Silent Scream: Conversations Rarely Had About Suicide & One Activist’s Mission

By Hopelessly Tatiana

According to the World Health Organization, 703,000 people complete suicide each year. For every death by suicide, there are more than 20 attempts. With numbers as staggering as these it is shocking to realize that while suicide has a deep impact on our communities, it is a topic that most people avoid. 

Research recently concluded by the Trevor Project titled 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, LGBTQI teens are far more at risk of attempting or committing suicide, with rates of up to 45 percent in LGBTQI youth of color, and 48 percent of Transgender or Nonbinary youth. Meanwhile, a staggering 50 percent of LGBTQI teens aged between 15 and 17 seriously considered attempting suicide in this past year alone, while a shocking 18 percent actually made a suicide attempt. These attempts were at twice the rate seen in non-LGBTQI teens in the US! 

“The problem with people is they forget that most of the time it’s the small things that count.”
― Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places

International statistics are no better. LGBTQI youth were found to be more than three times more likely to attempt suicide as compared to their heterosexual counterparts, while Trans teens’ rates of suicide were 5.87 times higher than among other teen groups, while Gay/Lesbian and Bisexual teens were 3.71 and 3.69 times more likely to attempt suicide as compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Driving factors such as bullying, physical assault, sexual violence, intimate partner violence and abuse, substance abuse, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and a lack of access to physical and mental healthcare as experienced by LGBTQI individuals, both teen and adult, drive up the risk of a suicide attempt. 

These factors were further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While no specific data is publicly available on LGBTQ individuals, numerous mental health professionals and publications have highlighted the rise in attempted and completed suicides in China, in cities like Wuhan at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and mandated lockdowns in 2020, and most recently in Shanghai after the city’s instituted a mandatory lockdown which lasted for months. And even after reopening, factors such as daily or regular COVID testing and the risk of being sent to a centralized quarantine facility, further aggravating feelings of anxiety, and fear of extended isolation have dramatically seen suicide attempts and completions increase.  

Unraveled Thread 

Growing up in a lower-income Baptist household with my stepdad’s family, we didn’t talk much about mental health or our feelings. The reality for us was that everyone struggled, God would “always provide,” and complaining didn’t fix problems. While I’m grateful for the love my family shared, looking back I can see how such attitudes weren’t conducive to asking for help. 

I remember the first time I thought about suicide. I remember telling a family member and, in response, being dared to do it. I remember saying I wanted to jump off a bridge and someone saying they would drive me to one. In tears, I ran to my room, grabbed my favorite teddy bear, and quickly walked out the front door. I decided that if the people I lived with were willing to actively participate in my death, then I didn’t need to live there anymore. I walked for a few miles in the freezing January night air before I realized I didn’t have a coat and would freeze to death before making it to my friend’s house. I turned around and went home, and to my surprise, the whole family was out looking for me. They’d called my friends and had gone to the houses where they thought I’d have gone. 

“People rarely bring flowers to a suicide.”
― Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places

Afterward, I talked to my family about my feelings. The truth is, I have a very loving family, but that doesn’t mean they had the tools, resources, or patience to deal with the extremely traumatized child that I was. They did their best, and I know that because that was the only time I ever attempted to run away. However, it was the beginning of a hope that the world would be better if I wasn’t in it. It’s an insidious little thought that, on occasion, still slowly creeps into my mind. 

Unfortunately, there are days when it consumes my thoughts. Where I shut the whole world out and wonder if it’s right. I have to consciously remind myself that my life has value and actively seek out social connections. But the truth is that doing so is difficult when I’m in the thick of it. And I can be in that head space for days or weeks even before I’m able to climb back out again.   

Reframing the Argument 

I say all of that to say that living with suicidal thoughts isn’t a walk in the park. Part of what makes it so difficult to talk about it is the assumptions people make about you when you do. People assume you are weak-minded or that you can’t handle stress. They assume you are just looking for attention or that you are naturally mentally unstable.

Such assumptions could not be further from the truth. While I cannot speak for everyone, I can say that most people who have suicidal thoughts don’t share them with others, so it’s not an attempt to manipulate people for attention. Moreover, what does that mindset say about our society? What does it say about the way we view mental health challenges – the idea that someone being suicidal is an attempt to emotionally manipulate someone else. It would be like having a broken arm and people around you assuming and openly telling you that you only broke it for attention; that you secretly wanted someone to carry your books for weeks, do your homework for you, and be at your beck and call, without any consideration for what it must be like to not be able to personally take care of your basic needs.

