"This Too Shall Pass": A Suicide Survivor's Story

Suicide is something that should be talked about. If we want to get rid of the stigma behind suicide and mental illness we first have to create a dialogue. However, that dialogue has to be held respectfully, maturely, and most of all, responsibly.

Hi, my name is Kurtis Riener and I am a suicide survivor. At the age of 17, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, multiple anxiety disorders, and OCD–but I’ve been struggling since I was 12. It has been an incredibly difficult and trying journey to get to the relative stability I have now, at the age of 21.

Me, my brother, and my sister playing around at a restaurant

Me, my brother, and my sister playing around at a restaurant

The worst part of my journey was the first year or two after my diagnosis. I still feel overwhelmed or lose hope from time to time but during that period, I was overwhelmed constantly and felt utterly hopeless. I felt like the world was swallowing me whole and I had no idea what to do. I felt alone and like nobody understood what was going on. It was during this time that I thought the most about suicide and eventually ended up making two attempts on my life.

Unfortunately, my story is not unique. Over a million people attempt suicide each year. While our friends in the mental health care industry are working hard to bring that number down, we should not be ignoring a pressing matter that may be influencing more people to attempt suicide: suicide contagion and media-influenced harm. 

Suicide is something that should be talked about. If we want to get rid of the stigma behind suicide and mental illness we first have to create a dialogue. However, that dialogue has to be held respectfully, maturely, and most of all, responsibly. When the media reports on a suicide, they have a tendency to sensationalize the report: they may use flashy headlines that are made to draw attention, include unnecessary details such as the method of suicide, contents of a suicide note, or even images of the death. These practices can be dangerous, because suicide contagion is real: while a stable person may not think twice, a particularly graphic or sensational suicide story in the media can be the tipping point for someone already contemplating suicide. Thankfully, in my personal experience, that was never the case. However, hearing such things or seeing such sights always put me through a great deal of distress. It made the urge stronger, especially in cases where unnecessary and graphic pictures were included. When reporting on suicide, we should be focusing on the person and the life they lived, not the brief moment of their death and how it was carried out.

These issues are also depicted in TV and movies, which often dramatize or even glorify suicide on screen. This, just like sensationalizing suicide in a news reports, can lead to suicide contagion. Just take 13 Reasons Why: they dramatize suicide, and as a result, suicide rates in teens increased shortly following the premiere. Suicide is an impactful act, and thus it is understandable that it may be important to a script’s plot and to the telling of the story. However, that does not mean it cannot be depicted responsibly and with care. It deserves proper thought and to be handled with tact. Much like with reporting on suicide, we should avoid showing the method, glorifying or sensationalizing the act, and in general, handle the situation with respect, maturity, and grace.

I have lived experience with not only suicide, but also self-harm, and writing this post made me think about the ways self-harm is depicted in the media. News outlets don’t often cover self-harm, but you can see a lot of it in TV shows and movies. I frequently see self-harm depicted in the shows that I watch, often in the context of a joke.To make matters even worse, they show the result of the self harm in a very graphic way. One show I watch even went as far as to give “instructions” on how to self harm, which can be highly dangerous even when framed as a joke. When I see shows depict such graphic self harm for comedic effect, I don’t know what to think: I just don’t see how it adds anything to the show, and know it has the potential to cause serious harm to impressionable viewers. I can’t help but feel that they wouldn’t be making these jokes if they knew the sobering reality of self-harm. However, rather than get angry, I believe we should focus on educating such people so that they know better for the future. Therefore, it’s up to people like the team of Youth United and other brave advocates for responsible media to bring awareness and educate these people.

It is my belief that the media is often unaware of the consequences of irresponsible representation, and do not realize that suicide-related content can incite harm. Rather than simply be upset, we should focus on educating not only those responsible for the media but the general public as well. Neil DeGrasse Tyson once said, “I know of no time in human history where ignorance was better than knowledge.” This statement remains true in all regards, and of course includes the battle regarding the stigma surrounding mental illness and the responsible guidlines of reporting on suicide. Perhaps most importantly, it encourages us to educate those who do not understand the true depth, seriousness, and pain of suicide and self harm.

If you're reading this and have resonated with what I've said, if you're reading this and you don't know if you can keep going, if you're reading this and you feel that nobody understands you, I just want to say you're not alone and you are cared for. There are so many people out there like you and me who have to fight this unfair battle but I urge you to keep fighting, because you matter. If you think nobody cares about you, you're wrong–I care about you, the Youth United team cares about you, and millions of people out there are wishing well for people like you and me. I have a mantra I like to tell myself that helps me get through the times where I just can't see an end: "This too shall pass". No matter how bad the pain, no matter how long you have to put up with it, it will pass. And in its place, I believe better times await.

kurtis meet the author.jpg
Kurtis Riener