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Sunday, October 17, 2021

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Photographer shares mental health struggles from behind the lens


The National suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. | File photo/The Cougar

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m the assistant photo editor for The Cougar, and I’m the one who took a photo showing the location where a student took his or her life a few days ago.

I’m not the horrible person that so many commenters assumed I am. I know myself, and I know that is simply not true.

I stand by my decision to allow the paper’s editors to publish Wednesday’s photo.

First, please let me convey my deepest condolences to the family of the deceased. I pray that this photo is not what your beloved is remembered for, but if it is, let me just say that my intentions are far from malevolent.

Second, let me provide some background on myself, so you can further understand my experience with depression. I was clinically diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety when I was 13. Before then, I had dealt with mental illness my entire life without medical help.  

Yes, medication has kept me from going off the rails and ending my life, but it has not stopped me from feeling depressed. There are rare occasions when I truly feel happy, and those are few and far between.

I’ve been to years of therapy, tried several different kinds of antidepressants and heard several pleas from family members to never consider ending my life because of how much they love me.

None of those forms of treatment has affected me in any way. Not a single one.

Due to my depression, I have suffered from suicidal thoughts and tendencies for the majority of my life, so suicide is a sensitive subject for me.

I know what you’re thinking: “Then why did you take such a graphic image depicting suicide without considering it triggering others?”

Here’s why: Seeing that scene affected me more than five years of therapy, an abundance of medications and any form of support from my family. When I saw that scene, something inside me clicked.

I’m far from being “cured” of my depression, but seeing the aftermath of that scene shifted my point of view on my will to live.

People suffer from depression in different ways, and it takes different forms of treatment to truly help them cope with their feelings. For me, the traditional ways of treatment were not successful, and just as I was closest to giving up and caving in to thoughts of ending my life, this happened.

I walked past the scene on my way to my dorm, and it was almost like a slap in the face by reality. We discuss depression, but we never truly see where it leads, and when it is not treated, it leaves behind a gruesome scene. We need to stop ignoring that.

Depression is not the Hollywood portrayal of a girl crying in her bedroom. Depression is horrifying and heartbreaking. This photo makes you feel something. It makes you feel upset, horrified, angry and sad.

After taking this photo, I had to return to my dorm and take my anxiety medicine. I felt my entire view on life changing, and that was so much to take in.

Someone ended their life, and that still saddens me, but I know now that I needed to taste the reality of depression to realize that I have so much more to live for.  

I understand this photo makes others uncomfortable, but these are the kind of feelings we need to experience to truly address the stigma of mental illness.

If you are offended by this photo, then you need to realize that the reality of mental illness should be accepted in our society no matter how graphic it may be, because those who prefer to push it into the shadows cause people who feel like they need help to not speak out.

I understand what was going through this person’s head because I have been on the edge of ending my life several times, and I mourn for the beautiful soul who didn’t see a light at the end of their darkness.

I took this picture hoping that someone like me will see it, and it might make them take a second to realize how much their life is worth.

If you are like me, and you feel there is nothing that can cure the darkness that plagues you, please understand that you will find your light. Don’t give up.

I hope this photo makes you realize you have so much life left, and you have the power to change the world: If not with your words then with your soul.

If you still want to crucify me, then go ahead, but I stand by this photo and all that it represents.

Assistant photo editor Jennifer Gonzalez is a print journalism freshman and can be reached at [email protected]

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