Taking off the mask: Suicide survivor gives mental health talk at Darien Library
A happy, smiling face may be hiding a great deal of darkness — much like a mask.
This truth about hiding depression was offered by 24-year-old Emily Torchiana last Thursday, Oct. 18, at the Darien Public Library. Torchiana gave her talk to more than 100 attendees.
Torchiana knows this truth firsthand. Just a few years ago, while she appeared happy on the outside, she was contemplating ending her life. She eventually did attempt suicide.
Now in recovery, Torchiana is owner and founder of a nonprofit organization called lostgotfound, whose mission is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
She travels around the U.S. sharing her story and educating people on mental illness and suicide prevention.
She said she wants to let others know they are not alone, no matter what kind of issue they are going through.
Torchiana, who lives in Pennsylvania but is as cousin of the Genovese family in Darien, said she relates her struggle with mental illness to wearing a mask to hide it.
She then showed photos of herself in high school looking like she was having a great time at different sorority functions and when she was out with friends.
“I was wearing this mask because I didn’t want people to know what was going on inside,” she said.
On social media during that period, on “my Instagram, my Snapchat, and my Facebook, no had any idea that I was struggling,” she said. “Those are the times I was contemplating suicide, the times I felt very alone.”
Suicide is a mental illness and is not something that someone “chooses” to do, Torchiana said.
“Just like you have a physical illness, you can have a mental illness in your brain as well,” she said. “It’s not like you want to die. You have this tunnel vision where you can’t see all the people who care about you. You can’t see all the positive things in your life because this depression and these negative thoughts are just taking control of you.”
In Torchiana’s freshman year of high school, she was invited to a party by a girl who had never talked to her previously.
She went to the party and made some friends there. Later, she created a Facebook account where she posted photos of herself and her family and friends.
One day, she went onto Facebook and saw another profile of her that was anonymously created. The profile was making her photos into memes, which is an image, video, or piece of text that’s copied and spread on the Internet.
In a very quick period of time, the anonymous profile reached more than 1,000 people.
People whom Torchiana had never met before made comments on the profile such as “Why are you such a slut?,” “No one likes you,” and “You should just kill yourself.”
She soon started to believe the comments and began contemplating suicide.
“I started to feel super alone, super depressed,” she said. “I felt no one liked me and it would be better if I wasn’t here.”
She confided her feelings to her best childhood friend, and tragically, a week later, learned the friend was suffering from a malignant brain tumor.
In Torchiana’s sophomore year, her friend died.
This caused her to go into an even further depression, she said.
That day, Torchiana wrote suicide letters to her family and attempted suicide.
She woke up to her older brother crying over her body.
“Seeing my brother crying made me realize that there are people who do care about me and do love me,” she said.
The cyberbullying incident caused Torchiana to have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). She went to an intensive outpatient care unit and therapy every day with people who suffered from other conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, and drug addiction.
When she entered college, she began sharing her story in public talks. After doing so, she heard from many others who had their own stories to share.
Hearing so many stories of similar struggles made her realize she wasn’t alone.
Torchiana’s talk was sponsored by the Darien Library, The Depot Youth Center and the YWCA of Darien/Norwalk.
She was trained by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She has given more than 500 talks throughout the United States.
Torchiana is the 2017 recipient of the National Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award. She is also a TEDx speaker.
At the end of her talk, Torchiana asked everyone to put their hand over their heart. As they felt their heart beating, she said, “Tell people who are struggling, you are alive for a reason. Nothing would be the same if you did not exist. The world would not be the same without you.”
For more information, visit lostgotfound.org.
Fast facts about mental illness
- 75% of mental illnesses develop before the age of 24, usually in adolescence or early adulthood.
- Males and females equally have mental illnesses.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States of 15- to 24-year-olds.
Risk factors for depression and suicide
- Individuals with low self esteem
- Someone who has been abused
- LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people who have recently come out and were rejected by their sexuality
- Death of a close family member
How to help
- Reach out. Tell someone.
- Show support, listen, and be non-judgemental.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
The Crisis Text Line is MHA to 741-741.