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Founder of mental health organization opens up about first time she attempted suicide -- She was only 12

Paige Gaines said she struggled with anxiety throughout school and felt like she didn't have the right to speak up about her feelings.

ATLANTA — This story contains content about death by suicide involving children. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.

911 Sane Jane is a mental health organization that aims to decrease the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health in African American communities. Its founder, Paige Gaines, created the organization with hopes of making information and resources on both topics more accessible to her community.

The birth of 911 Sane Jane is personal to Gaines. She first attempted suicide at age 12, but the feelings began to stir years before that. 

“I was 10 years old, so I had no language. I just knew I was sad and I knew I was lonely and I knew I didn't want to be here anymore," she said. 

She struggled with anxiety throughout school and felt like she didn't have the right to speak up about her feelings.  Two years later, Gaines would take the opportunity to validate her own feelings. She said she took pill after pill. 

“[I] waited for something to happen and nothing happened. So I just lay down, closed my eyes, and then the following morning I woke up.”

Credit: Courtesy of Paige Gaines
Paige Gaines

And she remembers the exact feeling she had when she woke up that next morning: Sadness and anger. No one knew about what happened that night for nearly a decade.

“I had the burden of knowing I tried to take my own life," Gaines said. "So not only did I have to live in silence about my depression and my anxiety and my suicidal ideations, I actually had to live with the fact that I had an attempt and nobody knew."

From that moment, she said she knew she needed help. However, her emotions escalated. Gaines said even after her first attempt, she never thought she would make it to the age of 25.  At 22, Gaines again tried to die by suicide. That attempt led to a bipolar disorder diagnosis that changed her life. She wrote an article about her experience that went viral and began receiving invitations to speak to youth.

Credit: WXIA
Paige Gaines

RELATED: She attempted suicide at 12 years old, but now she helps others cope with pain

The response to her story led her to start 911 Sane Jane years later.

“Resources include just having that transparent conversation. So it can range from a pamphlet, it can range from a speaker, it can range from a workshop, conferences, a phone number, a text line. It can be anything,” said Gaines.

Gaines said young people need tools to help them get each other through difficult times.

“We train police officers, we train doctors and things like that and suicide prevention,  but if you train the teenager that's sitting next to the teenager that's suicidal, they can recognize those signs," she said. "So I believe it's really about educating that core group that are going through those challenges."

Her company aims to do some of that work. Gaines can be reached through her website, 911sanejane.com. She’s also on Instagram and Facebook.

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