In Sep 2022, I invited M to attend the suicide prevention panel event that I was going to attend as a panel guest, with the intention to have an article written about the key learnings from the panel discussion. M has been in China for more than 8 years, and comes from the US. I would never have known her own experiences and reflections on this topic if I had not invited her to come to this event. I want to thank her for her bravery and openness to share her story, which becomes part of our join our September Suicide Awareness Raising Month.
It is normal to feel uncomfortable and tense when talking, reading, hearing about suicide topics. But once they are felt, heard, and accepted as part of our joined human experiences, we can heal and recover a bit better on the other side.
Psychotherapist, Director of CandleX
Author: M (Anonymous Beijing Community Member)
Time: September 2022
A few years into my college experience my mental health took a nosedive and I was forced to take time off from school. Looking back, it’s pretty clear that a lot of the issues I was struggling with (and their contributing factors) had actually had their inception many years earlier, but it was in college that everything fell apart. Initially, after leaving school, I moved back home with my parents, and it was there, at that time, that I had my first experience with suicidal ideation.
The World Health Organization defines suicidal ideation as “thoughts, ideas, or ruminations about the possibility of ending one's life, ranging from thinking that one would be better off dead to formulation of elaborate plans .” In my case, I have experienced instances of this kind of thinking at different times for more than a decade, sometimes more intensely than at other times, sometimes more frequently than at other times. Thirteen years on from that first instance my life is in a much better place. I have been in therapy for years, I feel I have true friends and strong personal connections that nourish and support me in a number of ways, I am not in a precarious employment position, and at the moment things are going fairly well. Things could always be better, of course, and no day is absolutely perfect, but to be honest, my own personal experience with suicidal ideation has not really come to mind for a while.
So, that’s great and all, but why the long preamble?
When I first heard about the Suicide Awareness Panel discussion taking place on September 6 and hosted by Hopelessly Tatiana and moderated by Helena from BARE, I thought it sounded like an interesting event for a good cause. With my own history of depression, the de-stigmatization of mental health issues has long been personally important to me. But that was essentially as far as I got in my thinking before the panel—other, deeper aspects of my personal mental health history just did not come to mind.
The event began with the moderator onstage with the panelists. There was a full audience in attendance. The moderator was very intentional about laying down ground rules for the night, which I appreciated. It was clear to me that this topic was going to be handled in a compassionate and respectful way, and any trepidation I may have felt beforehand of exactly how the conversation would be handled, was alleviated.
The panel portion of the night began with panelists discussing a range of topics, including their own feelings around suicide, whether the suicide of someone close to them or their own attempt. Deeply personal stories were shared, some of which left me and much of the audience in tears. There were mental health professionals present on the panel as well, and they provided valuable expert experience dealing with suicide and suicidal ideation. Not far into the discussion it hit me that this was the first time I had ever seen the topic of suicide and suicidal ideation discussed so openly, in this kind of forum.
Event Photo, Credit: Eric
I’m not exactly sure what I expected to get out of attending the panel. I think I thought it would be a good, interesting event to attend. I think I had externalized my interest in the topic, along with any connection I may have felt. I definitely hadn’t expected to be as affected as I ended up being. Sitting in the audience, a lot of memories came back to me, things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Particular times when I had felt or possibly was close to giving up. One last-minute, fortuitous intervention in particular. Uncomfortable memories, however far away they seemed now. It was sobering to be reminded that I was more intimately connected with the topic of suicide and suicidal ideation than I had been prepared to admit when I first walked in to the event space and took my seat.
The night’s discussion also prompted me to remember with sadness the struggles of people in my life who had had even closer encounters with the topic than I had. A friend from middle and high school who had one time later on told our little ragtag group of friends that if it hadn’t been for our friendship she might not have survived. A former boyfriend who in high school had lost his older brother to suicide and who later in college had made his own attempt. It’s not that I was shocked, necessarily, by what I remembered. But I wondered how I could have not realized the topic was closer to my own life. I realized that, even though the topic had been out of my mind and I was doing well, it was and continues to be a pressing issue for so many. The stories and feelings and pain shared on that stage reminded me that for so many people, suicide is not simply a “topic” they can disengage or disentangle themselves from. It is with them every day.
And I think that is really an important takeaway: Suicide is something that, in some way or another, is closer than we think. Certainly for those of us who experience suicidal thoughts and ideation, and for those of us suffering from the loss of a dear one to suicide. But suicide is also close for those of us who don’t. We may never have had a suicidal thought, but it is quite possible that people we know and love have. Perhaps we don’t personally know anyone who has ended their life, but we know people who have lost loved ones to suicide, and who are struggling every day in silence and isolation. Whatever the specific circumstances, this issue is something that, while immensely difficult to discuss, must be discussed, must be de-stigmatized.
Over the years, we have published other personal stories on this topic. You can read them here:
In the next article, we will publish the key learnings from the panel discussion.