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My Father Died By Suicide And Here's How I'm Reaching Out Through Art

My suicide awareness photography project, the Stanley Sessions, aims to reduce stigma

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Stanley Sessions highlights suicide survivors and their stories

Whitney Saleski / Via Facebook: stanleysessions

Would you know a suicide survivor if you just passed that person on the street? If you knew that person was affected by the aftermath of suicide, how would you feel...would it change your initial impression?

I understand the awkward silence that can accompany the mere mention of the word "suicide." And unfortunately, I am not alone in that struggle.

My name is Whitney Saleski, and I am an amateur photographer from Dayton, Ohio. My father, Stanley Saleski, died by suicide in October of 2014.

He was a baseball scout for the San Francisco Giants, and he was the picture of "having it all" in America. He had a loving family, a beautiful home, supportive friends, a soaring career in sports, and a comfortable lifestyle. A few weeks after he died, his team won the World Series. We were (and are) beyond lucky and privileged.

But as we have learned from research, statistics, and personal stories, an individual's life is not so easily gauged by outside appearance.

After he passed away, I couldn't move. I was paralyzed by a mixture of grief, mental and physical agony, fear, and a sadness so engrossing that I could not tell the difference between staying awake and falling asleep. Mainly, I was catatonic as my mother, Lisa, and I sifted through the life my father left behind. For a while, I kept trying to call him on his cell phone. In utter confusion, my brain convinced me that this was simply a tragic error or a supremely dark joke. Eventually, I knew I had to do something, or I would have to be admitted to a hospital.

But who could I talk to outside of my immediate family and friends? Who can anyone talk to in a situation like this? When is suicide "okay" to discuss? I felt isolated and terrified.

I decided that to survive and join the world again, I wanted to channel my creative energy into raising awareness about suicide, mental health, and how we can reach out to one another through a universal medium.

The stigma accompanying suicide can create a frightening, lonely, and debilitating existence. Whether you know someone who has died by suicide—or have attempted, yourself—the space for honest, heartfelt, and sensitive conversation about the topic is rare. Art exploring this subject, too, appears equally absent.

With my ongoing photography project, the Stanley Sessions, I want to erase that stigma by providing visual and written art that will humanize survivors and bring awareness to the forefront. I have teamed up with NAMI of Montgomery County, and we have organized these sessions together.

For each session, we interview the subject, and then the person sits for a portrait that I capture. All my photographs are in black and white. This is an intentional contrast to the "grey area" that exists in human nature. Indeed, nothing in life is truly black and white, and this project explores everything and everyone in between. Eventually, we plan to put together a book with roughly 50 individuals and stories.

The subjects' full stories are all available on our Facebook page. Hearing about their lives gives me the courage to continue. Indeed, they are the strongest and most beautiful people I have ever met.

To visit our website and see all photographs in the series so far—and to read the latest project updates and mental health awareness news—you can go to: https://www.facebook.com/stanleysessions

To sign up to sit for a session (or ask questions about the project and process), please email: stanleysessions@nami-mc.org

Please remember that help is available from your local NAMI chapter, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and many more organizations, including: 1-800-273-8255 (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).

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