It has been 7 years since my brother's suicide and I still find people that I've known for years who have lost someone to suicide, yet never mentioned a thing about it. I get it. It's not a fun topic of conversation. But it is something that shouldn't be stifled either.
The stigma of suicide loss is so great that often as survivors we worry about what others will think.
What will they think about our family?
What will they think of my loved one that passed?
What will they think of me?
There is incredible guilt and endless unanswered questions. It takes time to fully grasp the idea of never having answers to the things we desperately want to know. The truth is, our voice can ease the pain that we've experienced. If we can't talk about what we've experienced or how it has affected us, how can we live a peaceful and contented life?
In Psychology Today, Dr. Deborah Serani estimates that there are 6 suicide loss survivors per death (people that are directly affected or intimately traumatized by the death). Dr. Serani's article was published in 2013 and she estimated nearly 5 million suicide loss survivors. I can safely say that this number is indeed much larger than 5 million today, leaving millions of individuals suffering in silence.
I want you to know that if you have suffered a loss from suicide, that there is great power in sharing your story in a safe manner, when you are ready. If you have lost someone you love to suicide, I challenge you to post a picture to social media with the hashtag #survivorofsuicideloss. No longer will we be silent.
Why share a picture? Anyone who has suffered loss from suicide deserves to feel understood, accepted, and loved. Sharing a picture and using your voice says a real loud, "SCREW YOU!" to the stigma of suicide loss and mental health overall. Moreover, it opens the door to real and honest conversations about mental health. The world needs this. . . today more than ever before.
Suicide rates have been rising in the United States over the last 20 years and the latest rates (2018) are the worst since 1941 (Reger, Stanley & Joiner, 2020). A new article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests the worst might be yet to come in regards to suicide rates with COVID-19's public health interventions. As humans we NEED connection. If we cannot be together physically, we need to make an effort to connect with others, for their health and our own. It could be a Zoom call or park date, a phone call or a walk. The most important thing is how you feel and how you make others feel.
People oftentimes aren't sure of how to approach someone that has suffered a suicide loss. Here are some suggestions:
Don't avoid the subject. Say our loved one's name.
Offer an open ear. Sometimes people just need someone to listen. Nothing more, nothing less.
Don't give advice. Avoid giving advice. Suicide loss isn't an easy thing to navigate and each person's grief is different. Leave this to the experts.
Support your friend. Offer a meal or a movie night. Try to be someone that your friend can count on.
Don't be shy. When your friend mentions a song or smell that reminds them of their loved one, lean into that conversation a little bit. Positive memories are something to be treasured.
I'm not sure what Paul Simon meant when he sang "Silence like a cancer grows" in The Sound of Silence, but I believe that silence in regards to suicide is like a cancer without treatment. The stigma grows if we remain silent. Let's share our pictures and our voices in an effort to #RiseUp.
Note: We are all in different phases of grief and recovery from suicide loss. Please do not share if you are not ready.
If you are a survivor of suicide, here are some resources to support you:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Awareness and Voices of Education
Reger MA, Stanley IH, Joiner TE. Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019—A Perfect Storm? JAMA Psychiatry. Published online April 10, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.1060
Serani, Deborah. (2013). Understanding Survivors of Suicide Loss: Suicide is a Death Like No Other. Psychology Today. Retrieved August 5, 2020 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/two-takes-depression/201311/understanding-survivors-suicide-loss