How You Can Help End the Silence Around Suicide

Claire Bernhard
Claire Bernhard

Content Warning: Mention of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation.
When I was 16, I was with a family member when they attempted suicide. I had to go with them to the emergency room, where they received treatment and thankfully, survived. It was kept very quiet in my family. My parents are divorced and one of them didn’t even know about it until I told them earlier this year. I did not know how to process the event – I didn’t understand why this had happened, and I didn’t know who I could turn to share how I was feeling.

As I matured into adulthood, I finally started to understand the struggle of the individual and how a variety of circumstances can lead to suicidal ideation, in part due to my own experiences with mental health. I’ve personally struggled with mental illness for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder when I was just 4 years old. Throughout a large part of my childhood and into my college years, I wasn’t properly treated. I wasn’t ever sure how to get the care I needed or how to advocate for myself. As a result, I fell into some unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

When I did finally seek help in the right places and the right ways, it completely turned my life around. Now instead of struggling with my mental health, I am managing my mental health and well-being. Through therapy, I have developed a better self-image and have healthy coping skills. I was previously diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to an extremely abusive relationship. Now through hard work in therapy, I no longer meet the criteria. I am incredibly thankful for the decision I made to seek treatment. It changed my life – and now, I want to help others know that it is okay to not be okay, to advocate for yourself, and to seek help when you need it. 

I want to “Send Silence Packing®.”

You never know what can be going on inside a person. I want to be part of a movement where mental health can be discussed as openly as physical health, where we are ending the silence around suicide. 

I learned about Send Silence Packing® in the spring of 2022 by meeting a display coordinator who was with the tour. It was amazing. They told me all about the program – Send Silence Packing® is a traveling display that tours the country visiting schools, campuses, and communities to end the silence that surrounds mental health and suicide and connect visitors with resources for support and action. It’s accompanied by Behind the Backpacks, a virtual immersive experience that allows those who have visited the display (or those that didn’t get the chance to) to hear more stories from those who are suicide attempt survivors, as well as families of those who have died by suicide. As we talked more about it, I was sure that this was what I had to do. I waited for the applications to open up and applied right away. 

Now, I’m over a month into my tour. I’ve visited nearly a dozen different schools and communities sharing stories of those lost to suicide, resources for seeking help and talking about mental health and suicide, and just connecting with those who visit the display, hearing their stories and sharing mine. 

I am grateful for this opportunity to reach thousands of people through doing the displays. The sheer amount of vulnerability it brings out in people is incredible. When people feel comfortable sharing their stories with me, I know that what we’re doing is meaningful and has an impact on the community. I’m confident that these conversations will go beyond just the day of the display, and that my work with the display is helping to end the silence around suicide. You can be part of this change too – practice suicide prevention in your everyday life, check out Behind the Backpacks, and visit a Send Silence Packing® display near you. I hope to see you there.