Supporting Our Survivors

By Erin GillinghamNovember 20, 2014

This Saturday is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, a day for loved ones of those lost to suicide to join together for hope, healing, and support. The word “survivor” holds a lot of different meanings and emotions. To those who have battled cancer, or another serious illness, the term survivor is one of strength and courage. It’s a badge of honor, and rightfully so. To fight against any disease and survive is something that deserves to be celebrated. However, battling a disease like depression tends to be a different story. To be a survivor of suicide too often carries shame, guilt, and a feeling of hopelessness. Instead of a badge, it is a label.

Although we’ve made progress in recent years, suicide continues to be one of the most stigmatized subjects of our time. This is both heartbreaking and astounding to me when I think of the millions of people who have been personally affected by it. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, someone dies by suicide every 13.3 minutes in the United States, which means more that 39,500 lives are lost each year. It’s estimated that each person who dies by suicide leaves behind six survivors. If that’s true, then there are 237,000 family members, friends, and loved ones left with questions and broken hearts. More than 350 million people suffer from depression, a treatable medical condition, worldwide. When I think about the number of people with a story that involves depression, suicide, or other mental health issues, I can’t help but think there is no reason why these stereotypes should continue to exist.

At TWLOHA, we believe that we’re not alone in our struggles and that people need other people. I was able to witness this firsthand across Indiana during the AFSP Out of the Darkness Community Walk season this fall. This is the 5th year that TWLOHA has been present at these walks, and once again I found myself witnessing the beauty of the human spirit and the amazing things that can happen when communities come together to support one another.

All across my home state, I found stories of strength, courage, and hope. I heard stories of survivors from all walks of life. I met teams made up of family members walking in honor of a loved one. My friend Billy drove more than 6 hours to speak at the Evansville walk and to share his story about the loss of his sister and friend to suicide. He shared his story in the hope that others would find encouragement and hope. I met two high school students who designed and sold awareness shirts at their high school and raised $1,000 for suicide prevention. I heard stories from people who thought all hope was lost, but found the inner strength to hold on.

I’ve been constantly inspired by these people who are not only surviving their pain, but who are also being a catalyst for change. These people have walked through the darkest times this life can offer, but instead of being defeated by the darkness, they strive to be a voice of hope for people walking that same dark path. They’ve made the term survivor a word filled with strength and courage.

Although stereotypes still exist, the world’s views about mental health are starting to change, largely due to survivors who are making their voices heard. Through honest conversation, organizations, and events like the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk, we’re letting people know they aren’t alone. We’re letting them know that it’s OK to ask for help. We’re letting them know that being a survivor of depression and suicide is not something to be ashamed of.

I want to encourage you, my fellow survivors, to reach out and let others walk with you. If you’ve lost someone to suicide or have struggled yourself, know that you are not alone. If your pain becomes too much for you, ask for help. There is no shame in letting someone else walk with you. And know we’re walking with you too.

To find out how you can get involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, click here

Leave a Reply

Comments (8)

  1. Darcie

    I’ve often struggled with the terminology of “survivor.” I see it on both sides, but it seems to mean more (or be more acknowledged) to be a survivor of a lost loved one rather than one who has faced darkness but made it through, surviving.
    Both situations matter, I just wish being labeled a survivor of suicide didn’t automatically make people think you’d lost someone. I’m a survivor because I’m still here.

    Reply  |  
    1. Triscia

      Mee too Darcie

      Reply  |  
  2. Sandee

    Ive earned my scars, but these days, when my pain is too much to bear…I channel it. I refuse to allow it to own me any more and I use its insidious power to help those who are not in the good place I am in. Pain only has power if you give it power. It is a FEELING and I promise you…it WILL pass.
    Until then, I’m here to guide you as best I know how.
    Fuck pain. Embrace peace.

    Reply  |  
  3. Brian Wilson

    The past year has been the most difficult for me. Since I lost my father in November, 2011, falling in love again, offering everything my soul can give to a woman who was a fraud and destroyed my trust in people. I’ve often mentioned to my mother and uncle(I had no choice but to move back home after wasting most of a large inheritance on a woman who only wanted my money), I have often mentioned putting one of many guns i own to my mouth and ending it. I think it hurts more that they don’t believe me when several times I have held that gun until sleep finally found and rescued me. It hurts that they think I’m joking when I’m just a trigger pull from doing it. What has saved me is the look my dog gives me.I wonder what society would be like if we all behaved like dogs…..always happy to see each other….true unconditional love. I found this site through ebay. I have chose to donate a percentage of my sales to a group of people I hope will understand me, who know where I’m coming from. I hope I can help as many people as possible, be that friend they can tell anything to without being judged. I hope I can find the same because I hurt inside every day…I just gave up telling people who don’t give a shit if I’m hear or not tomorrow. I’m holding out hope that maybe I can find someone who honestly cares. It’s worth a shot and it’s depressing that I can count my true friends on one hand. I’ll give this a try….

    Reply  |  
    1. erinkay

      Hello Brian, I found this site last nite
      and this morning when I got up and got on the phone this site was still up and I remembered that last nite I had found it and was searching it for someone, something that even for a second might relieve the pain, be able to relate to my feelings that seem as though I am some sort of malfit amoeba that has unfortunately managed to survive. . I too Brian wish everyday that it was just over with. I am so tired of feeling. Everybody says, “quit letting everything bother you so bad, dont let everything get you down, dont

      Reply  |  
      1. Claire Biggs

        Thank you so much for sharing part of your story with us.

        TWLOHA is not a 24-hour helpline, nor are we trained mental health professionals. TWLOHA hopes to serve as a bridge to help.

        If this is an emergency or if you need immediate help, please call and talk to someone at 1-800-273-TALK or reach out to the LifeLine Crisis Chat at“. We also have a list of local resources and support groups on our FIND HELP page. Please know that we also respond to every email we receive at [email protected].

        Reply  |  
  4. a

    just relapsed again tonight.. my boyfriend is so worried about me.. i feel terrible..

    Reply  |  
  5. dm

    I was raised by two incredibly selfless hardworking, witty and in love parents. I am lucky to have had them in my life for 25 years. Then the trend started: First my grandmother passes, my uncle is diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer and passes 5 months later. My Grandfather, who could not cope with losing a child, takes his life Christmas Day 2007, We found him and the image haunts me. The entire time my Mom and Dad were dealing with medical issues, severe pain and planned and executed their own passing together in October 2008. I was three hours away, I called the cops, called our family doctor, my aunt and anyone I could to check on them and no one could get past the yellow police tape.
    Mom and Dad planned it for 2 years; her physical pain was so great, and his strokes were coming more frequently, they didn’t want to be a burden to any of us. I had no clue until the police called me back to tell me the news. The next day I returned to their home with my sister and brother to a perfect looking yet empty home and separate piles for each of us. It took me two years to read the letter she wrote me. I just prayed she believed in God and made it to heaven. I still wonder if I could have stopped it. It has taken me years to even start to put the pieces back together, but TWLOHA and the Out of the Darkness Walks have helped me so very much. I had no closure, no funeral, and my siblings only cared about the money – disgusting. My way to pay it forward is to share my story to others; I’m not a counselor and this is not a field I ever wanted any experience in, but I’ve received a few late night calls from friends who were really depressed or had just lost someone to suicide. To those who feel it’s selfish, only God can judge. While I don’t agree with what happened, I will defend my family. Please understand that we, as survivors of suicide, are left holding the cards, and it’s far from a full deck. Thank you for letting me share, it really does help.

    Reply  |  
Get Email Updates

Sign up for our newsletter to hear updates from our team and how you can help share the message of hope and help.