Support facing suicide

I am currently in Visalia, California, to attend and speak at the National Team Loss Conference. If you are not aware of the Team Loss concept, it is a postvention program for suicide prevention and support for survivors. I am surrounded by people from all over the country who are doing the work to help prevent suicide, help those who attempted suicide, and support those who have lost a loved one from suicide. They are dedicated to making mental health better nationwide. I am in awe.

Part of what I do when attending a conference is talk to others I encounter about why I am in the area, and to engage them in sharing their thoughts about grief and loss. This is no exception. Over the weekend I met a man who was here to fly model airplanes. His goal is to make days happier for those who join in joy of seeing the planes soar into the sky, and enjoying the air and sun. I explained why I was here, and he immediately said he was worried about the increasing rate of suicide. He felt helpless in the face of so many losses in so many age groups.

We shared our thoughts about the impact of stress and huge expectations that are not realistic for our children and teens. The leftover impact of the recession on those who are retired and how it changed their lives. The extreme negativity being engaged in across the airwaves- no matter which side you are on. The lack of enough support to make a difference for our veterans and their families. Healthcare costs. Lack of access to mental health care. Stigma. Did I mention this was in a hotel lobby at 10pm?

He said he was glad there was a group trying to make a concerted difference. He wanted to know how to support those who have losses from suicide. We talked for a while about being nonjudgmental, and holding space, not offering opinions to those who did not need them. We talked about listening for those who are struggling and asking them if they need help. And we decided that every little bit that each of us can do to make every encounter with someone positive, to distract those who need it with positive energy and attention until the self-destructive thoughts dissipate and they are safe in that moment, and to tell those we know that we really want them to remain in our lives are some of the small steps that all of us can take.

And I will work with those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Helping them finish the relationship, destigmatizing their death, addressing the trauma, and eventually reorganizing their lives so their loved one will stay with them as they move into a new life without that loved one by their side. Finally, helping them find a way to give back as they heal. Giving back as those who are here as survivors who have turned their loss into action to help others.

Let’s be good to those around us, and mindful that this is national Mental health Awareness Month. Getting help should be supported, not stigmatized. And loss should be spoken, not held in silence.