Questions for Reflection
In each episode, we offer you a few prompts to think about how that day's conversation applies to you. Our supporters over at Buy Me a Coffee now have exclusive access to the PDF versions of all our Questions for Reflection. Join us today!
Beth Demme (00:03):
Welcome to the Discovering Our Scars podcast.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:05):
Where we have honest conversations about things that make us different.
Beth Demme (00:08):
Our mission is to talk about things you might relate to but that you don't hear being discussed in other places.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:13):
Our hope is that you're encouraged to have honest conversations with people in your own life. I'm Steph.
Beth Demme (00:18):
And I'm Beth. Today's topic is: "Suicide, An Honest Conversation." We have a very special guest, Dese'Rae Stage. We found Dese'Rae when we were doing research on suicide attempt survivors. We found her website, livethroughthis.org. Dese'Rae, why don't you introduce yourself to everyone who's listening and tell us about livethroughthis.org?
Dese’Rae Stage (00:39):
Yeah. Hey, I'm Dese'Rae, I go by Des. My pronouns are she, her, and hers. Livethroughthis.org, Live Through This is a series of portraits and true stories of suicide attempt survivors across the US. I've interviewed about 188 people in 37 different cities. I've been doing this work for 11 years now, and I've met all kinds of amazing people. The similarities we all share are that we have lived through suicide attempts. That was my disclosure that I am also a suicide attempt survivor. I'm a suicide loss survivor. I've been a bystander to a public suicide, someone dying by suicide, a family friend dying by suicide is one of my first memories. So, thematically, suicide, it's just run through my life as a thread.
Dese’Rae Stage (01:35):
When I was 15, I lost a friend to suicide for the first time. I was already mired in my own depression for the first time, questioning my sexuality, cutting myself, which is not a suicidal behavior. We should discuss.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:51):
Dese’Rae Stage (01:54):
Just all of these things. And then Brian died, and I just lost it. It was so hard. I mean, it's so hard whenever you lose somebody, but I think it was hard for me because it made what I was feeling very real. I think I knew then, or around then, that suicide was going to be the thing that I wanted to make an impact on or about. And I pursued my schooling through the undergraduate level, and I was like, I'm going to go get a PhD in psychology, be a therapist, do suicide research. And that didn't work out. Not initially anyway. I had a suicide attempt when I was 23. Well, I had one when I was 17 that I don't remember.
Beth Demme (02:47):
Dese’Rae Stage (02:48):
It happened. But 23 is the one I remember and the one I've carried with me, and the one that kind of changed the course of everything for me. After that, I moved to New York, I picked up a camera. Well, I picked up a camera before that kind of as a hobby, but the camera kind of became my lifeline when I moved to New York. It was probably the primary way that I healed from my attempt. I started photographing bands over time. And eventually, I started interviewing bands, and I did all this stuff for three years, kind of built up the skill set. I became a professional photographer. And I just was feeling like, I had missed, I felt like I always had a very clear purpose, up until I moved to New York and walked away from my academic goals. So I spent three years working on this other thing. And I love music. Music is also one of the things that's gotten me through.
Dese’Rae Stage (03:55):
I just felt like, I'm having these cool experiences, I'm interviewing my heroes, I'm photographing them, but I don't want this to be my legacy. It's not fulfilling. And I just thought, what can I do with my camera? And I went back to suicide, like you do. If you have a threat like that in your life. It took me a while, but I didn't even know what to call myself. Or how to describe the experience. I was like, well, I survived suicide. So I started googling suicide survivor. And what I found was suicide loss survivors, people who've lost friends or family. And I was like, well, I have this experience, but it's not defining the thing that I'm looking for. It's not describing it. And we don't have words to describe an experience. How can you talk about it?
Dese’Rae Stage (04:51):
I just was googling, I was googling and googling. And I finally set upon this idea, because what I was seeing was the suicide attempt survivors and the experience of suicidality was really only described in statistics for the most part. And the statistics are incredibly wrong. And then there were some media stories that were anonymous or very formulaic. Words like, bad thing happened, suicide attempt happened, therapy and meds happened. And everyone was better-
Beth Demme (05:24):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:24):
Yeah, lived happily ever after.
