Dese’Rae Stage has a single request when photographing survivors of suicide attempts: “The only thing I ask is that they look directly into my lens.”
Stage, herself a two-time attempt survivor, is on a mission to make suicidality relatable, by letting audiences look into the eyes of people who look like themselves and read their stories of struggle and resilience. Since launching her project Live Through This eight years ago, Stage has documented the stories of nearly 200 survivors across the country.
Despite being the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., suicide remains largely taboo, reduced to statistics and headlines that pander to morbid voyeurism. “We’re taught to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, but when it comes to suicide, we cannot do that,” she says. “We cannot say, ‘What must they have been feeling to want to end their life? What terrible thing would have to happen to me for me to consider that?’ People don’t want to do that.”
Survival is a messy business, and often a lifelong effort to navigate trials and coping mechanisms. Stage bristles at the notion that those who fail are “weak”: “They woke up and got through all of those days when they were struggling. You have to look at the amount of time they survived as a success.”
VICE News followed along as Stage sat down with her 186th survivor, minister and youth worker Jonathen Wurzel from Philadelphia, PA.
This segment originally aired September 10, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.