What is Live Through This?
Live Through This is a collection of portraits and stories of suicide attempt survivors, as told by those survivors. It strips the issue of anonymity and encourages survivors to own their experiences publicly and proudly. It's the first known project of its kind, exploring a world that has remained a taboo for far too long.
Why Live Through This?
Live Through This exists for many reasons. Here are some of them:
It humanizes the issue of suicide by putting faces to the numbers. The survivors who share their stories here are real people who have been through hell. They are also engaging, fascinating people whose voices deserve to be heard. It asks you to look into their eyes, to see their humanity, to find empathy.
Everybody should know the basic tenet of suicide prevention: If you're afraid a loved one might be suicidal, ASK. The thought that asking might be putting the idea into your loved one's head is a myth.
Depression affects 1 in 10 people–a huge number–but stigma is everywhere. That stigma often results in shame and silence, and the severe depressions that result in suicide frequently go unnoticed. What if this was affecting your mom, your partner, or your best friend?
The media sensationalizes suicide for stories. You've inevitably heard of Aaron Swartz and Tyler Clementi, but how often do you hear about suicides that don't come with a snappy headline? How often is a story on suicide presented with a sympathetic view of mental illness, or information on warning signs and strategies? Not often.
Each suicide affects 6 people intimately: I have lost dear friends to suicide. Have you?
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, and it's on the rise. And here we are, afraid of it. I'm convinced that the simple act of getting people to talk about it will save lives. It's a serious public health issue, and one we can do something about if we can just set our fears aside.
How does it work?
After a brief introductory email correspondence, a date is set for a meeting.
The meeting is broken down into two parts: the interview, and then the shoot. First, the survivor tells their story. I let them go at their own pace and include only the details they wish to share. I try not to interrupt–I prefer the story to be as purely from the survivor's perspective as possible and don't want to throw it off course–though I do often ask a few questions at the end. Everything is recorded. Afterward, while the survivor is still in that experiential headspace, we make a set of portraits. Again, my direction is minimal. My only request is that the survivor look directly into my lens. The entire process usually takes about an hour and a half.
I do this work in public spaces because I like to emphasize the survivor's presence in the world they tried to remove themselves from, both within the image itself and the audio footage (which is currently not public).
Each portrait is presented on the website with a curated snippet of the survivor's story: something poignant or a unique perspective. When paired in this way, the portraits and stories work to de-stigmatize suicide as a topic unworthy of everyday dialogue and to serve as proof of life on the other side of a suicide attempt.
What is the end goal?The portraits and stories are the main product of Live Through This, but the website is the vehicle, and the accessibility of that is incredibly important. It provides comfort to those who are down, insight to those who have trouble understanding depression or suicidal ideation, and a sort of catharsis for those who have lost a loved one. I know for a fact this project has already saved one life–and there's even a Live Through This tattoo out there in the world.
What do we know about suicide in the U.S.?
A suicide attempt is made about once every 40 seconds , and a suicide is completed once every 15 minutes . That breaks down to about 2,160 attempts, 96 completions, and 23 attempts per completion in a single day.
Each suicide intimately affects at least 6 people .
Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in 2011 .
The rate of suicide has been steadily increasing since 2000 , and is at its highest rate since 1991 .
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the 15-24 age range [†]; the second in the 25-34 range [†]; the fourth in the 35-54 range; and the eighth in the 55-64 range .
Suicide rates are highest for females aged 45-54 and males aged 75 and older .
Men are 4 times more likely to die by suicide than women, but women attempt suicide 3 times more often than men .
Native Americans are most likely to die by suicide, followed by Caucasians [2,†].
90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death, most commonly depression (or bipolar disorder), alcoholism, or both .
More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (7 million), cancer (6 million) and AIDS (200,000) combined .
† As of January 2013, the images presented as a part of Live Through This are especially indicative of these statistics.
In December 2005, I completed my Bachelor of Science in Psychology at East Tennessee State University, where I helped to co-author a comprehensive self-injury self-report (SISR) measure as a part of my undergraduate studies. I also helped to develop studies on a range of other topics surrounding suicide, self-injury, and intimate violence. I'm trained in crisis intervention, having completed LivingWorks’s Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and QPR Gatekeeper training, in addition to acting as a hotline counselor and rape care companion at the Crisis Center in Bristol, VA in 2005.
I'm a survivor of nine years of self-injury and a suicide attempt catalyzed by an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder in 2004, but choose to regulate fluctuations in my moods without medication and have been functioning at a high level since 2006.
I live in Brooklyn with my girlfriend (a fellow Miami native) and our menagerie. You can see more of my work at deseraestage.com.
If you would like to do so, please send me an email with the following information: age (if under 18, your parents will need to sign a model release form for you--no exceptions), location, phone number, a brief description of the situation surrounding your suicide attempt, and whether or not you're comfortable being filmed (please note that your voice will be recorded, at the very least). In order to participate, you must be willing to use your full name and sign a model release (click to download).
I have a number of survivors across the country who are interested in telling their stories. The following cities act as pods (meaning that there are a minimum of three survivors in each who have contacted me about participation), and are where I am currently focusing my travel efforts:
· San Francisco, CA (4/14/13-4/19/13)
· Los Angeles, CA
· Portland, OR
· Eugene, OR
· Seattle, WA
· Minneapolis, MN
· Chicago, IL
· Boston, MA
· Philadelphia, PA
· Washington, DC
· Norfolk, VA
· Raleigh, NC
· Orlando, FL
· Miami, FL
· Austin, TX
This is a long-term project, and it may take some effort to coordinate meeting/shooting sessions. Your patience is greatly appreciated.
If you feel you are in crisis, don't hesitate to ask for help. Talk to a friend or family member, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. They are confidential, to a point, but may contact authorities if they think you're in immediate danger to yourself.
Risk factors for suicide:mental illness (especially depression) or a substance-abuse disorder (often in combination with other mental illnesses)
Warning signs of suicide:Threatening suicide, an increased interest in death and dying, expressing a strong wish to die (always treat a suicide threat as a crisis)
If you suspect a loved one is suicidal:Don't be afraid to ask your loved one if they're suicidal. Be direct. Be open, supportive, and non-judgmental.
Links:· What Happens Now?
**If you would like the name of a lost loved one added to this list, email me.
Click the headers above to expand/collapse information.
Live Through This is officially LIVE on Kickstarter!
We successfully raised $2k in the first hour! I’m overwhelmed, excited, and nervous. It’s a solid start, but there’s much more work to do.
Thank you so much for your support, and stay tuned for updates!
PS: HUGE thanks for Kiera & Josh at Jakfoto Films for the beautiful video; Froilan Tam for his amazing animation work; Charlotte Martin for allowing me to use one of my favorite songs in the video; Aleksandar Cosic for his images; and everyone else who has helped in the project so far.