Dese’Rae Stage (05:26):
And that is 110% not my experience. And certainly not what I've learned is the experience, I think of a lot of people. So that's kind of how it came about. That, if you believe it, that's the nutshell version.
Beth Demme (05:42):
So you took all of those skills that you had honed, photographing the bands and interviewing them and telling their stories, and you kind of pivoted your camera, so that you could tell the stories of people who had survived suicide attempts.
Dese’Rae Stage (05:58):
Yeah. And I took all of the years of undergrad work that I had done, thinking about suicide, reading about it, reading about self-injury. I worked in a lab as an undergrad with an incredible professor who was cool with letting undergrads do research to never see. And I also volunteered briefly at a crisis line. Briefly, because I had my own crisis to attend to, at some point. But I got trained in crisis intervention around suicide. So it feels like my path was very circuitous, but it was the perfect path, that I built up the skills that I needed to get to where I wanted to go.
Beth Demme (06:44):
There were two things that you said that I wanted to circle back to, because I thought that they're especially important. One is that when we don't have terminology for something, we can't talk about it. And the other is that non-suicidal self-injury is different than a suicide attempt, which is something that Steph actually has personal experience with. So let's talk first about the terminology. So kind of expand on that idea for us. When there isn't terminology, we don't have a way to communicate about this, right?
Dese’Rae Stage (07:12):
Yeah. The first time I ever left the country was in 2013, I went to Cambodia. I started small, I just went all the way across the world. My wife was in Peace Corps in Cambodia. She was going for the summer, and we weren't married yet. And I was like, well, I've never gone anywhere. Let's go.
Beth Demme (07:31):
Let's go, yeah.
Dese’Rae Stage (07:32):
Then it ultimately happened to be a perfect summer for that, because I was suicidal again, and I got to go to Cambodia and wake up hearing the monks chanting. It was so cool. But one of the things that I think about a lot when I'm talking about language is how in Cambodia, they don't have a word for the color green. Everything is blue. So that colors your perception. And then back, back and back and back, I can't remember, I think it might have been the Odyssey or something. But we didn't have words for many colors. Everything was wine-colored. The ocean was wine-colored. And now we've developed the language and it makes me think of The Giver. So when you don't have a word for the color green, what does that mean? So when we're talking about suicide, the language is ever evolving, I think, because a lot of it feels really clunky.
Dese’Rae Stage (08:31):
And what we know, what is deeply ingrained in society in terms of suicide is the phrase committed suicide. Or if you don't die from suicide, you're seen as a failure. You had a failed attempt. And all of these things are just so mired in grossness, when you're thinking about committing something. I love the comeback from people who are just being butt holes, when I talk about how troublesome the word committed is. People will be like, well, you commit to a marriage. And I'm like, yeah, you also commit murder, come on now.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (09:14):
Right. Wow, that would not be my first thing I would think of.
Dese’Rae Stage (09:19):
It's like, okay, but the semantics are important.
Beth Demme (09:22):
Dese’Rae Stage (09:24):
But it's pathology, crimes, sin, all kinds of grossness is tied up in that word. So for me, I really do believe that language, colors, just our attitudes, our perception. So I try to go back to just subjective language. Like when someone dies from suicide... well, they die from suicide. I don't use committed suicide. They died from suicide, they died of suicide, they died by suicide. That is all extremely semantic, the of, from, by, whatever. One of those is better. We used to use completed suicide. But now that's fallen by the wayside. And that was in the last five years. So when I say evolving, it's constant. So we avoid that. Somehow killing yourself is still okay. People don't really get upset about that, which I think is interesting. Because it indicates to me that it's not necessarily about being politically correct. Which is what again, the commit to marriage people are. They're like, you just want to be PC? And it's like, mm-mm (negative).
Beth Demme (10:32):
No, we just want to use words the way that they... because they matter, we want to use them correctly, if we can.
Dese’Rae Stage (10:38):
Yeah. And I'm still working through how I feel about that. But again, killing yourself is also deeply ingrained in our lexicon about suicide.
Beth Demme (10:46):
Well, what about... We had a situation where a teammate of my son... I have two teenagers. A teammate of my son's died by suicide. And the way that it was talked about in the community was that he took his own life. Is that...
