Since 2010, photographer Dese'Rae Stage has been focusing her lens on an issue that's often treated like a dirty word: suicide.
Nearly 200 survivors of suicide attempts agreed to let Stage use their names, tell their stories and take a portrait for a project called "Live Through This."
"You hear that word suicide and you think, 'I don't want to go there.' This project is not about death. This project is about life. And my work is about life," Stage said.
On her website, Stage publishes the photos and each person's story in their own words.
"The first time I attempted suicide, I was a junior in high school. It was around the time of college applications. Everyone's like, 'We need to figure out our future.' I was like, 'Oh, god. I can't do that. I have no idea.' Plus, I'd been depressed for a few years, starting in middle school, so it was that and the uncertainty of leaving high school. I had no idea what I was doing, but apparently I should have known at that point, which is a terrible thing to tell teenagers," said Beverly Kikuta.
"August 2, 2008 was my day. A lot of things had been happening in my life that led me up to that moment. I can't remember what was the trigger on the actual day. It was a [Sunday] morning, but I had been leading up to that moment. I knew I wasn't happy with where my life had ended up. I knew that I thought I had been a failure," said Dave Jenkins.
"From an early age, I almost felt like there was a black cloud over my head. I was just always kind of sad, and I also had ADHD, so I was seeing a psychiatrist early on for medication. I got used to the medication and then feelings and exploring all of that. Growing up in Georgia was really tough for me. I didn't fit in anywhere. I was like a black goth in the South, which that in itself is impossible," said Kelechi Marie.
"My story of suicide began when I was 11. When I was 11, my mother [attempted] suicide and [tried to] kill our family, as well. By gassing everybody. My mother, at that point, was a single mother, and there were three of us. Four of us! Me, my younger sister, who was three, and then my older sister, who must have been 13. We had no money," said Angela Ursury.
"I grew up in a really interesting family. My mom was a psychiatric nurse, and my dad was a car salesman. My dad would tell us lots of stories about his life and growing up, and my dad is a wonderful man, but he was a bit of a wild man. He would tell me stories about what high school was like for him. He was always on the edge—and here I was, this kind of dorky kid. I wanted to be a popular kid. I wanted to be one of the kids that was on the edge, but I was afraid. It really wasn't much of a conflict—or I didn't think it was," said Bart Andrews.
"It started, I guess, when I was 13. I was living in North Carolina and I lived with my mom. She's a single mom and she got cancer when I was 13 and I think that's when I started being depressed and I started cutting myself as a release for that. And when I was 14, I was in eighth grade and she died, and I didn't know my dad at all, so my friend's mom got in contact with him because we didn't talk at all. So he came down and he met me and he took custody of me," said Natasha Winn.
"I actually started cutting when I was 13 and I cut on my face, right below my right eye. The first time I cut, I remember me and my buddy were painting my bedroom blue and we had a bare light bulb and he had walked out of the room to get something and I was painting around the light bulb. Well, the paintbrush touched the bulb and it blew up, and for some reason, I just picked up the glass and just started slashing my face with it and my buddy came and said, "Oh my god what happened to your face?" said Cleo DeLoner.
After a night at the movies with her parents, "we go home, and they say goodnight, and I go to my room and I have—I think I was taking two different medications, and I took as much of both of them as I could swallow. I changed and I went to go to bed," said Shayda Kafai.
"I think what the missing piece was for me in a lot of that stuff was sort of recognizing what you're feeling instead of sort of being taken up in it, and realizing the patterns that take place and happen, and realizing that it's okay. I think a lot of it is based in this weird resistance to that. Like, 'It's not okay that I feel like this,' and it's a circuit that just breaks, and then that's when like the bad [stuff] goes on... The turning point was realizing these feelings are okay to have. It's gonna pass. Instead of, you know, getting angry about, 'This shouldn't be like that,'" said Paolo Sambrano.
The full stories of all these survivors and more can be found at the Live Through This website.