#SharedSecrets: Episode 15

When A Family Secret Involves Mental Illness and Suicide with Hope Litoff


“We can’t talk about the truth.” That’s the message Hope Litoff received when her parents lied to her about her older sister Ruth’s first suicide attempt at age 16, when Hope was 13. Ruth attempted suicide several more times through the years before eventually killing herself at age 42 in 2008. Hope is tracing her family’s journey in a documentary called “Rules to Live By,” and she joins me in this week’s episode of Shared Secrets to discuss the shock waves suicide can send through families and communities.

Hope says that Ruth’s mental illness and suicide attempts created a dangerous culture of silence in her family. Hope personally spent years faking eternal happiness to try to make up for her sister’s depression and mood swings. That led Hope down a path of substance abuse that eventually landed her in the intensive care unit, where she felt relieved that her own secret was finally revealed.

In the episode, we talk about the stigma still attached to suicide and mental illness; the sense of guilt and responsibility that often plagues surviving family members; and the power of community to heal.

More about Hope: Hope Litoff is a 20-year veteran documentary film editor. She began her career assisting filmmakers such as Ken Burns and Stephen Ives on “The West” and “Miss America.” She went on to edit such projects as “Keeper of the Cohen,” “College Boys Live” and “Seeing Sally,” all of which played in multiple film festivals. Her television credits include “Chasing the Crown” (WE), “The Well Seasoned Traveler” (A&E), and “Indie Sex” (IFP). Her forthcoming documentary, “Rules To Live By,” is her directorial debut.