Dese’Rae Stage (11:04):
Yeah, I was going to go there. I like that a little better than killing yourself. I mean, I don't know, they all describe the same thing. And I think took one's own life and killed themself is maybe a little more direct. But I don't think they necessarily have the heavy implications that the word committed does.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:30):
Yeah, right. Also, I feel like that's what they're using in the news these days, is died from suicide, I've noticed. I don't know what the conservatives are saying, but the news I watch say "died by suicide."
Dese’Rae Stage (11:45):
Yeah, but I was on the Glenn Beck show once.
Beth Demme (11:47):
Dese’Rae Stage (11:49):
Oh my God, yes. And it was terrifying. But he is human, it's weird, turns out.
Beth Demme (11:58):
I'll take your word for that--
Dese’Rae Stage (12:00):
It was the day after Robin Williams died. And he kind of disclosed that he had been suicidal, which I thought was so cool, because--
Beth Demme (12:07):
Yeah, that's brave-
Dese’Rae Stage (12:09):
... his audience got to see that. And he talked about it really nicely. And even back then, we weren't there. So if you look historically at the media coverage, Robin Williams was a disaster. Anything before that was a disaster too. But as we've had these celebrity deaths, you can actually almost measure the change in the way the media has reported on it. It was Robin Williams and then Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell, Chester. And Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are really interesting, because they happened in the same week.
Beth Demme (12:47):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:47):
Yeah, I remember that, I remember.
Dese’Rae Stage (12:49):
The gendered situation of the coverage. But yeah, it's totally changed. And that's a thing that I spent a lot of time on. Several years ago was the media guidelines, I helped write the media guidelines that the American Association of Suicidology uses. A big part that I included that you never see, is about the framing of the story. What is your intent when you're telling this story? Because a lot of what we focus on is how to avoid contagion. And I don't think that's the most important piece. I think it's, again, goes back to the language, how are we using our language and telling our stories to change public perception of suicide, to change attitudes? Because ultimately, I don't think suicide prevention is about intervening or stopping suicide attempts, I don't think it's about saving lives. I think it should be about life, about supporting life, about quality of life. And we're not going to have any of those things until the people around us get it.
Beth Demme (13:54):
I mean, you said, when we talk about suicide, and when we want to engage in suicide prevention, we really want to be about life.
Dese’Rae Stage (14:01):
Beth Demme (14:01):
I think that's profound.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (14:03):
What specifically about it?
Dese’Rae Stage (14:05):
Historically, people who have lived through attempts, and who have been suicidal have not been included in the conversation, which is so strange. In a lot of ways, the charge has kind of been led by loss survivors, which is incredible on one hand, and on the other hand, you're having this field kind of be changed by... how do I say this? I always struggle with this one, because I don't ever want loss survivors to think that I don't respect them. But I do think there's been a lot of harm done. Because they lost someone that they loved so much, they would do anything to bring them back. And so it's like, in some cases, not in all, it's like we must control this, we must keep all of these people alive. And the things that we do to people to keep them alive can be really traumatic and make them want to die even more.
