It is difficult to find words to express the impact Amy Bleuel had on the world. Late last week, The Mighty broke the news that the 31-year-old mental health advocate had died, and it is no exaggeration to say hundreds of thousands of people across the world felt the weight of this.
As a mental health advocate and survivor of my own struggle with depression, I was one of those people. And though my interaction with Amy, who was the founder of the non-profit movement Project Semicolon was fleeting, I knew her work in advocacy went far deeper than a simple semicolon tattoo.
She started Project Semicolon in 2015, in remembrance of her father who had passed away due to suicide. After posting a photo of her own tattoo online (with the idea that “in literature it is used for a pause and not to end a sentence. It is saying you are the author, the sentence is your life and you are choosing to continue,” as she told Warcry back in 2016). It went viral, and people of every creed had it tattooed on their bodies.
For some it was a reminder that life is worth fighting for. For others it was in memoriam to a loved one gone too soon. From now on, every semicolon tattoo people bear will also be for Amy.
I had an unusual connection with Amy. I had spoken to her in 2016 about her incredible story and why she started the movement. We corresponded about the piece, and after trading some mental health resources for our home countries she agreed to write a commendation for a book I wrote about my own journey with mental illness.
I didn’t know Amy intimately, but I knew her enough to realise that her incredible spirit has left an unfathomable foot print on this world. She spoke about her experiences and day-to-day struggles with depression and suicidal ideation in a way that made you believe the most beautiful things are often first inextricably broken.
“My story is one of great trial and great pain,” she said to me. “Overcoming that and staying alive is really a miracle.”
As this quote illustrates, Amy was a fearless warrior who not only aided many in their own battle with depression, but who fought her own demons beside them.
The ripple effect of Amy’s passing has left the mental health community gutted. More often than not, people enter the realm of mental health advocacy because they have experienced it themselves.
Suicide Prevention activist and founder of Live Through This Dese’Rae L. Stage was one of the first people to post about Amy’s passing, and she pointed out that, “Often, the calling to suicide prevention comes close on the heels of a near miss with an attempt, or the suicide death of someone we love, and it comes with urgency. In that way, it puts many of us in a precarious position: we so desperately want to save others from suicide that we forget to save ourselves. We dive in with our life raft before we learn to swim.”
The news that Amy had passed by suicide therefore rocked advocates, survivors and the mental health community as a whole. When someone who fearlessly advocates for life passes away due to the very thing she was fighting against, there is a very real fear that her message will be lost in the chaos that ensues.
It would be a disservice to Amy to ignore her passing for fear that it is the full stop in the conversation she worked so hard to start. That is the very lie Amy challenged with her existence, and she proved that our greatest strength lies in talking about our struggles, not hiding them.
Amy was a victor, not a victim; a champion of people everywhere who felt alone. As The Sports Network’s Off The Record and mental health activist Michael Landsberg said,“She won (her battle) because she saved others. She changed lives. What could (you) possibly do that was better than that?”
The world owes a great debt to Amy Bleuel. And her legacy will continue to live on in the countless lives she saved with the message: “you are loved”.
If you are struggling and need support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.