"While fleeting thoughts and suicidal consideration would run through my mind most of my life, it was not until the age of 28—when my bipolar disorder first presented itself—that suicide nearly took my life.
Suicide is not an easy subject to discuss and so often I hear and see the stigma attached to mental illness and this sad cause of death. I do not use the words 'killed themselves.' A person loses his or her life by suicide as certain as others lose their lives to cancer. The fight is extreme when the suicidal mind comes to the surface.
For ten years after my initial suicide attempt, I experienced the extremes of stigma with mental illness in every facet of life. The lack of understanding of others and my own lack of understanding took me on a long, painful journey that included prison, where I was raped; homelessness; hunger; hospitals; and several more suicide attempts.
Each moment seemed to take another piece of me and the only thing I credit with living today is that God continued to fill the voids in the wake of each loss.
One time, I was sitting on a park bench with shin splits and the soles of my shoes worn through when everything about me simply transformed in a moment. I said, aloud: 'I don’t want anyone to ever feel this way!' I was homeless for quite some time after that day, but that purpose never left my heart or mind. When my parents did get me home, I dedicated my life to just that—no one must feel that way.
Death by suicide rates are not dropping. From our veterans to mentally ill adults to children, it has become a serious epidemic that impacts so many lives.
I personally do not believe we are called to understand. We are called to be compassionate.
Stigma labels a suicidal mind as weak when the reality is that any man, woman, or child is fighting harder than most of us could fathom.
I will be bold in saying that as a man who fights and lives with mental illness—as well as a man who is an advocate—when I see the word 'stigma,' I see the word 'death.' It is dangerous and must be dealt with.
The only avenue to come against ignorance is education. It is my prayer that we don’t have so many examples of death and many more examples of survival. That will take tremendous courage on any survivor’s part and enormous support from advocates, family, and loved ones."