Dese’Rae Stage (15:01):
And we have a body of research that says when someone has been hospitalized for a suicide attempt, or for being suicidal, or actually literally for anything, their suicide risk goes up. For gallstones, your suicide risk goes up if you have been hospitalized. And specifically in the week after, if you've been hospitalized for psych stuff, your risk is there. So this desperate need to save people, can hurt people. And that's where we go back to the quality of life. And there's another big piece where we just invalidate the experiences of people who have been through it. Because obviously, we're crazy, right? Crazy people can't make decisions, which is kind of strange, because when people talk about being mentally ill, I'm like, I mean, I guess I have a diagnosis. But also I vote and I own a house and I have kids, and all of the things. I'm a member of society, just like everyone else, except sometimes shit gets real hard.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (16:06):
Right. For most of my life, I was depressed and didn't know it, and really started struggling heavy with it in high school, and then at the start of college. I started to engage in self-injury at that time. And I didn't tell anybody, no one knew about it. And I had a big major event when I got to my four year college where I cut a little too deep. And I was sent to a mental hospital. I was never trying to kill myself when I was dealing with self-injury. And the way I was doing it, would never kill me also. And I didn't realize it at the time, but every single person thought I was trying to kill myself, that was taking care of me. And they treated me horribly. They thought I was like, she just wants to die, who cares? And it was just horrible how I was treated. It took me years and years and years of therapy to realize I'm not crazy, I have mental illness and I work through it. And I see a counselor, even still today.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:09):
But it took me a long time because I've had suicidal thoughts before. I've thought like, what if I wasn't here anymore? I've definitely had those thoughts. And I actually wrote a book about my story. And in there, I talk about that struggle and that going back and forth. But I've never attempted suicide and I've never gotten completely to that place. But I've had people look at me as if I had attempted suicide. And so that's my experience with suicide, is not actually having attempted it. But being someone looked at as if I had. And that was horrible. I can't imagine what it must be like for you and all the people that you have on your website, which is why I think this is so brilliant to have this website dedicated to these stories.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:59):
Oh, and now I know, and actually, in the DSM-5, it actually officially calls the term that I dealt with Non-Suicidal Self-Injury, is the official term now. Which was so helpful for me, because I'm like, thank you, it literally in the title says that it was non-suicidal. And not that I have any stigma against suicide, which is, again, why we have you here today, because we want to have this conversation. But that's not what I was struggling with at the time. Ultimately, I found out that it was from some childhood sexual abuse that I had no idea about at the time. And that's where that that hurting myself was coming from.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:36):
We had a conversation about self-injury once on the podcast. And I remember when I was talking about it, Beth was kind of like, when we were planning it, Beth was kind of uncomfortable about it. And I was like, what do you mean? I have no problem talking about it. And she's like, I'm just scared for you. I'm scared that you are, and I don't know that she used these words, but the way I interpreted it was I was fragile. And if I talked about these things, I might go back to those ways. And so I'm wondering as you're talking about, you know, they talk to the families of people that have lost a family member, someone that died from suicide. They're not talking to actual survivors of suicide. Do you think it's because that they think that survivors are fragile and that they are just this an egg ready to crack kind of thing? Is that something that you've seen?
Dese’Rae Stage (19:27):
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we're seen as fragile, unreliable narrators, our lived experience we don't know what we're talking about, that we don't have expertise over that, over our bodies, our own minds. And that's really frustrating to constantly be invalidated like that. Even now, as someone who's been working in this field for 11 years, I have a good amount of name recognition. People know me. But there is still very much a feeling a lot of the time of, well, her knowledge can only go so far because she has lived experience. And it's like, I know the research, I'm doing the research, I'm running grants, I've been doing this project forever. I can run circles around a lot of people with PhDs, and yet... And I'm working on my MSW right now, some of my work is required reading for my classmates. And it's like I'm paying to teach people [inaudible 00:20:36].
Dese’Rae Stage (20:38):
And that's both frustrating and really fulfilling. But I do have the feeling of like, oh, well, what if I do go and get the PhD one day? Will I ever be good enough? Will I ever be an expert? Will ever be reliable? Because I have this experience. And kind of the old guard, I don't think that's necessarily the case now with younger professionals. Younger professionals, I'm 37 years old. I think it's changing. But certainly, there's still a lot of invalidation of that experience. And I really do think that the suicide rates have continued to go up for as long as they have, because we have been removed from the conversation. If you're not asking the people who have had the experiences, how will you find the answers?
Dese’Rae Stage (21:30):
The ways that we have found the answer historically, 'found the answer' are through psychological autopsies, are through second and third hand knowledge of what a person was going through. No matter how close you are with somebody, you cannot be in their head.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:48):
Is there any research on how many people actually leave a note when they attempt suicide? Or actually, is there a percentage that leave a note?
Dese’Rae Stage (21:57):
Yeah, the percentage is very low. Most people do not leave the note, I believe it's 18% of people who die by suicide, leave a note. And often, the note doesn't have much content in it. A lot of the time, it's instructions. Like feed my dog, or here's where my stuff is. There's a big media component to this, which is fascinating to me, the ways that pop culture colors how we think about suicide. We love to talk about, and that's kind of what got us here together, how people don't talk about suicide. But turn on your TV, I swear to God, there was a year, 2015 I logged every time that I came across suicide themes in TV, radio, podcasts. And only times that I was not seeking it out. Because I seek it out. It's the thing I want to know about. But I'm talking about when I just happened to run across something. And it was almost every day I was logging what I had seen or heard that had to do with suicide.
