This intimate photo series is helping change the way we talk about suicide.

In 2010, Dese'Rae L. Stage set out to create a photo series of suicide attempt survivors.

At that time, Stage says she lost her first friend to suicide and had attempted to end her own life. Suicide was now part of her everyday existence, but talking about it was not.

"There was a lack of visibility for people like me, and an inability to find other attempt survivors," Stage said. "Why are we invisible?"


Dese'Rae L. Stage, creator of Live Through This. All photos by Dese'Rae L. Stage, used with permission.

She began reaching out to celebrities and posting ads on Craigslist. Slowly, more and more suicide attempt survivors began to respond, and the portraiture and oral history project grew organically.

Six years later, Stage has interviewed more than 170 people in 30 U.S. cities for the Live Through This project, with each participant sharing their experience of life on the other side of a suicide attempt.

"The goal of the project was to show people we're not so easily erased," Stage said.

By telling the stories of real attempt survivors, Live Through This shows suicide does not discriminate. They are people who look just like you.

David Pajo: "I think if you lost someone, don't make it too taboo to discuss. It sucks and it's really hard to do to put it out there, but sometimes you have to do the thing that's hardest. Be courageous. Talk about it with people that it affects. It'll be better for you, it'll be better for the other person."

Megan Rotari: "I think [a suicide survivor] can look like anything. Literally any race, religion, ethnicity, anything. Any age."

Grace Kim: "I realize I wasted most of my life being miserable and now I just want to live the rest of it out taking advantage of it, ‘cause it really is a gift. Being here... it’s, like, a one in a forty million chance that you were born."

Zack Fraser: "If I could give one gift to people, it would be the ability to understand, on a gut level, that people’s brains are not going to work like your brain. People are going to have different experiences."

We need to change the way we talk about suicide.

"We've put death in a hospital ... it’s not something we see," Stage said. People don't want to talk about death, but for suicide attempt survivors, it's the most valuable thing we can do.

For every one person who dies by suicide, 147 people are affected, according to recent research-based estimates by Julie Cerel, cited by the American Association of Suicidology.

Dr. Shayda Kafai: "And, immediately, if I say "mental illness," my whole being becomes mental illness. I think it's such a socially coded word that if I say that one thing, they see me as just that one thing. I chose 'psychiatric disability' because a disability is something one has, but I also believe it's a political term."

"One of the biggest things we‘re taught as young people is to put yourself in someone else's shoes," Stage explained. "It's the need to ask yourself: What would it take to hurt so much that you would want to take your own life? That’s often beyond where people want to go as a thought experimentation ... but it’s needed."

There's still much work to be done as we learn the best language to use when talking about suicide, but projects like Live Through This are helping to make that shift to open, supportive conversation.

Talking about suicide will humanize those who attempt it. There's incredible value in the simple skills of listening and asking direct questions. "Learning to put your fear aside, hold face, ask what people need, and help them get it without judgement," Stage says, is vital.

Live Through This rallies empathy for attempt survivors, but the project's power is in creating visibility for an entire community struggling with depression, self harm, or suicidal thoughts. By normalizing how we talk about suicide, we'll be able to help people before they attempt it.

Connect with them, ask questions, listen, show them they're not alone. It could save a life.

Watch the Upworthy Original video below for more on Live Through This, and to hear from Joey Olszewski, a suicide attempt survivor featured in the project:

If you or someone you know is hurting, afraid, or struggling with suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. If you don't like the phone, visit Lifeline Crisis Chat or Crisis Text Line.

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