The University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) kicked off Queertober with guest speaker Dese’Rae L. Stage, a LGBT and suicide awareness activist.
Stage is a Philadelphia based artist and public speaker who draws on her personal experiences with mental illness. Her own struggles, including the fact she lost a friend to suicide, inspired her to study mental health. From there, she created the photo project , Live Through This, in which Stage travels across the country to photograph suicide survivors.
Since 2013, Stage has taken 182 portraits of survivors from all walks of life. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, NPR, and the Associated Press. “I really want people to know that this is something that can affect anybody,” she said in her presentation. “If we are looking at research, over half of the people in the world around you have experienced a suicide loss or knows someone who has attempted suicide.”
But, she also wanted to stress that people who struggle with mental illness shouldn’t be reduced to mere numbers and statistics.
“We were reduced to numbers. Our names, our hobbies weren’t us. We weren’t teachers, we weren’t Ivy League students, or solders, artists, moms, trans-poet activist, writers, or rock stars.”
One of Stage’s goals was to show the faces and names behind the statistics and show the public that mental illness is a human illness that can affect anyone.
“We know the suicide rate has been rising. How to bring it down? We don’t know the answer. I personally think it’s about changing everything that we are doing. I think talking about it is the most powerful thing we can do.”
Immediately following the event attendees could view the gallery of portraits. Many students found the presentation to be informative and eye-opening.
I didn’t understand suicide before now,” said Senior and Communications major, Omoniyi Alimi. “Now I kind of have an idea of what [people] go through and their experiences.”
DeJa’ Willingham, a Senior and Psychology major, believed that the event was an excellent way to start a productive discussion about mental health. “I believe that the presentation was meaningful,” she said. “I love her mission to break the silence about suicide. Suicide has affected UIS students, the US population, and me. I love that we have an event here where we can express how we feel. The event was CO-sponsored by: ECCE Speaker Series, UIS Visual Arts Gallery, and the Office of Gender & Sexuality Student Services. It was part of Queertober, a month-long celebration featuring educational and social events to raise awareness about LGBT issues at UIS.
If you’d like to learn more about Live Through This, you can visit the website at livethroughthis.org, or event get in contact with Dese’Rae herself through social media Twitter [@deseraestage and @lttphot], Facebook [Facebook.com/livethroughthisproject], and instagram Accounts [@_livethroughthis_]