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Live Through This: Suicide Awareness + Prevention (ep. 156)

Dese Rae Stage

John O’Leary welcomes Dese’Rae Stage, photographer + 2-time suicide survivor, to the Live Inspired Podcast as she shares how her Live Through This movement is offering support and saving lives.

1.3 million Americans attempted to take their own life in 2016. 45,000+ of those lives were lost. [2018 CDC Report]

Nine years ago, if you’d searched for a community of suicide-attempt survivors, you couldn’t have found one. Our guest Dese’Rae Stage knows because she looked and, when her search came up empty, decided to do something about it.

Dese’Rae is a photographer, two-time suicide survivor, just shy of having a Ph.D. in suicidology and psychology and the founder of Live Through This. She created this movement to capture portraits and stories of suicide attempt survivors and in doing so – change the conversation, culture, and resources around suicide prevention, awareness, and support.

In a season where suicide is on the rise (it’s predicted that by 2020, someone will take their own life every 20 seconds), Dese’Rae is doing something about it. Join our important conversation.

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  • Dese’Rae pursued psychology, with an emphasis on suicide research, all the way through to a Ph.D. program before realizing she did not have faculty support on her topic. “Suicide was still too taboo, even for advanced programs,” Dese’Rae says.
  • “As a culture, we are now more open to doing research on suicide and including people who have been personally affected by the loss of a loved one or from personal experience.” Dese’Rae shares.
  • Why is suicide on the rise? There are numerous answers + Dese’Rae calls out that mental illness is often the most widely discussed, but it’s important to note that the CDC reports between 1999-2016, 54% of the people who took their lives in the United States did not have a known mental health diagnosis.
    • Other life events that are filled with pain, confusion, and hopelessness that could take people to the path of suicide: breakups, job loss, legal or financial issues.
  • Dese’Rae found her value in a desperate moment.
  • She’s constantly making that choice to live.
  • “The last few years have been about affirming her choice to live.” Dese’Rae on what it’s like to live with chronic suicidal thoughts.
  • Media focuses on those who have died by suicide instead of the people who have lived to tell the tale afterward.
  • Live Through This: series of portraits and true stories of 186 suicide attempt survivors across the United States started as a personal photography project that turned into so much more.
    • “I picked up my camera as a coping skill and it later became my career”
    • She makes portraits of people in the world where they tried to take themselves out of.
    • Used as a teaching tool for researchers + clinicians
  • Are you or someone you know struggling? Here are tips that Dese’Rae shared:
    • Distract yourself: play with your dog, watch a movie, etc.
    • Develop a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan)
    • Then, once you’re beyond that critical point of panic, you can evaluate your needs.
    • If you’re emotionally available, willing, ready: Reach out to someone you know is struggling.
  • Asking for help: We all struggle asking for help. Those who are suicidal or depressed are likely feeling ashamed and struggle even more at asking for help.
  • We can all relate: We are all so different but we struggle with the same stuff — pain and suffering. There is power in sharing our vulnerability.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Live Inspired Podcast guest Dennis Gillan shares the loss of two brothers to suicide. Listen to his story on ep. #46. Listen to comic Adam Cayton-Holland as he shares about losing his sister to suicide on Live Inspired Podcast ep. #99.


1. What is the best book you’ve ever read? Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

2. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today? The persistence to seek out the things I am curious about.

3. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be? It would have to do with photos.

4. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be? My wife. She’s my favorite human being and we teach each other a lot. The older you get, the more complicated life gets and you don’t get to have those moments as much as you used to. I would always welcome more time just talking to her.

5. What is the best advice you’ve ever received? Just keep going and trust your gut.

6. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self? Your life is going to be a lot more interesting that you could have ever hoped for.

7. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read? She did good stuff.


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