Three years ago, on March 24, 2017, the mental health community lost a wonderful advocate and inspiring individual who created and started Project Semicolon. The project connected people in the mental health community where the organization encouraged others to remember that you have the power to continue your story, even when you think it is over, just like in a sentence.
I was inspired by Amy’s project, like many others were, to get a semicolon tattoo to remember that no matter what struggles life brings my way, I have the opportunity to inspire and help others, while I continue my own life story. Amy’s legacy continues as people are still using the semicolon symbol in their art, tattoo choices and conversations about mental illness.
It was a painful and confusing time for the mental health community when Amy died by suicide. Amy was someone who spoke openly about mental illness, challenged the stigma, and advocated for awareness and change. Her father died by suicide and Amy lived with anxiety and depression from the time she was 8 years old. Amy did not let the stigma behind mental health issues stop her from opening up about her experiences with suicidal ideation and previous suicide attempts. Many people looked up to Amy as a power of example. She was the essence of surviving mental illness and brought inspiration to many who were struggling every day with holding on.
When the news came out about Amy’s death, there was much confusion and anxiety amongst people who saw Amy and her project as a representation of strength, hope, and courage. Some people who began to second guess themselves and the message they heard about their own capabilities and strength to overcome suicidal ideation and other mental health issues. Through the confusion and feelings of despair, there were online resources that stepped up to help normalize the feelings around the devastating news of Amy’s death. Mental Health on the Mighty created an open dialogue for people to share their feelings on social media and also gain support during this very complex situation. Soon after, other social media outlets built a foundation of reconfirming Amy’s project goals and continued to share the work she did.
On Amy’s project website, she had written:
“Despite the wounds of a dark past, I was able to rise from the ashes, proving that the best is yet to come. When my life was filled with the pain of rejection, bullying, suicide, self-injury, addiction, abuse and even rape, I kept on fighting. I didn’t have a lot of people in my corner, but the ones I did have kept me going. In my 20 years of personally struggling with mental health I experienced many stigmas associated with it. Through the pain came inspiration and a deeper love for others. God wants us to love one another despite the label we wear. I do pray my story inspires others. Please remember there is hope for a better tomorrow.”
Through the grief and confusion, this situation was a reminder of how much work still needed to be done in suicide prevention. It also became a reflective time for mental health advocates to recognize that things can be ever-changing for someone living with a mental illness.
Amy’s death did not end her plan to normalize mental illness and create safe spaces to share and be open about mental health. Even though she is gone her legacy continues. “Amy’s life was a testament that one person can truly make a difference,” said a statement from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Amy is still very much talked about in the mental health communities as someone who overcame tremendous obstacles, pain and was able to transform that pain into helping others. Many people that wanted to end their life and chose to stay because of Amy’s work and the willingness to share her story.
Amy will forever be here in spirit. I do not see her story as over just because she is gone. Her story has carried on in conversations about how we can do better in the mental health fields, how she continues to inspire others when people google her name, her project or her quotes, and for everyone that uses the semicolon symbol to signify overcoming their mental health barriers. Amy will always be a guiding light for many; her story will continue.