Dese’Rae Stage (23:10):
And just last night, I was upstairs, I was putting the babies to bed. And my wife texted me and she was like, I finally turned on that Skin Decision show. It's a show about plastic surgery. And she was like, the first episode has a murder suicide survivor. There it is. It's everywhere. So my point is, we desperately want to talk about it, desperately. We've got artists just trying and trying and trying. And there's something about it that just makes it so hard. And I do think a part of that is the lived experience component just being so absent over time.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:49):
Well, it seems like such a roadmap, what you're doing. Your website is interviewing survivors of suicide. I mean, you can't interview those that aren't with us anymore. I mean, that, to me is where we need to be looking, is what leads people to these attempts? I am also curious, the people that have survived suicide, how many of them left notes? Is it about 18% as well?
Dese’Rae Stage (24:14):
I don't actually know the numbers for that. I bet we don't know, no one's asked that research question. Also, a thing I forgot to say. So when I was talking about googling the words from my experience, and I said suicide survivor. Something that gets kind of confusing for some people, is that phrase, suicide survivor. They're like, well, does that me having lived through it? Or is that having lost someone? So when you lose someone, the experience is, we describe it as a suicide loss survivor. And someone who's kind of been there, either, I would say I'm a suicide attempt survivor, but also I have lived experience of just suicidal thoughts. I experienced chronic suicidality. I've been suicidal for most of my life... well, it's 23 years now.
Dese’Rae Stage (25:08):
And this kind of goes back to something you were saying earlier, I think suicidal thoughts are incredibly normal. I mean, they're certainly normal from my experience, because the wind can blow the wrong way. And I can be like, well, I should kill myself. I was having suicidal thoughts last week. And I think that's a really important thing to talk about. It's not a crisis a lot of the time. Doesn't have to be a crisis. Suicidal thoughts can occur on a spectrum. I've been thinking about this, one of the big messages, the Suicide Prevention Field, mainstream suicide prevention, I call it now. One of the main messages that the Field sends is, don't normalize suicide. Because again, it's this thing of like, we don't want to contribute to contagion. I just think the whole contagion thing is problematic in a lot of ways.
Dese’Rae Stage (26:02):
It's important to look at that, but to have so much, just to fear contagion, I think really sets us back. So anyway, meanwhile, we've got almost 50,000 people a year dying by suicide that we know of. If you look back at humanities, philosophy, a bunch of the philosophical thought about life and death, kind of builds suicidal thoughts into it. Like, what would it mean if I died? Socrates. And so I think it's important to think about that, what would happen if I died? What do I believe about death? How would people feel if I was gone? And those are just kind of low grade thought experiments sorts of things, but that could be interpreted as a suicidal thought.
Dese’Rae Stage (26:59):
And then, like you were saying, the passive suicidal thoughts earlier, it would be better if I just didn't wake up. I think lots of people have those thoughts when they're going through something difficult in their life. I think that's totally normal. And they build from there. But to say that it's not normal, totally shames people out of exploring what it means when they have those thoughts. It shames people out of thinking about, well, how can I take care of myself when I'm having these thoughts? Because clearly, something's not feeling right. Asking for help. If maybe therapy or a hospital or meds might be something they want, and they need assistance with. It closes so many doors to say that.
Dese’Rae Stage (27:45):
I think in saying that it's abnormal, I think we completely obliterate the points we're trying to make. That it's a big public health issue. That it kills so many people every year. That so many people are having attempts every year. Then you're like, oh, well, it's not normal. And it's like, you might have had someone who doesn't know about it on the hook. And they might have been listening and interested. But the moment you say like, oh, this doesn't happen that much. It's abnormal. They're going to be like, oh, well, okay. Then it's not about me.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:16):
I'm curious, so you said you've interviewed over 100 people for your website?
Dese’Rae Stage (28:20):
Almost 200, 188.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:22):
Wow. Are there any trends in what led people to attempt?
