During the 2013 National Loss Team Conference in partnership with OSPF, The Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, survivors, counselors, educators, providers and crisis line team members gathered to learn and share in a unique conference, ‘In the Journey of Loss, We Can Find Meaning Again’ September 10th & 11th. The keynote speakers were Frank Campbell, PhD, LCSW, CT, and John Jordan, PhD. The ultimate goal was to help engage positive action, train LOSS teams, and promote resiliency. Pomegranate has co-sponsored previous OSPF conferences, as a core part of its mission to help individuals and their families recover from mental illness.
In his workshop, ‘Grief After Suicide’, Dr. Jordan shared statistics on suicide, that, for instance, ‘90% have diagnosable psychiatric disorder- most often mood disorders.’ Jordan explained that suicide is ‘never the result of one thing.’ In looking at epidemiology, he said it is a public health problem with some 700,000-1,000,000 attempts/year in the U.S. – about 20-25 attempts for every completion. Worldwide, there are roughly 20 million attempts/year and 1 million completions. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 3rd for young people age 15-24.
For adolescents, impulsivity is a particular risk factor and there is also an elevated lifelong risk from trauma- particularly sexual/childhood trauma. The etiology (or causes) include genetic and biological factors-like low neurotransmitters, and medical disorders, personality, past experience, life stressors (such as role status loss), interpersonal connectedness (isolation produces higher risk), social issues (like LGBT, bullying), and the opportunity or access to means.
Grief after suicide is different because in addition to the ‘why?’ question- trying to make sense of the death, is the stigma associated with suicide and attendant sense of shame. Survivors may feel responsible; there is guilt and blame to deal with, coupled with anger at feelings of rejection and abandonment. Socially, survivors may not know how to behave and become isolated as a result. This type of death raises questions of information management- what to tell and what not. Jordan said grief is highly individual and there may be blame/scapegoating and anxiety because of the different grieving styles within a family as routines and rituals are disrupted and the family experiences a loss of cohesion.
After a suicide, survivors experience their own identity differently, in addition to changed relationships with others. Their outlook on life may shift. He advised (based on years of work with grief) that it is helpful for survivors to engage in activities that ‘honor the life of the loved one’; ‘keep their memory alive’; and ‘give a purpose and focus to your grief.’ Patience is required as one re-establishes new routines and explores different pathways to healing. Seek professional help if you experience intrusive thoughts, images or re-living the experience or other debilitating effects such as severe depression.
Some websites which might be helpful:
national action alliance for suicide prevention.org
http://www.pos-ffos.com/ parents and friends and families of suicide
http://www.afsp.org/ American foundation for suicide prevention
http://www.suicidegrief.com grief support forum
http://www.ohiospf.org or Ohio Suicide Prevention foundation
See the Suicide Warning Signs OSPF, whose slogan is ‘Connecting for Life’. If you have any question/doubt at all, ask the question; call. Take it seriously.