Each day, from every corner of the world, people left in the devastating aftermath of suicide call out to other survivors of such loss wherever they gather. It is helpful to connect with people who have experienced similar tragedies and are trying to make sense of what happened to their lives.
Another, more painful reason they seek comfort from strangers is this: in the case of suicide, those who knew them best often withdraw or are unable to help because of misunderstanding and fear. Most do survive and go on to rebuild, but some experience multiple suicides and a few follow loved ones by ending their own lives.
As a survivor myself, I listen to their voices. I hear the pain they feel. I share it. And I try to pass on the positive things I’ve learned on my own grief journey.
Healing is possible.
It won’t always feel as heavy as it does now.
Love outlasts pain.
I’m an old-timer in the suicide loss survivor world. But I know some level of hurt will always be there, even as they find ways to honor lost loved ones and stitch their own lives back together. Understanding, acceptance, processing this grief … all are bits of a puzzle never to be completely worked, a mystery that changes lives forever.
Though these words were in print, I heard the despair as one parent asked, “Why are there so many 19-year-old sons dying by suicide?”
By now, it is common knowledge that the epidemic is growing and has been for quite a while. The current pandemic and its effects on jobs and the economy have added to the toll worldwide. For young children, teens, and adults of every age, there are no barriers to suicide, no 100-percent prevention methods. Love cannot stop a person from taking his or her life. Even constant vigilance can’t prevent such tragedies.
For all the work done in the prevention area — which is so very important — no economic class or race is immune to suicide. Little is known about survivors left behind, though that is beginning to change as survivors themselves speak out.
Suicide is now a public health problem as well as a mental health problem. What do we need to do to break this cycle?
Suicide isolates. It generates fear. A millennia of myths and disinformation have shrouded everything about suicide in a cloak of secrecy. So, the first and most important thing we can do is tear that cloak away and find out what is true and what is false. The second most important thing to do is to share the truths we find with others, especially younger generations whose life experience and knowledge base may not be as developed on the issue.
Research and education can only go so far in changing how suicide is viewed. And the challenge is great as can be proven by sharp division over something as simple as the infection-prevention method of wearing masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. If people can be so divided by today’s spread of myths and disinformation related to the pandemic, what hope is there for increased understanding of suicide and its aftereffects?
Hope comes in many forms. Here are a few.
Don’t turn away. Find out what might help survivors after a suicide and implement that. Community education programs guided by mental health centers or local mental health professionals need to set up in every area, large and small. The resources already present need to receive support and funding to help get their materials and opportunities out to communities.
Spread the truth. Materials about suicide prevention and suicide loss aftercare are available and should be explained to every outlet that deals with possible suicide victims. Fire departments, law enforcement, EMS units, hospitals, local counselors and mental/behavioral health centers, doctors, civic organizations, food banks and other relief organizations. Educate your local news outlets as well. Well-written news stories do not sensationalize suicide, but they can offer hope and resources that actually prevent suicide contagion and clusters.
Do what you can. When a suicide occurs in your community, do something. Coordinate with churches or relief groups to send a representative to the family. Bring a “care kit” containing information about local and online support, a fact sheet about suicide, a book about surviving this kind of loss, and other items that might provide care in the first days and weeks post loss. Even a case of bottled water and encouragement to stay hydrated can help.
Invite speakers. Ask people with related experience to present material and answer questions in schools, churches, places of employment and other locations. From college campuses to fall festivals, reaching people is important.
Saving lives begins and ends with you.