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It would require one to ignore the frustration or impossibility of one being unable to complete simple tasks such as feeding oneself, dressing, going to the restroom, and so on, not to mention the excruciating pain you are likely to be in for days if not weeks. People who have broken a bone know how absolutely absurd that is. Unfortunately, that’s how the discourse surrounding suicide has been conducted so far. We frame the idea of people being fed up with life as them being selfish and self-centered, and as them being mentally unstable and a danger to themselves and other people. We frame the reality of some people’s lives as manipulative. We blame the people battling their own minds for having a mind that they must fight against.

In 8th grade, what I wanted was to live with my mother. I wanted to feel a sense of belonging somewhere instead of just feeling tolerated, which is a natural, normal thing that everyone wants. The problem was I didn’t feel that way, but that’s not the issue the society around me chose to focus on.

 Instead, it told 13-year-old me that I was a selfish, self-centered drama queen. How can anyone reconcile the fact of experiencing abandonment and feeling unwanted, and being told their suicidal thoughts make them a deeply selfish person? this sort of confusing messaging is what we send out. 

“I should be happy, but instead I feel nothing. I feel a lot of nothing these days. I’ve cried a few times, but mostly I’m empty, as if whatever makes me feel and hurt and laugh and love has been surgically removed, leaving me hollowed out like a shell.”
― Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places

I wish I could say that once I was older everything smoothed out and I was fine. But that would be a bald-faced lie. Some things got better, and others got worse, which is, unfortunately, the reality of life. There were genuinely low points, where death truly looked to me like it was not just a better option, but the most viable one. 

In those moments, what pulled me back from the brink were the connections I made; the people that loved me enough to check on me; the people that I could call in the middle of an episode, and they would be there; the people that never told me I was too much or crazy; the people in my life that truly made me believe that the world was better with me in it. They didn’t call me selfish or tell me I was a drama queen. They didn’t try to fix me because, to them, I wasn’t irreparably broken like my mind kept telling me I was. To them I was hurting, so they sat with me in that hurt. 

Force for Good 

My decision to host a Suicide Awareness Panel is because we need to talk about the reality and impact of suicide. For every one person who dies by suicide more than 20 people attempt it. And beyond a sexual orientation-based suicidal probability, statistics are also divided between genders. Men are more likely to die by suicide, however, women are 2 to 3 times more likely to have a suicide attempt. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 19. And for every death by suicide, the impact ripples through the bereaved family who are forced to live with the loss. These are facts. Not opinions. 

Imagine something that impacts more than 14 million people. Then imagine us not only refusing to talk about it, but also vilifying, belittling, and demeaning the people it affects. That’s the culture that has been created around suicide. I know that alone, I can’t undo that damage. I can’t convince the world that we need to be brave enough to have these discussions. I can’t change the world all by myself. But I can be brave enough to take the first step and create a path to try to make it easier for people to follow me. I want this conversation to be the first of many. I want this panel to be the beginning of something greater. 

“Because it’s not a lie if it’s how you feel.”
― Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places
“And in that moment there’s nothing I fear except losing hold of her hand.”
― Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places

This panel will have people who are choosing to be brave through the sharing of their experiences with attendees. The session is slated to have clinicians who have worked with people in similar situations. If you are someone who has also had suicidal thoughts or attempts, then this panel is for you because you are not alone. If you are someone who knows anyone who has attempted or lost someone to suicide, then this panel is for you too. And if you are someone who wants to learn more about suicide warning signs and dos and don’ts, then this panel is also for you. 

Being far away from our homes and families makes finding safe spaces and support systems extremely difficult, but we all need them. So come be a member of our family. Learn more about what suicide is and how it impacts real people. Ask questions, so we can grow stronger together. Let’s Create Change Through Action!

Photos: Courtesy of Tatiana, Unsplash

About Author

Tatiana is the host of the Hopelessly Tatiana podcast, a poet, and community activist currently based in Beijing, China. Her platform in combination with her love for poetry, have become a way for her to spread awareness on issues that impact different groups of people whether those be issues of gender equality, racism, sexuality, or mental health. She wishes to make the unseen seen, and the unheard heard. Tatiana plans to continue raising awareness about important topics using different mediums inspired by the motto: The message is more important than the delivery.

“As Paulo Coelho once said, ‘The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.” To that, I try to leave it better than I found it.”

5 thoughts on “Silent Scream: Conversations Rarely Had About Suicide & One Activist’s Mission

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