I survived my suicide attempt because I didn’t have access to a gun.
When I was sixteen, I tried to end my life. My pain had been escalating for years. I had spent my middle school years and half of high school as a functioning depressed person. From the outside, I had it all. I was an honors student, I had friends, I had two supportive parents and a big sister, I participated in extracurricular activities, I traveled. But I was severely depressed — and I felt guilty for feeling that way when I knew I was so fortunate.
When I compare my journal entries from freshman year to pictures during that time, it’s like a parallel universe. The pictures show me laughing at football games or lounging with friends at the beach. The journals seem like they were written by a different person. A person wishing to be happy, admitting the lie I was living, and finally, wishing to die.
These journals are some of the only pieces of evidence of this time in my life; I’ve blocked out many of these darker moments and inner thoughts. I barely remember anything from this time — when I had to take a leave of absence from high school as my depression and suicidal thoughts worsened. When I ultimately thought my only escape from my feelings was to end my life. When I attempted suicide. And when I survived — and had to rebuild my life.
Following my attempt, the road to recovery was not easy. I cried myself to sleep every night until I fell asleep so deeply, I could hardly be woken up. I could barely eat. I lost my appetite entirely. My limbs felt heavy every time I moved. I was beyond depressed — I was numb.
Thankfully, my parents were able to get me the professional help I desperately needed. I slowly healed as I saw a therapist and a psychiatrist, who adjusted my medication. Unfortunately, while I was healing at home, I heard that classmates and former friends were mocking me and spreading rumors — saying I was crazy, I was just doing this to get boys’ attention, there was nothing really wrong with me. It was my first real experience with stigma. And it hurt me deeply.
Months later, the fog had started to lift. I was finally doing better. The medication was starting to work, and I was putting the tools I was learning in cognitive behavioral therapy to use. But after learning what was said about me at school — by kids I had known for most of my life — I refused to return. Instead, I started attending a new school. I planned to put my past behind me and not look back.
For nearly ten years, I’ve felt ashamed of my experience. When I started college, I was determined to start anew. I would lie about why I switched high schools. I would make up a story about why I take medication every night. I would never utter the word “suicide.”
Later, when I started my masters program at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and learned more about suicide prevention, I was still too ashamed to identify as a suicide attempt survivor. But I became increasingly passionate about suicide prevention and the unique intersection between gun violence prevention and suicide prevention. Even though half of all suicides are by firearm, the gun violence prevention movement wasn’t talking enough about suicide, and the suicide prevention community wasn’t talking enough about firearms. I wanted to help change that narrative. I wanted to bridge the gap. Still, even after I graduated and accepted a job in gun violence prevention, I didn’t think I would actually admit to being a survivor myself.
That changed earlier this year. I was at the New York State Capitol for work, lobbying for legislation to prevent firearm suicide. While meeting with a Republican legislator, I was going through my normal talking points. His eyes were glazing over. Then, without thinking, I started sharing my story.
“When I was 16, I was suicidal. If I had access to a gun during that time, I would not be here today. Unlike other suicide attempt methods, guns rarely offer a second chance. Attempting suicide by intentional overdose results in death less than 2 percent of the time; firearms result in death 90 percent of the time. Not having a gun saved my life.”
The legislator and I made eye contact after I finished speaking, both equally shocked by what had come out of my mouth. The feeling in the room had shifted. He replied, “Thank you for trusting me with your story. I’m happy you didn’t have a gun and that you are alive and able to share your story in my office today.” We continued talking about the nuances of the suicide prevention bill. He ultimately decided to support it.
I left his office surprised by the events. The stigma associated with mental illness and suicide is incredibly strong; I spent most of my life hiding, feeling ashamed about what I had gone through rather than empowered from surviving that time in my life.
I was given a second chance. I didn’t die. Because I didn’t have access to a gun, I was given the time I needed to heal, to survive, and ultimately, to thrive. Which is why I can no longer be silent. I am alive — but just since my own attempt, more than 400,000 are not. That’s more than the population of New Orleans. And half of these individuals died by firearm suicide. These people aren’t able to share their stories. But I can honor them by sharing mine.
Recovery is hard. My life post-attempt will never be perfect. I still have major depressive disorder. Sometimes I slip backwards and experience suicidal ideation. But with years of cognitive behavioral therapy, daily antidepressants, and a strong support system, I am able to work through these dark times.
Firearm suicide is a public health crisis in our country — and it’s one we are not talking about enough. Maybe it is because of the stigma, maybe it is because those directly affected aren’t here to share their personal stories, maybe it is because people think suicide is not preventable (research shows otherwise). Whatever the reason for the silence, it must stop.
It has taken me 10 years to be able to admit that I am a suicide attempt survivor. It has taken me 10 years to find the words to describe my attempt and my recovery. When I used to reflect on my experience, the words “shame,” “embarrassment,” and “guilt” would come to mind. Now, I think of ”survival,” “strength,” “empowerment.” I survived. I came out stronger. And I feel empowered to share my story, to be vulnerable and hope that doing so will save lives. We can stop firearm suicide. We can prevent suicide in general. We can support each other through difficult times. But in order to do so, we must be willing to speak. For ourselves. For those who are struggling. For those who are no longer able.
Dakota Jablon is the policy analyst at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
If you — or someone you know — need(s) help, call 1–800–273–8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.