Suicide and the Silence that follows

Last November, I added my mother's name to an interactive ofrenda for Day of the Dead at Mattie Rhodes Gallery in Kansas City.

Last September I placed a call to speak to suicide survivors.  I chose to tackle a personal topic that carries a heavy social stigma as part of our Reportera Series.  I was not sure if anyone would respond—I knew firsthand that it was a private issue for most families and probably even more so in Latino communities. My grief still raw—I was determined to figure out a way to dissect the source of my most disempowering life experience. The call was followed by a level of silence and I chose to do what I have occasionally done in writing and reporting–sometimes you just have to wait and let the story unfold at its own pace.

A close friend that has recently dealt with this very issue in her life, expressed wonder as to how I could be so open about it.  So, I thought maybe it was a good starting point for me to explain why I chose to talk about becoming a suicide survivor on a public platform?

First, a story about my mom:

As a teen, I once accompanied my mother to a friend’s apartment.  Her friend was overweight, tired and unable to reach her feet and properly care for them.  As a result, she had festering calluses and they were a source of a lot of pain.  My mother took a plastic pan, filled it with warm water, poured Epson salt and had her friend soak her feet.  She then sat across from her friend, spread a towel on her lap and proceeded to take each swollen and battered foot and began to slowly massage it, slough away the rough skin and offer words of encouragement.

At the time,  a squeamish youth, I watched in quiet horror but in retrospect I recognize that my mother was providing her friend with the gift of love and care.

I saw this same friend at my mother’s funeral.  She offered her condolences and in her puzzled grief quietly inquired about the cause of her friend’s death.  Not many people had asked me directly, but because I knew she was my mother’s friend I decided to be honest.  When I told her my mother died by suicide she physically retreated in shock—as if it was a contagious plague or curse.  It was a reaction that initially caused me pain, then anger and finally sadness because it helped me realize that my mother’s community of peers—immigrant and working class—is not having an informed dialogue.  I suspect that its ingrained religious and cultural views that may prevent them to consider a more scientific view that concludes that suicide is the result of a mental or emotional disorder.  My mother suffered from depression and anxiety, pretty common conditions, one study found that one in five adults has a mental illness but these are topics that we don’t talk about.

Perhaps its a lack of understanding. I admit that my awareness of mental health prior to losing my mother was limited. I had misconceptions of mental illness, I thought it had to be extreme–think media imposed clichés.  But what resonates with me now is an aunt’s description of depression–subtle, silent and as toxic as carbon monoxide.  I now understand that mental health can be compromised by a spectrum of conditions and they can be obvious or illusive.

Something else that I recently discovered is that the suicide rate has risen steadily in the last ten years.  I was already familiar with  a study released some time back that revealed Latina teens were at higher risk, however the Centers for Disease Control does not differentiate between genders and reports that, “Native American and Hispanic youth [have] the highest rates of suicide-related fatalities. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9-12 in public and private schools in the U.S. found Hispanic youth were more likely to report attempting suicide than their black and white, non-Hispanic peers.”

According to the American Association of Suicidology, for each suicide there are an average of 6 survivors.  I don’t have enough fingers to count the people impacted by my mother’s death.   In the days that followed my loss, as non-functional as I was, I arrived to two conclusions: First, I needed therapy to help me cope.  Second, I would not let my mother’s suicide become an oppressive weight of shame to carry in addition to the grief.  It was a heavy load I saw many loved ones take on and I thought it was a disservice to her memory.  I still regret that it will be some time–if ever– before her friend learns to remember my mom as the caring friend she was and not how she died.

One of the greatest gifts that arrived into my hands, was a phone number to the LOSS program at Catholic Charities which provides support and resources for suicide survivors.  My therapist knows a lot about suicide—he’s a credible source as a survivor himself—and he gently explains and reminds me that, “People don’t chose to die by suicide—just like they don’t chose to die of cancer—it’s a disease that chooses them.”

Eventually–after placing my call to speak to suicide survivors–messages trickled into my inbox.  Some shared their own experience, and some offered encouragement.  These texts were quiet, virtual whispers that reminded me of the people that approached me in the days after losing my mom and shared their stories about suicide and mental health issues.  They were tid-bits of information that helped me understand that I was not alone—that there were a few out there that understood and shared my situation.  I got to sit down and speak with a couple of women and because of the sensitive nature of this topic I allowed and encouraged them to share terms of engagement—maybe, not the best journalistic practice but necessary in ensuring that I honor their stories–I will share a part of those conversations in futures blog posts.


Suicide Survivors

United States

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255), which is available 24/7, can be used anywhere in the United States, and connects the caller to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed.  More information can be found on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website:

This project is supported by the Local Reporting Awards, The Chicago Community Trust , Community News Matter initiative.  Get the full scoop on The Reportera Series.

Reportera Series: seeking suicide survivors

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, “Each year over 34,000 people in the United States die by suicide — the devastated family and friends they leave behind are known as “survivors.”  Sunday, September 4th was the beginning of  National Suicide Prevention Week, it also marked the 6th month since my mother passed and I became a suicide survivor.

