The End of Suicide Prevention Month

A few days ago, during the last week of September which is Suicide Prevention Month, another LGBTQ teenager killed himself because of bullying. He was 13.

First: Please remember that there is always someone to call.

The Trevor Project

A few weeks ago in a town near Appleton, a young gay man did the same. A local man named Paul Wesselman was so touched by this student’s lost life and the pain his friends were in that he wrote a piece for them, young people who were struggling with being who they are. I found what he said smart and true and asked if I could reprint them here.

1. This is awful.
You are going to feel lots of emotions, and it is going to be difficult for some time: you’ve probably already figured out that being a teenager means lots of complicated, conflicted emotions. Add the suicide death of a friend and the mix of grief, anger, confusion, frustration, sadness, and devastation becomes even more cruel. Your family and friends may not always say or do the “right” things, but I suspect they are mostly motivated by a sincere desire to ease your significant pain. The sad truth for us is that we cannot erase your anguish, because this is just awful.

2. Things will get better.
Don’t hate me for saying this, and I’m not saying it to diminish the extraordinary pain you currently feel. This probably occupies every second of your life right now. Next week you will likely still think about it every few minutes, and for weeks after that you may still find yourself reminded of Cody or of the loss every hour of every day. Eventually, your heart and your mind find a good place to store the positive memories while the grief (which never disappears entirely) will fade into the larger quilt of life.

3. Positive things can evolve from horrible situations.
There is nothing we can do to bring Cody (or my friend Steve) back, and we cannot go back in time and change the circumstances that led up to these awful deaths. We cannot change these tragedies. AND: we do get to choose how we respond to them. I’ve noticed how frequently you post such kind, loving, AMAZING words on each other’s walls. Those heartfelt expressions are profound to all who see them and are tiny examples of the light that may come out of this extreme darkness. (Please note I’m NOT saying “God did this for a reason,” or “This tragedy happened so that good things could happen.” I personally don’t agree with either of those statements. I do believe that when blechy things happen which are beyond our control, we can, if we want, CHOOSE to make sure positive things come out of these awful circumstances.)

4. What you do next is up to you.
After my friend Steve died, his mother Judy transformed the grief and frustration into energy and passion to prevent future suicides by creating LifeSavers. has helped thousands of students to become caring listeners and observers. I found these words posted on their website:

Choose to love . . . rather than hate.
Choose to laugh . . . rather than cry.
Choose to create . . . rather than destroy.
Choose to persevere . . . rather than quit.
Choose to praise . . . rather than gossip.
Choose to heal . . . rather than wound.
Choose to give . . . rather than steal.
Choose to act . . . rather than procrastinate.
Choose to grow . . . rather than rot.
Choose to pray . . . rather than curse.
Choose to live . . . rather than die.
-from The Greatest Miracle in the World by Og Mandino

Not only do I hold you in my heart, I also have deep compassion for the tremendous pain that he must have been experiencing. My high school and college years were significantly challenging and I thought about ending my life frequently. I tried more than once. The excruciating pain I felt seemed insurmountable and never-ending. I’m so glad I lived to find out that neither of those were accurate. With time, healing, counseling, and considerable help from a remarkable tribe of friends, I found the strength to face and conquer the darkness and I believe that I eventually found success and sustainable joy not in spite of those hurdles but in part BECAUSE of them.

I share these words not to take away the pain you are feeling, nor to fix what cannot be fixed. I just wanted you to know that you are not alone, and that by relying on your friends and family, your inner strengths, and other resources (school, church, community, etc.), you will remember something that Christopher Robin once reminded Winnie the Pooh:

You are braver than you believe,
stronger than you seem,
and smarter than you think.

What I want to emphasize is that plenty of us left high school and were surprised by how much more power we had in the world than we thought. Not record-breaking power, but the power to find friends we liked, who would support us; power to live where we wanted, where we felt safe or interesting or amazing; the power to make decisions about who we would be and how.

& Finally, to close out Suicide Prevention Month in the hope that we won’t have to have one next year, and with the knowledge that many, many, many trans people struggle daily with grim, hopeless thoughts, here is a resource guide specifically for trans people & their allies put together by NCTE.

It gets better.

3 Replies to “The End of Suicide Prevention Month”

  1. While this seems like good advice, nodding up and down and telling someone who is silently contemplating suicide, “It’s going to get better”, doesn’t help the person listening to it. All the “best” advice doesn’t address the fundamental problems of the individual or their reality. This won’t make the thoughts and feelings go away, and I personally get tired of hearing this over and over, especially after the fact of someone’s suicide (yes, lost a young close family member and have been on the edge myself twice).

    The key is long before the idea of sucide finds a mental home, it’s in what people didn’t do all those years before to let the person know to express themselves in a safe and positive environment. Many of those who committed suicide have a history of never having that environment, leaving little room to be who they are, and all the “positive” advice won’t undo the damage or change the situation, both of which is far more important than sound bites to someone who stopped listening long ago.

    When we will learn to address the fact it’s not them as what’s around them that matters too. Change that and the individual will change. I won’t argue that high school is the worst place for someone different (been there), but until they live in a home and can walk in the door of high school feeling safe and good about themselves, it’s all for naught.

  2. SusanK

    I agree that in some cases, that is entirely what’s missing – from the dialogue, from people’s lives.

    But the recent stories are often about kids who had supportive parents, parents who were trying to get the school’s authorities to DO something.

    What I think is more often needed is exposure and community with adults who are also “different” whether that’s because they’re LGBTQ or artists or poor or whatever aspect of identity the student is struggling with. Having people who don’t have what you see as this huge glaring WRONG about you tell you that it’s going to be okay doesn’t count for much… at least it didn’t for me. It was having a fellow freak live a productive, groovy life in front of me and recognized me as one of her own that got me through HS (along with friends & goddamn punk rock).

    That is, what suicidal students and people need is entirely different for each of them. IMHO.

    But thanks for bringing up something that I didn’t mention.

  3. There are people who are fond of telling high school kids, “These are the best years of your lives.” It’s a huge, sick, stunning lie – even for straight kids.

    I remember the moment when I really began to get some glimpse of the possibilities in life beyond the little world I knew. Until you see that, your perspective is incredibly crimped, and decisions that are crazy from a larger perspective actually seem to make some kind of sense. The earlier you can bring kids that revelation, the better.

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