not feel that she suffers from typical depression, she acknowledges that there are other things that make her vulnerable to suicidal thoughts.
"I have a chronic invisible illness called M.E. [Myaligic Encephalomyelitis] The illness has had a significant impact on my mental health, as I developed M.E. at 15, so it changed my childhood."
M.E. (also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) can have a profound effect on mental health. Depression and anxiety are common symptoms of the illness. According to the article "Suicide Risk in People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" in the scientific journal, The Lancet, a comprehensive study has shown that suicide risk is increased seven fold among those with M.E., in comparison to the general population.
Verity says that she was also bullied as a child. This too contributed to her feeling suicidal.
"I had anxiety and was bullied badly throughout school. Aspects such as bullying, and chronic illness can lead to your mental health deteriorating." 

In fact, the link between bullying and suicide is undeniable. According to the website

  • Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.
  • A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.
  • 10 to 14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for bullying related suicide, according to the study above.

Today, Verity says she is determined that her most recent suicide attempt be her last. Frustratingly, getting adequate help has been a challenge. She says she began to ask for help when she was sixteen years old.
"I asked for counseling when I was 16 years old. Three weeks after I started was the first time I tried to take my own life. I felt that the fully qualified and registered counselor had no understanding of my life and there was no rapport. I did not feel supported. 

When I was 21 I was admitted into Watford hospital and seen by the crisis team. Again I didn't really engage with them, they were just strangers who were paid to come and see me. I didn't trust them to do anything. I saw them once after I was discharged and basically said what I needed to, to get them to drop me. 

I had bereavement counseling afterward, supplied by a charity called SABN, St Albans Bereavement Network, which was helpful. However the service recently had to stop its counseling services due to funding. 

In the general ward (where I was hospitalized after my August attempt) I could come and go as I pleased. Given that I'd had no psych evaluation, I could have left the hospital and made a second attempt.
Despite the poor treatment she received, Verity made a decision to do everything she could to heal, and to make a positive impact on the fight for suicide prevention. She began to volunteer for The OLLIE Foundation - a charity devoted to stopping young people from taking their own lives. Her commitment was so impressive, she soon became their first paid employee.
"I work for a suicide prevention charity set up by three parents who all lost their sons to suicide," Verity explains. "I’ve had a keen interest in the welfare of young people, especially after experiencing my own challenges. Working with OLLIE gives me the opportunity to make a difference in an area that I’m extremely passionate about."
The OLLIE (One Life Lost is Enough) Foundation was founded in 2016, when three parents who had all lost their teenage sons to suicide, vowed to do all they could to prevent other families from suffering similar tragedies. 
The Foundation funds suicide intervention skills training for adults working with young people. Their work is particularly important in the UK, because of the heartbreaking statistics related to youth suicide in that country.
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death of young people under the age of 35
  • On average, four young people end their own lives each day

    When sharing her own story, Verity is honest about the fact that big changes can still overwhelm her, and her instinct to avoid problems can make things worse. She says it's very difficult to ask for help, but she now recognizes when it is necessary to do so.

    "Whenever I feel myself getting low or stressed, I make sure I talk to people. My mum or my friends. I give myself some me time, I try to find things that will help me laugh and I'm kind to myself."

    One of the things that makes talking about suicidal thoughts and feelings difficult is the stigma associated with mental health issues. Verity has been impacted by this, but she also recognizes that we are in a better place than in the past.

    "It's changed since I was 16. Back then I was told not to tell anyone about it by family. The school didn't address it. Now, working in suicide prevention, I'm surrounded by people who freely talk about it and my family has learned a lot."

    Verity says that when she was younger, she felt a pressure to 'toughen up' and 'get over' her depression. Today, she wants people to know that mental illness is no
     different than any other illness. She feels strongly that those struggling should be supported by their community, professionals, institutions, and the media.

    "People shouldn't be discriminated against, judged or targeted." 

    When I asked Verity what she thought people could do to help address the problems of mental illness stigma and suicide, she said that talking about the issues and educating people in suicide prevention is key.

    "Teachers, parents, and sports club leaders should all be given the the skills and confidence to have difficult conversations. Early intervention, teaching healthy coping methods, and showing our younger generation how to ask for help (but also how to take responsibility for their own day to day emotional well being), is very important."

