It’s May, which means it’s time to introduce you to this year’s Hope & Grace Initiative Grant Recipients! This illustrative list of community leaders and initiatives are making great strides in the field of mental health, shining a light and improving lives every single day. We’re proud to assist them in their goals, and to that end are proud to announce that this round of grant recipients brings us to over 3 million dollars granted in just three short years. It’s our honor to help these initiatives pave the way to a brighter future for mental health.
We’d like to introduce you to our grant recipients, starting with today’s feature on Live Through This, a multimedia project focused on suicide prevention and survivorship. Creator Dese’Rae Stage took some time to tell everyone a bit more about this amazing program:
“Live Through This is a multimedia series of portraits and stories of suicide attempt survivors across the United States. We work in partnership with Fractured Atlas, which helps me receive non-profit donor funding. The whole idea of the project is to kind of break down stereotypes and show that suicide attempt survivors and people who are affected by suicide, in general, aren’t always who you think they are. Ultimately, suicide doesn’t discriminate.
I started the project to send the message that those affected are not alone. I’m also a long survivor; I’ve lost friends and loved ones to suicide, and later I had my own suicide attempts. What I’ve noticed is there were resources out there for long survivors, communities that supported those who had lost someone to suicide. What I wasn’t seeing were the stories of suicide attempt survivors or any kind, no real record of experience with suicidality. It was like we weren’t there; there was no reflection of that part of my identity. The few times survivors did share their stories, it was always an anonymous quote or someone filmed in silhouette, which felt like erasure; it felt very marginalizing. I decided to change that through Live Through This.
The project started small. I started looking for different ways to find interview subjects, and then I did a Kickstarter to help fund the initiative in 2013. Ever since that time, I’ve had a steady flow of people who are ready to share their stories. When I ask interview subjects why they want to share their story, they all say pretty much the same thing: if one person doesn’t have to go through what I went through, it was worth it.
Live Through This has grown to something quite substantial. I’ve interviewed 180 attempt survivors in 33 cities and 20 towns. The project is being used in a lot of very cool ways that I kind of never expected: it’s being taught in some graduate programs, and it’s being used in training at one of the nation’s largest behavioral health centers. The project is being used in research. It’s become something much larger than a body of art.
I’m very excited to have been named a Hope & Grace Fund Grant Recipient. I have big dreams and goals that will be accomplished with this money. The first thing we’re going to do is redesign the website so it can hold the volume of stories I’ve collected along with adding search capability so people can sort these experiences. So, if you’re looking for a female in her 50’s (and there is a story like that,) you’ll be able to find it. The second thing is relieving the backlog of 90 stories. I’m only one person, and even though I use contract help here and there, 95% of the work is done by me alone. With the grant funding, I’ll be releasing 52 women’s stories every week for the entire grant period. Finally, the funding will be used to evolving the project. I’ve always wanted it to be a truly multimedia experience, which means video, audio, text, and portrait. With this funding, I can create four new complete multimedia content packages highlighting women in underrepresented populations, one of which is going to be a bilingual interview with a Latina survivor, which I’m really excited about. We’re going to do the video and the audio in English and Spanish, so it’s going to take extra time, but I’m excited to take the time to make it a bit more diverse.
I’m honored the project has received recognition and awards. I won a Lived Experience Award from The American Association of Suicidology, and then this year I won their first Transforming Lived Experience Award, which is also the first award of its kind. I’m the first person to win all the first lived experience awards from that organization, and I’m super proud of that. I also got a community service award from South by Southwest (SXSW.)
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned creating Live Through This is something I already knew but it’s been incredible to experience: I’m not alone. I get to meet and interview people all over the country and hear their stories, and it’s not just when I’m collecting stories for the project. I go to a college to speak and people come up afterward to tell me they’ve lived through a suicide attempt. I go to conferences and hear the same thing. I get in a taxicab, and the driver asks me what I do. I say I work in suicide prevention, and they tell me they’re a survivor, too. It’s been truly amazing to hear people talk about suicide openly; it helps both myself and others know that we really are everywhere.
I think the main thing I want them to know is that they really are not alone, even if they feel they are. There’s always somebody out there who is willing to listen. If you’re hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can’t feel it—and you are worth your life. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. And if you want to take action, consider donating your social media data for suicide prevention research at ourdatahelps.org.