Columns Opinion

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].


  • There is so much truth in this story. It is raw truth. Mental illness exists on all the branches of my family tree. I understand the pain and the need to expose the realities of mental illness. I give you much credit for facing the scene, taking the picture, and facing your demons after you went back to your dorm.
    Fight your fight, the world needs you.

  • The photo reminded me of a previous jump suicide I encountered years ago. The sight is scarring enough but the sound the body makes with the pavement is what haunts me to this day. I have PTSD from it along with being present at a shooting with my friend being the shooter at the PCL library up at UT-Austin. After experiencing all that along with other suicides of friends, it took me a long time to deal with the trauma. I thought I was doing good dealing with it all.

    But then I saw the picture of this recent suicide and it triggered all those memories I had again, all in one blow. It’s hard to get them out of your mind. I feel the utmost sorrow for the life of the student that was lost, and for their family as well. You never get over something like this. You just don’t.

    I am not angry for the photo that was posted. I think that showing the bad outcome is showing reality. But I can also see that it is hurtful to the family of the student and to that student’s memory. It’s sometimes hard to make the call for showing a photo or not. So I completely understand. And It’s okay to make mistakes. I make mistakes all the time! 🙂

  • Also I commend you for coming out publicly for your mental illness. I too have gone through the similar path. I’m diagnosed with Bipolar I, PTSD, Social Anxiety Disorder, narcolepsy, and Asperger’s. I have to take a huge number of pills just to be able to function somewhat but I never get any relief from them. I also have to take anti psychotics to keep from going into a psychosis.

    I have been doing Electroconvulsive Shock Treatments for a while. The first round I did was bilateral years ago, it is the only thing that gave me relief. I did it after I overdosed and was dealing with liver failure and on a transplant list as a result. I was very pissed off at the time because I did not die. I ended up going from pissed off and depressed to somewhat okay with just 6 bilateral ECT’s. This second go around I have been doing them once a week but this time unilateral ECT’s instead. The unilateral ECT’s in my case seem to not work as fast as the bilateral ECT’s but they do work.

    Also you can get a DNA test to check what meds may not work for you. They check for how many copies of a specific gene you have to see if you are an ultra rapid metabolizer or not. I have several copies of that gene which makes me an ultra rapid metabolizer which explains why several medications do not work on me, because my body metabolizes the medications at a much faster rate than the average person, so I won’t feel the therapeutic effects. It really ticks me off because I wish I could find meds that work and so that I don’t have to switch every two months.

    You should try that DNA test out to see if you are an ultra rapid metabolizer and what meds may not work for you, it is really beneficial for the doctors treating you to know this information as well as you! I am glad I got tested because now my treatments are getting better.

Leave a Comment