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Mary Ellen Wolfe

“Many young people need a safe space to fall apart or to fail. Failure is so integral to learning and future success, but there seems to be so much pressure on young people to perform.”
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City: Sioux Falls, S.D.

Age: 42

What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?

I lost a loved one to suicide 17 years ago. Since this loss, I’ve found myself struggling, too, with bouts of anxiety, depression and complicated grief—even suicidality. The feelings of abandonment and fear are intense when you lose a loved one, especially with lingering questions and no forewarning. After my loved one died, I struggled with nearly constant fear the rug would get yanked out from under me again. The world no longer seemed safe anymore.

But the last few years I’ve come to a place of greater peace. While the process involves regular self-care, I’ve also had a few changes of mind that were pivotal leaps forward.

One pivotal moment was when I realized I could heal myself. There was a stretch when not a single person—not even mental health professionals—seemed to offer consolation or understanding. I’d never felt so much despair. All alone one night, I sat in this space between life and death, a moment of choice. I felt an overwhelming temptation to take my life. Death was right there, so close. It seemed almost simpler to die than to live. But I remembered how it felt to lose my loved one to suicide and decided I couldn’t inflict the same pain on others. I said “No” inside to death.

I was crying so hard, nearly hysterical, when suddenly I felt peace come over me. I began talking to myself, out loud, in the midst of crying: “It’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna make it. You’re strong. Even if you’re all alone, I’m here for you.” As I was saying this to myself, I was thinking of other people who were depressed or suicidal, too. I could almost feel the collective pain of others. And the compassion I felt for others, in that moment, I felt finally for myself, too.

I still suffer moments of intense despair when I feel entirely alone. But I’m training myself to pause and draw on this peace and comfort as a constant. I offer myself hope by creating a safe space inside to fall apart.

These moments usually precede some great step forward. Life’s journey has hard stretches, but if you refuse to accept death and open your mind to life, you, too, can offer yourself peace and comfort in these dark moments of life.



What resources have helped you to address this challenge?

There are so many different types of care, including, of course, counseling.

I’ve found cognitive behavioral therapy a valuable way to open your mind to new patterns of thinking. I’ve come to see my mind was very narrow and closed in certain areas. A shift in mindset literally can change your life.

If you have recurrent fears and anxiety, even if you haven’t been outright abused or suffered what we consider a typical “trauma,” I highly recommend a person consider trauma counseling. A person can develop complex PTSD from emotional neglect or emotional abuse or even from dysfunctional families or communities.

I’ve found the trauma therapy tools nearly miraculous. It helped release me recurring, intrusive fears through what seemed pretty straightforward techniques. It takes a while to build up the personal trust to get into the frame of mind to use the trauma healing tools, but it is worth it. I cannot say enough positives about trauma therapy.

Creativity is a surprising and profound healing outlet. I was never a “creative kid” growing up. I never received much nurturing or notice in this area. But one day I decided to write down the story of losing my loved one to suicide. It helped me lay down the past and find peace. And I paint out all the madness and intensity when I can’t figure out how to say it with words. I first paint anger or sadness or frustration or fear and then over top of that I paint peace or loved or joy. I’ve learned literally to paint my way to peace.


Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges?

I’m going to be very honest here. I think we live in a repressed community. There is so much left “unsaid.” Highly sensitive people often sense the underlying tension, stress or resentment or even judgment. What is unsaid is just as, or more, harmful than what is said.

I speak with many people every day who feel scared to express their real selves. They feel unsafe sharing their pain or doubts. There is such a pervasive pressure in this community to appear successful and to appear in control. Many young people need a safe space to fall apart or to fail. Failure is so integral to learning and future success, but there seems to be so much pressure on young people to perform. They also need a safe space to let it out—–to get angry or express frustration or despair or need. We need adults—we need parents—we need community leaders, who lead by example and can handle the needs of youth in this regard.

There is a real need in our community for empathetic listening. There is a need for people who have learned to converse on depression or anxiety or suicidality without fear or without fix-it optimism. There is a need for people who have walked through their own pain and feel comfortable conversing on the topic.

We live in a community that needs a greater awareness of boundaries. When people say, in the context or family, community or religion, that they love you, yet don’t accept you as you are and try to change you into their mold of what is ideal, the confusion is so damaging, especially to young people.

When people say they love you, yet deny or minimize your feelings, or make fun of you for seeking therapy, or mess with your head and put you down one moment then praise you the next, or treat you as less-than because you won’t let them control you—this is damaging.

In short, we need to learn how to love people without control or repression—we need to create a safe space for people to give voice to less-than-perfect feelings.


What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?

There is great peace in letting yourself fail and believing you will be OK even if you have to go it alone.

In crisis?

Call or text 988.

Mary Ellen's Resources

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Trauma counseling


The Lost&Found Association came to life in 2010 thanks to a team of soon-to-be college students committed to making a difference in the lives of peers struggling with depression and suicide.

Today, Lost&Found is a growing education and advocacy nonprofit that serves students on 15 college campuses, offering resilience-building programming and connecting students in need with support communities.