I have learned so much in the half-year since I lost my mother–about the resilience within me, about the love in others and about the stigma of suicide.  A while back we posted information about a study that found that Latina teens are at high risk for suicide, it was a report that many other media outlets reported on.  At the time I was alarmed by the findings but didn’t think it was something that I needed to worry about–it was not something that I felt could impact me.

I am sharing this very personal detail because I will be reporting on suicide and its impact on the Latino community as part of our Reportera Series.  After some preliminary research and taking media guidelines for adequate reporting on suicide into consideration its become clear what my focus needs to be: I am looking to speak to other Latin@s that are also suicide survivors.  If you are willing to share your story with me, please email me at

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255), which is available 24/7, can be used anywhere in the United States, and connects the caller to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed.  More information can be found on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website:

08.08.10: Domingo Newsbytes…

08.08.10: Domingo Newsbytes…

Photo credit: Lea Nuñez

On Friday I strolled over to the Tejer y Poder showcase put together by students of the six-week program led by our very own Irasema Gonzalez and Thelma Uranga at at Dvorak Park in the Pilsen neighborhood. The program consisted of 30 students, both teenage girls and boys, coming together to learn to knit, crochet, and work collectively on fiber arts and learn that both can be used a form of art and protest. I was blown away by the effort the students put into their projects.

It made me reflect on the wonderful things that happen when you give kids an opportunity to put their creative skills to use.  In a time when jobs for youth are scarce this creative After School Matters program gave these students an opportunity to gain new creative skills, empowerment and let them tell their stories through an array of colorful yarn.

We are super excited to hear that Café Magazine is planning to do a story on Thelma Uranga ( photographer, knitting expert, Stitchy Bitch Organizer and Proyecto Latina Team Member).  We first did an interview with Thelma in November of 2009 and we are happy to see other local media getting hip to the awesome work she and the Stich y Bitch are doing.  They are knitting a whole Día de los Muertos Alter for the National Museum of Mexican Art exhibit in September. Imagine knitting a whole altar!

Also, we welcome Sandra Treviño, our first guest curator, for Proyecto Latina this month. Join us on  Monday, August 16th @ 7pm, we are back at Cafe Catedral in Little Village.  Sandra has some musical surprises that are going to take the stage–we will be posting more information on them later this week so check back soon.

And now to Latinas in the news this week…In 2012 my niece is turning 15 and she is considering having a Quinceñera. I’ve already started saving my pennie–just in case or maybe I should consider the Quinceñera contest sponsored by Verizon. I confess I have no idea why folks need to spend $45,000.00 on a Quinceñera.  In my opinion, while Quinceñera’s are a wonderful part of our culture the focus needs to be on education not a $45,000 Quinceñera. Latina high school students can barely make it out of high school!

Maybe, Verizon can create a $45,000.00 fund for education or a program that deters teenage Latinas from committing suicide. Our friend Reyna Amaya over at Gozamos wrote a piece Too Young To Die on the recent spike of Latina teen suicides in our communities. A few months ago we posted some resources for Latinas in case you know of a young Latina who is struggling please share them with others.

And a truly sad story to come across is that of women in Guanajuato Mexico that are in desperate need of resources, advocates and a healthy dose of justice–there are several serving sentences of 25 to 30 years. Their crime: they are convicted of homicide for having abortions.

And finally, an opportunity: The Fire this Time Fund is now accepting applications for funding! Open to Chicago artists, educators and organizers seeking modest support for their creative social change projects APPLY TODAY!

The Fire This Time Fund is Proyecto Latina’s first funder and we thank them for taking the leap of faith. Their funding has impacted our growth and our ability to pay our features and maintain our website.

Have a comment or thought on this week’s Domingo Newsbytes? Let us know we’d love to hear from you. Just drop us a line in the comment section!

Domingo Newsbytes

Happy Sunday Everyone! Hope you are done doing laundry, grocery shopping and now relaxing. Here is a little recap of Latinas in the news for your reading pleasure. As always, if you see a story in the news about or impacting Latinas please share the link with us at Last call for news link is every Saturday by noon.

Here is our round up:


The largets study ever of breast cancer in Latin American women is being launched in a unique multi-country, public/private partnership with $1 million in additional funding from the world’s largest breast cancer organization, Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

More than one in four Latinas is a mother by the age of 19, was included in a report by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Every year there is a growing epidemic of teenage Latinas attempting to commit suicide. Find out about a teen suicide prevention program for Latina teenagers and their family. The program is run by Dr. Rosa Gil.

Many undocumented women fail to report domestic violence because they fear deportation. Help is available through the Violence Intervention Program, a nationally recognized Latina organization that provides services to women of domestic violence.

Latina Teens At High Risk For Suicide

Latina Teens At High Risk For Suicide

A new report that has just come out from Washington University in New York city reports that Latina teens have a high risk of suicide. Some of the characteristics that lead these at risk teens from depression include: mother/daughter conflicts, immigrants and low-income families. According to the 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of high school students 14% of Latina students attempt suicide.

Here is a link to a CNN article about Latina teens and suicide.

If you or a someone you know is depressed or talking about suicide get help immediately. Here are some online resources. Feel free to post other resources in the comment section. The more resource sharing we do the more educated we can become on this matter that is impacting the Latina community.

Center for Mental Health Services

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago

Community Counseling Services of Chicago

Note: The above photo is courtesy of Health Spa Blog