Dese’Rae Stage (28:28):
Yes, yes, there are trends. The trend is that people are experiencing adversity, they're experiencing something that makes them feel like they are out of options. All we have to describe this experience of greens to say, suicidality or struggles is the concept of mental illness. And that's kind of the accepted, the way through it. So when we're talking about it, a lot of the narratives I have are people who go, well, I have this diagnosis and this diagnosis and this diagnosis. So they're talking about their diagnoses. And then there's also, well, this thing happened, I had a break up. Or I was homeless. I started using drugs. I couldn't connect with the people around me, I was isolated, I didn't have friends. I lost my job. Any number of things that are just regular old things people experience. Those are the themes and the CDC came out with a report in 2018 that addresses what I had been seeing.
Dese’Rae Stage (29:37):
It says, the big infographic page says, 54% of people who died by suicide over a 17-year period in the US did not have known mental illness, had no mental health history. And then they give a pie chart that says, here are some of the things cited as issues these people were going through. So break ups is a huge one, job loss, legal issues, health issues, housing issues. Just regular life concerns. I feel like that's what I've experienced in talking to people too, is backed into a corner, and I don't know what to do. And I think I have no future. And I can't stay anymore, I can't do this.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:21):
I'm curious, as being a suicide survivor yourself and all of those that you've interviewed, I don't know how to say it. But how did they not die from suicide and they survived it? Is there a common trend of how they were able to survive it? Did they really not want to die from suicide? It was more like a cry for help? I'm curious how there are so many survivors out there.
Dese’Rae Stage (30:48):
No, there's not. Just like with before, what I was saying is, the only thing is hopelessness. I've interviewed people who have survived pretty violent attempts that most people don't survive, when they use those methods. That's why we say, white men are most affected by suicide, they have a tendency to use firearms. So I don't know that they're most affected, how are we defining that? But certainly, the methodology, there aren't as many of those people around to tell their stories. So there's a lot of data we don't have about suicide. I hear a lot of stories where people kind of have been thinking about it on and off over a course of time, over a number of years. And then something happens that they're just like, this is my tipping point, I'm going to go, and they'll use whatever is around them. And this speaks to when you hear that suicide is spontaneous or impulsive. I think it's more impulsive than spontaneous. Semantics, man.
Dese’Rae Stage (31:59):
But you hear that, and it's kind of a way to discount the experience. To me, I don't think of something as spontaneous if it's something a person has been thinking about for a number of years. And then if they end their lives, can it be spontaneous, if you've been thinking about it for years? I don't feel like it can. But when that tipping point happens, when someone makes the decision to end their lives, they move very quickly. I think it's like 75% of people, once the decision is made, the act happens within 20 minutes. That's why we have, I think, suicide prevention more than suicide intervention. Well, we have suicide prevention and suicide postvention. But very rarely do we have intervention. And the intervention is actually where things get real dicey for people.
Dese’Rae Stage (32:48):
But so when I'm thinking about that, about how people live, a lot of the stories I have come from people who just made the decision, finally, and they used whatever was around them. So it wasn't necessarily lethal. It wasn't lethal. It could have been, but they lived. And they lived. And some of them were hospitalized. I've known people who've been in comas, and all sorts of things. So the ways that they come out of it are varied, widely varied. But usually, it's not a cry for help. Or usually, they meant it, they really wanted to go and just the method that they chose was, whatever's here, I just need to die now. And that's why guns are such a problem, too, is because that decision is fast.
Beth Demme (33:46):
Dese’Rae Stage (33:48):
Very effective, yes. Like 80% effective, probably more than that, actually. I can't remember. So the idea of a cry for help, really bugs me. Because that is another one of the things is a committed suicide, blah, blah, blah, all the things. And it's like, oh, it's just a cry for help. They don't really mean it. It's like... I mean, we love celebrities, they just want our attention. Literally why they exist, they want our attention, and we give it to them, and we shower them in cash. But if someone's in crisis, and they're, I don't know, whatever a cry for help might be. Sometimes we think people are manipulating us, or when we conflate cutting and suicide, and it's like, oh, that's a cry for help. It's like, cool, help them?
