Buckelew Board Member Breaks the Silence for Suicide Attempt Survivors & Recovering Addicts

– JD
Schramm, JD

Two roads brought JD Schramm to Buckelew Programs in early 2022.

The first road – the one JD calls “the less interesting” path – was his longtime friendship with Buckelew board member Scott Maclise, who urged JD to join the board because he knew their missions aligned. In the early 1990s JD worked for Scott for just a few months as an administrative assistant, but the two formed a lifelong friendship.

The second path was much longer and rockier.

On June 11, 2003, during “a very dark night of the soul,” JD climbed up the Manhattan Bridge and leaped into the murky waters below.

“At that moment, I did not think life was worth living,” JD says. “It was after a particularly rough weekend when I had another slip with drugs and alcohol. I remember thinking, ‘I’m just one of those people who’s never going to get it.’”

Outwardly, it looked like JD had a great life during that summer of 2003. He’d just signed the contract selling his New York apartment for a six-figure profit. And he’d accepted a teaching position with NYU’s Stern School of Business, where he’d recently earned his master’s degree.

Yet, behind that façade was a young man who had fallen behind on his mortgage, was facing jail time for his third DUI, and using crack cocaine. JD was quietly struggling with gripping depression and addiction, which he’d been fighting since his teens.

JD grew up in Kansas, the son of an alcoholic father in recovery. “For my entire life, I saw the struggle and the power of sobriety,” he says. “I probably went to my first AA meeting at age 5, tagging along with my dad. I went to my first AA meeting as a participant at about 13.”

The day he jumped off that bridge, he was due to fly home to Kansas. His dad was waiting at the airport to pick him up. He ended up waiting all day, finally driving home without his son and not knowing why.

JD’s punishing impact with the East River that day shattered his right arm, broke all his ribs, and punctured a lung but miraculously left him alive. As he floated downriver, passengers on the Staten Island ferry heard his screams and called for help. The Coast Guard fished JD out of the icy water, and he was transported to Bellevue Hospital.

“The people at Bellevue were more committed to my life than I was,” JD remembers.

That was a turning point in JD’s journey in recovery: One month in Bellevue, 28 days in rehab, a jail stint for the DUI, a month at a residential treatment home in the Colorado mountains, and a lifetime of healing and transformation.

Today, JD advocates with passion for mental health services and breaking the collective silence surrounding suicide, depression, and addiction. He’s spoken at TED and has coached scores of others to do the same. He also volunteers weekly as a Crisis Text Line counselor and is writing a book about his journey he calls “The Bridge Back: My Journey from the Edge of Death to the Center of Life.”

The first time JD stepped on a stage to publicly tell his story was for his 2011 TED Talk, “Breaking the Silence for Suicide Attempt Survivors.”

“When I lost a beloved teacher in 2006 and a good friend in 2010 to suicide,” he told the Palm Springs audience, “I knew I needed to step out of my silence and past my taboos to talk about an idea worth spreading – that people who made the difficult decision to come back to life need more resources.”

JD’s desire to break the silence and advocate for more mental health resources is exactly why Buckelew’s mission resonates deeply with him.

“What really inspires me about Buckelew is the extensive menu of services we support,” he explains. “We can meet people’s needs wherever they are – from answering their 988 suicide helpline calls during their greatest moment of crisis to helping those who need inpatient, residential, or outpatient services.”

While JD dedicates his talents as a writer and speaker to mental health awareness advocacy, he also clarifies that his suicide attempt doesn’t define him.

“I am defined by the life I have created since that moment,” he says, pointing to his husband, three children, advocacy, and career as a communications consultant, university professor, and keynote speaker.

“I know that each day is a bonus,” JD says. “It’s a blessing, and I don’t take it for granted.”

For more, watch JD’s talks and recent media interview: