2019 Feature, Medium Newsroom finalist

The Best Way to Save People from Suicide/I’m Still Here

About the Project

The need for a package on suicide became apparent to us a couple years ago, when we first discovered this chilling statistic: While suicide rates have been flat or declining in many other industrialized Western nations, in the United States, they are higher now than at any point since the Great Depression.

At that moment, we realized that something monumental—and terrifying—was taking hold across the country. Suicide wasn’t just affecting one segment of the population. It was cutting across demographic lines: old people, young people, black people, white people, everybody. We wanted to figure out why that was—and what could be done about it. We also wanted to convey, as vividly as possible, what it feels like to live with a chronic urge to die. The result is Jason Cherkis’s “The Best Way to Save People From Suicide” and Clancy Martin’s “I’m Still Here.”

The years of reporting that Cherkis put into his story couldn’t be more evident. They show in the details he chooses, in the vividness of his characters, in the persuasiveness of his argument. They show in the sensitivity he brings to a subject that is remarkably difficult to write about in a nuanced or non-exploitative way. And we know they show because readers noticed. Many people on social media who either work in the field or have been touched by the crisis said this was the best piece they’d ever read on suicide. Others said it had the potential to save lives. One told Jason that it helped him get through a particularly rough night before Thanksgiving; another said that it inspired him to become a therapist.

Martin’s piece looks at the suicide crisis from a very different perspective; he examines his own life in the immediate aftermath of his sixth suicide attempt. His is a rare story about what it feels like to battle the urge to die over the course of decades, and it lays bare the challenges that suicidal people endure even on the good days. But what’s so surprising about his piece is that it’s not mopey or depressing. It’s funny, it’s knowing, it’s even hopeful in its way.

If we’re going to reverse the crisis, we need to better understand the people who are suffering—what they respond to, how they can be reached. These two pieces, taken together, offer us what’s so badly missing in the discussion over suicide: a way forward.