That time poetry killed the suicide plan

A recent headline caught our attention: “How a poem helped save a suicidal teen’s life.”

The article chronicles how a simple school assignment had a powerful impact. An English teacher requested that her class enter the 2015 Library of Congress “Letters about Literature” contest, which required each student to write a letter to an author with whom the student felt a connection. Sixteen year old Aidan chose to write a letter to poet Mary Oliver based on the poem, “When Death Comes.”

Aidan, who had experienced depression since the age of 10, had become suicidal. But the poem’s final line of “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world” touched Aidan in a way she didn’t expect. It gave her hope.

“Suicide would eliminate my pain, yes, but it also closed any doors of possibility that I might have still open to me,” she wrote in her letter, “Doors that may lead to happiness in my future.”

Aidan ultimately won first place in the “Letters about Literature” contest, but the more important story is that she no longer sees suicide as her answer.

The power of the written and spoken word to promote healing is widespread. In fact, we’ve come across other recent articles in the news that demonstrate how words affect us.

Comedian, theater artist, and radio talk show host Brian Copeland is reviving his 2012 show, “Waiting Period,” to widen the conversation about depression and suicide, especially among teens.

Copeland has talked and exchanged e-mails with people who have told him the show saved their lives or helped them better understand their child’s suicide or spouse’s depression. He plans to offer the show free to the public every Sunday in 2016.

And teens themselves are beginning to express themselves through words, plays and public service announcements to help soothe the minds of their fellow classmates and to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

Whether it’s our words, your words, or the words of famous authors and poets—these stories demonstrate that words can bring comfort and healing.

In Aidan’s case, the poem did not suddenly turn everything around, but it did open her eyes to her desire for a future. “I am still alive today,” in part, thanks to a poem, she wrote in her letter.

And that should give us all hope.