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A call to action (guest post by Cara Anna)

by | 08/18/2014 | 0 comments

Let’s say this right away: I’m old. At 41, I feel my right to say anything worth listening to is fading fast. So this is where you guys come in.

The mental health and suicide prevention fields need some shaking up. A lot of the people in positions of influence grew up with the widespread impression that people who’ve been suicidal are somehow less than the rest of society. More fragile. More irresponsible. More troublesome. Even more dangerous.

So that’s probably why some of us are still kicked out of universities, or fired, or lose insurance coverage, after a suicide attempt. That’s why, in some places, it’s still the law to respond to someone in suicidal crisis with handcuffs and a police escort.

And perhaps most alarmingly, that’s why just two states require mental health professionals to be trained in suicide prevention. Ever had trouble finding a therapist who’ll work with you?

So, thank goodness for new generations. As a big fan of Live Through This, I’ve noticed that most of the people featured here are young, accomplished and determined to speak openly. That’s the spirit we need if change is going to be made.

Already, people in their teens, 20s and 30s are out there on Tumblr and Twitter talking about their suicidal thinking, their attempts, their recovery, and even marking the anniversaries of their attempts with a kind of “I’m still here” pride. The more conservative types in the suicide prevention world have long been nervous about anyone telling their story publicly, but it’s clear that social media is winning.

We need these stories. We need these grassroots efforts at suicide awareness and mental health awareness. We need the energy and honesty. We need people who can speak openly about this experience and acknowledge that bad days can still happen, without feeling pressured to look perfect and cured.

But. We also need you guys to find ways to influence the entrenched, established system. Get advanced degrees and dive right in. Or find creative ways, like Live Through This, to put public pressure on the system to change its ways and include us, respect us, actually treat us.

Need some material? It might look dry, but a national task force of attempt survivors put a lot of energy into this new report, The Way Forward, and corresponding video, demanding widespread, detailed change:

It costs a lot to attend the national conventions and join the national organizations where the experts talk about us and make decisions about how we’re treated. Hundreds of dollars. How many of us can afford to attend and share our voice?

The funny thing is, these conventions and organizations include a fair number of people with experience of suicidal thinking. I’ve been talking with attempt survivors and others in suicide prevention for the past three years, and it’s clear that we’re all over the mental health field. But many people don’t dare to say so, for fear of how their colleagues will react. And these are the groups telling us to fight stigma!

New voices, please. Fearless ones. And some of you, go to law school and build us a real backbone of rights protections for people who’ve been suicidal. Because until we all feel safe to “come out” about this experience, without the risk of losing the hard work we’ve put into our lives and careers, a lot of people who could step up and make the changes we need just might stay silent.

And seriously, we’ve had enough of silence.

Cara Anna is a New York-based journalist and the founder of attemptsurvivors.com and talkingaboutsuicide.com. Read her story here.

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