Beth Demme (34:44):
Well, it was helpful for me, the way that you made the connection between that people reach a point of hopelessness, that they reach a point of despair, that some event has happened. They've lost a job, a relationship has ended, they're experiencing homelessness. Something like that. Some crisis point has brought them to this moment where they cannot see a future story for themselves. And it's like, okay, well, there's no future, then this is it? And what's one thing I can control? I can control this moment. That's very helpful for me. I'm working right now as a hospital chaplain. And that's one of the things that we really are trained to look for. We're not therapists, we're not psychologists, we're not psychiatrists. That's not our role. But it's important to know how much despair someone is experiencing.
Beth Demme (35:41):
Because that inability to see ahead to a new future or a different kind of future can really be devastating, which is why, normalizing might not be the right word, but to be more honest about the frequency of suicidal thoughts could help people to know, I am feeling this right now. I might not feel this way tomorrow, right? Or I have felt this way on and off for many, many years. But maybe I can manage this impulse.
Dese’Rae Stage (36:13):
Yeah, I mean, that's how I stay alive.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:16):
It sounds like if you have the plan, if you wait 20 minutes, you're going to be good.
Dese’Rae Stage (36:23):
Well, a little longer than 20-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:25):
Okay, like 30 minutes? If you wait 30 minutes-
Beth Demme (36:27):
Or a day.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:28):
Well, it might be silly, but I don't know, I'm curious. If you have a good friend that has shared with you that they have suicidal thoughts, which I also agree with you is, I think normal. But if a friend shares with you that information, what is the best thing to say to them? How do you be a friend to somebody that shares that with you?
Dese’Rae Stage (36:57):
That means they trust you, they think you're safe, they think you can help them. And so that's the point when you go, okay, so what does this mean for you? Tell me more about these thoughts. Tell me about the quality of these thoughts? Are you feeling trapped? Or do you want to die? Like, do you really want to die, or are you just feeling hopeless in a way that those thoughts are comforting? Like having the option is still an option. A lot of suicidal people I know have said the thoughts can be of comfort. And it does go back to that control, the having the option. So it's really about exploring, what does it mean? How can I help you? What resources do you need? We always go back to therapy and meds. Therapy and meds work for some people, they don't work for other people. A lot of people can't access them. Poverty, poverty is a great example of... tell me if you guys are familiar with this phrase, "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."
Beth Demme (38:11):
I have heard that.
Dese’Rae Stage (38:13):
Is poverty a temporary f*ing problem? No, it's not. You can't sustain life in these ways. It's so heartbreaking that we look at it that way. Because it's just not always a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And people I've known who have died, who have done all of the things, are in their 40s and 50s, they've done all of the things and they just couldn't anymore. They did it all, they did it all. And then what? And that, to me, is heartbreaking. But so it's just kind of knowing that and working through your beliefs on suicide, I think it's so important to have that self reflexivity. And so that takes you to that point of that conversation, so you can be aware of where your boundaries are. Do you have the bandwidth to even be having this conversation?
Dese’Rae Stage (39:09):
If you don't, take your friend who trusts you and thinks you're safe and you care about them, help them find whatever the resources, another person to listen, blah, blah, blah. But if you do have it and you think that you can listen and not be biased and not say, oh, but you have so much to live for. Definitely don't say these things. Even if they do. I have plenty to live for. That doesn't mean I don't want to kill myself sometimes. Sometimes the things I have to live for and my inability to be what they need, is what makes me want to die. So really, it's about listening and paying attention and being curious and genuine. And offering the help that you have available to you. Providing a support network, if you can. Thinking about if they are suicidal and they are in crisis, asking them what they need.
Dese’Rae Stage (40:05):
Do you need to go to a hospital? Can we keep you safe and alive without doing that? What do you need? Giving them agency. Again, not all of us can even necessarily have agency or make decisions when we're in crisis. But a lot of people can. I didn't know how to advocate for myself until I was 30 years old. I didn't know that I could make my own decisions. I didn't know that going to a psychiatrist could be a collaborative experience. I didn't know that it was, you could be resistant to SSRIs. Because I had a bipolar diagnosis at the time, and it was wrong. But when you have that diagnosis, people are like, oh, well, they're just non-compliant. No, they didn't work. They destroyed my quality of life, the medications I was on. So of course, you're not going to take them. But this psychiatrist was like, yeah, it sounds like you're just resistant to those. And I was like, what, that's allowed? Oh, my God.