    When Verity explains her personal hopes and efforts, she says this:

    "My aim is that suicide gets to where redundancy [being laid off from a job] and divorce are now. Not pleasant events, but people aren't afraid to talk about them. On my own personal twitter, I share my stories in order to promote hope."

    She also has a message for others who struggle with thoughts of suicide.

    "You're not alone, we love you and it can get better."

    Verity encourages people to share their experiences. "Share your stories and give people the courage and strength to share their own in return." 

    On a personal level, I am so inspired by Verity's efforts. I thank her for talking to me for this Our Voices Matter feature. Indeed, Verity Bramwell lives by her beliefs, and courageously sharing her story is exactly what she is doing.

    To find out more about The OLLIE Foundation, visit:

     You can also find them on Facebook, and Twitter.

    Friday, May 18, 2018

    Chris Cornell

    Chris Cornell was an American musician, singer, and songwriter. He was best known as the lead vocalist for the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave. Cornell is considered one of the chief architects of the 1990s grunge movement. During his career, Cornell received numerous Grammy nominations and won two. He also received a Golden Globe Award nomination for his song "The Keeper", which appeared in the 2011 film Machine Gun Preacher, and co-wrote and performed the theme song to the James Bond film Casino Royale (2006), "You Know My Name".

    Cornell was open about the fact that he had suffered from depression and substance abuse problems. On May 18, 2017, after performing at a Soundgarden concert hours earlier, Chris Cornell died by suicide. He was fifty two years old.

    Chris Cornell
    July 20, 1964 – May 18, 2017

    Sunday, May 13, 2018

    This week (May 13 to 19, 2018) is the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Prevention Week. The week is dedicated to increasing public awareness and efforts related to mental and/or substance use disorders.

    Communities and organizations across the country will come together to raise awareness about the importance of substance use prevention and positive mental health. The theme this year is: Action Today. Healthier Tomorrow.

    Are you doing something to participate in the activities this week or to raise awareness about substance abuse and mental health? I want to know about it. Leave a comment below.

    And to all the organizations and individuals who are speaking up about these important issues, thank you. Speaking up fights stigma. Fighting stigma reduces shame. Reducing shame saves lives.

    Working toward substance abuse and mental health awareness is working toward suicide prevention. Again, thank you. 

    Monday, May 7, 2018

    Isabella Blow

    Isabella "Issie" Blow was an English magazine editor. Serving as an inspiration to hat designer Philip Treacy, she is also credited with discovering the models Stella Tennant and Sophie Dahl as well as the fashion designer Alexander McQueen.
    Though very successful throughout her life, she suffered from professional frustration and felt some rejection by the designer fashion industry when McQueen sold his brand to Gucci and did not include her in the dealings.
    Blow's noted childhood trauma (the death of her brother when he was just two years old, the divorce of her parents and sense of rejection by her mother and later her father as well) as having a profound effect on her.
    When Blow was in her mid-forties she was struggling with the impact of the trauma, her feelings of frustration within the fashion community that had been vital to her career, and a recent cancer diagnosis. Those her knew her say that she'd begun to suffer from a profound depression.
    On May 7, 2007, Isabella Blow lost her life to suicide. She was forty eight years old.

    Isabella Blow 
    November 19, 1958 – May 7, 2007

    Sunday, April 29, 2018

    The Beauty of Grief

    Hafiz Shirazi was a 14th century Persian poet. Though separated by many centuries, here he puts into words the sadness that, even today, so many of us who love those struggling with mental illness, go through.

    We who have lost someone to suicide, often live with the grief of believing that we were never able to show the person we lost how beautiful they were. I want to offer that many of us were an integral part of the light and goodness in the life of our loved one, while they were still living.

    Perhaps, in allowing our memories to include the good and not just the circumstances around the eventual loss, we will begin to see the astonishing light of our own beings. It is in that light, I am certain, that we will find pieces of our healing.

    Thursday, April 26, 2018

    Adrian Borland

    Adrian Kelvin Borland was an English musician and record producer, best known as the frontman of post-punk band The Sound.
    While still having a very successful musical career, Borland did suffer from symptoms of schizoaffective disorder throughout his adult life. On April 26, 1999, Borland lost his life to suicide. Adrian Borland was forty one years old when he died.

    Adrian Kelvin Borland
    December 6, 1957 – April 26, 1999