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Tayja Cox knows more than the numbers associated with suicide.
She knows what means to not want to live any longer.
There were so many times I didn’t think I would make it to this point,” Cox said.
Cox is originally from Belton, Missouri but now lives in Lee’s Summit. Her first suicide attempt was at 14 years old.
“I had just moved schools and I was the new girl and didn’t really know anybody,” Cox said. “Some of my friends that I thought were my friends at the time, they were just kinda not being kind to me and someone told me over text message that I should just kill myself.”
But that was only the beginning of her battle with self harm.
“When I was 15, I tried to take my own life again and when I was 16, there was another incident,” Cox said. “And then, after that, I just kind of decided that I would like to not be alive, but I didn’t want to hurt my family or anybody.”
September is National Suicide Prevention month and the statistics are heartbreaking.
There were 48,183 Americans that died by suicide and 1.7 million attempts in the U.S., acording to the data from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention retrieved in May 2023.
In Missouri, the death rate for every 100,000 people was 18.7, or 1,177 deaths, according to data from the CDC.
Partners in Prevention reports 44% of Missouri college students report having suicidal thoughts and that 1.8% of those students report attempting suicide.
Cox thought that if she did not overtly try to take her life, then it would hopefully not hurt her family.
“I just stopped eating. I went from 125 pounds down to 67 pounds,” she said.
But what she didn’t realize was that her eating disorder was just another form of self harm that her family still noticed.
“My sister, she was 16, she passed away a few year ago from mental health,” Cox said. “And she was the one that kind of told my family that something was really wrong with me.”
Cox embarked on a journey to gain her weight back. But with her gain, came another loss. Her sister ended up taking her own life after struggling with mental health issues. Cox has also lost a brother to violence.
Now, her mother, aunt, grandmother and boyfriend are her primary support system.
“All of my family members have been the biggest supporters and has helped me through every day and reminds me when I do fall back into that darkness, reminds me of the truth that I am loved and that I am worthy and that my life matters and I matter,” Cox said.
She also has someone in her life now she never expected: Robin Walsh.
“It’s ironic how our paths are crossed with people,” Walsh said. “I had asked her at the time when she was sharing that she had attempted suicide. I asked her if she was still in counseling and she told me she quit for a while because she couldn’t afford it. And that’s what our mission is.”
Walsh started the nonprofit, Choose 2 Live, three years ago to provide help for and spread awareness about suicide prevention.
It also stemmed from her own personal journey with self harm.
“At the age of 21, I attempted to take my own life, then years later I realized my calling in life was to help people make it through the things I was struggling with,” Walsh said.
She and Cox met at the annual Choose 2 Live Suicide Awareness Walk in 2022. Cox went to the walk by herself and left with a brand new relationship and resources.
“We were able to get her into affordable counseling for her and she’s still going, here we are a year out,” Walsh said.
Over the years, Walsh’s work in the mental health sphere has taught her many things, particularly regarding mental illnesses and the stigmas surrounding them.
“Committed is a crime,” Walsh said. “You commit murder, you commit robbery, you don’t commit suicide. You die by suicide, it’s an illness. It’s not something that should ever be labeled as a crime.”
Cox says everyone can play a role in helping to prevent suicide.
She said that starts with showing compassion.
“You never know, never know what people are going through,” Cox said. “Just one mean, hurtful word can push someone over the edge.”
And even though she felt over the edge at one point, Cox is happily on the other side.
She says she still has her bad days, but her support system is what continues to encourage and motivate her. In addition, faith keeps the two women strong.
“Just being in the present moment, and looking forward to what God has in store," Cox said "I’m looking forward to graduating with my nursing degree in the future. I’m looking forward to eventually having children and getting married."
For those who feel they don’t have a support system or anyone to turn to, Walsh says there’s still hope.
“Go to a parent, if the parent doesn’t listen like you feel you need to be heard, go to a teacher, go to a pastor, go to a policeman, just go to somebody and keep going to somebody until you feel you are being heard,” Walsh said. “Just don’t give up.”
For more information on how to get connected with Choose 2 Live, visit their website at choose2live.org.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues or suicidal thoughts and actions, text or call the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988.