Dese’Rae Stage (41:04):
And so this person taught me what kinds of questions I should ask, the people who I'm seeking out for therapy or for psychiatry for meds. And that is super valuable. And I think like, that should be done on intake. Do you know how to get what you need from this experience? That never happens. That never happens. I will not walk into a therapist's office without having already interviewed them, and asked them, what kind of experience you have working with suicidal people? What are your boundaries around crisis? Are you going to try and hospitalize me without me knowing? Without asking for my consent? Do you have experience with self-injury? Do you know that self-injury and suicide are different things? All sorts of questions, I will not set foot in the office until I know that.
Beth Demme (42:03):
Well, Des, thank you so much for being with us today. This conversation has been important. And I've learned a lot and I think that anyone who listens to this conversation has an opportunity to learn a lot and really to lay aside some of the shame, and to lay aside some of this idea that people who have suicidal thoughts don't deserve agency. I mean, there's just a lot in this conversation that has been super important to me. So how can we support your work? Tell us where we can find you online and how we can support your work.
Dese’Rae Stage (42:35):
So Live Through This is at livethroughthis.org. I do all of this work on a volunteer basis. If you know somebody who's looking for speakers at events, suicide prevention events, university events, send them my way. That is how I make money. Telling my story, talking about my work. You can donate to the project. I have some fun T-shirts and pins and such. And that's where the income comes from. That's how the project is run. Other places you can find me, I'm all over the internet. I'm
Dese’Rae Stage on Twitter, [LTTphoto 00:43:11] on Twitter. I also have other projects that I love, that I would love people to look at. There's a video podcast I do called Suicide 'n' Stuff. It's at suicide-n-stuff.com. It's a critical suicidology standpoint. It's pretty radical, we can be crude, tongue-in-cheek. So it's not your standard suicide prevention stuff.
Dese’Rae Stage (43:41):
But we do talk to a ton of researchers, a ton of people involved in the field. And we have a lot of fun doing it. My newest podcast is called GTV, or Grief TV. I lost my grandfather last year and he was basically my dad, so I'm really, I'm grieving, but I'm also digging into what that means and how, as a future therapist, I can be helpful to people. So that's at grief-tv.com. And I've had some really cool conversations about grief, they're fascinating.
Beth Demme (44:14):
We'll put links to all of that in our show notes, so that it'll be easy for folks to find. And we are going to be following your work, continue to follow your work and-
Stephanie Kostopoulos (44:24):
We're going to get some T-shirts.
Beth Demme (44:25):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (44:26):
We're going to get some T-shirts.
Beth Demme (44:27):
Do you have real women sizes?
Dese’Rae Stage (44:29):
Beth Demme (44:30):
Okay, just checking.
Dese’Rae Stage (44:31):
Have you've seen me?
Beth Demme (44:33):
We've only seen you at this [inaudible 00:44:35].
Dese’Rae Stage (44:35):
Beth Demme (44:38):
She's a real woman.
Dese’Rae Stage (44:39):
Yes, we have [crosstalk 00:44:40] sizes. That's actually really important to me, is I have T-shirts up to five or 6X.
Beth Demme (44:46):
Excellent, that's awesome.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (44:48):
Well Des, I want to say thank you so much for being with us today. This has been a great conversation. And I want to have you on 20 more times. There's so much I feel like we could talk to you about, if not a whole episode about dogs. I feel like that's something we could talk about too.
Dese’Rae Stage (45:02):
I do too-
Beth Demme (45:03):
[crosstalk 00:45:03] scratch the surface-
Dese’Rae Stage (45:04):
... I will come back whenever.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (45:05):
Dese’Rae Stage (45:05):
Whatever you need.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (45:06):
Thank you so much.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (45:09):
At the end of each episode, we end with questions for reflection. These are questions based on today's show that we will read and leave a little pause between. And you can also find a PDF of them on our Buy Me A Coffee page.
Beth Demme (45:20):
Number one, what do you think about suicide? Number two, have you ever had suicidal thoughts? Number three, what would you say to a friend or family member who attempted suicide and survived? Number four, how can you be part of breaking the shame that surrounds suicide? Do you want to be part of the change?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (45:44):
This has been the Discovering Our Scars podcast, thank you for joining us.