Some of my saddest moments have been in the presence of mothers and fathers whose children died by suicide or adult children that lost a parent to suicide. Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide is considered a survivor of suicide.
The American Psychiatric Association ranks the trauma of losing a loved one to suicide as “catastrophic.” Shock, confusion, despair, abandonment, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, and the gamut of emotions ensue. And the “why” question.
“The loss of a loved one by suicide is often shocking, painful and unexpected. The grief that ensues can be intense, complex and long term. Grief and bereavement are an extremely individual and unique process. There is no given duration to being bereaved by suicide. Survivors of suicide are not looking for their lives to return to their prior state because things can never go back to how they were. Survivors aim to adjust to life without their loved one.” www.suicidology.org/.
In 2016, Ohio State Representative Marlene Anielski introduced legislation (House Bill 440) that would designate the Saturday before Thanksgiving as “Ohio Survivors of Suicide Loss Day” to recognize those Ohioans who have been affected by suicide loss. Gov. Kasich signed House Bill 440 into law in 2017. Anielski’s son, Joseph Anielski, was an 18-year-old high school senior when he died by suicide in March 2010.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, family history of suicide and mental or substance abuse disorder are among the most prevalent risk factors for suicide in the United States. “A well-known case is the novelist Ernest Hemingway’s family, in which five members over four generations died from completed suicides.”
A person’s risk factor is increased to complete suicide if a family member has taken his or her own life.
Ohio Outreach to Suicide Survivors
The Franklin County Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS) support the bereaved by suicide as first responders and through the months that follow. As First Responders, Franklin County LOSS provides 24/7 accessibility of trained volunteers to the Coroner’s office, local law enforcement and hospital chaplains.
The LOSS model is an active model of postvention—the word used to describe the support those of a suicide loss need. A LOSS Team is made up of trained volunteers, many of whom are survivors of a suicide loss, who go to the scene of a suicide to provide support, resources and to be an installation of hope to those who are left behind. www.franklincountyloss.org/.
There are 27 Ohio counties with LOSS programs. The Four County L.O.S.S. Team includes Fulton, Defiance, Henry, and Williams Counties. www.4countysuicideprevention.org/. Delaware, Knox, Tuscarawas, Carroll, Licking, Montgomery, Lorain, Columbiana, Allen, Auglaize, Hardin, Ashtabula, Clark, Greene, Madison, Champaign, and Logan Counties utilize the LOSS model as well.
How to Help Someone Who Lost a Loved One to Suicide
“People who have lost a loved one to suicide can experience an intense form of grief. Experts recommend the following strategies for supporting them. To help a suicide loss survivor feel less alone, be physically and emotionally present for them. To help reduce feelings of guilt, remind them that suicide is complex and they are not to blame for the death of their loved one. Reassure them that feelings such as anger, sadness, and self-doubt are normal. Follow the loss survivor’s lead in the conversation—let them decide how much they want to share. Celebrate the life of the person who died instead of focusing on the details of their death.” Suicide Prevention Resource Center. www.sprc.org/.
There are residents in Scioto County that have experienced mental health trauma, grief, and loss from loved ones that died from suicide. According to a 2016 article in the Portsmouth Daily Times, five employees died by suicide in 1 year at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. Coworkers are left with grief and questions.
For questions about a LOSS Team in southern Ohio, contact the ADAMHS Board of Adams, Lawrence, and Scioto Counties at 740-354-5648.
(Editor’s note, locally the ADAMHS Board of Gallia-Jackson-Meigs can be reached at 740- 446-3022. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800- 273-talk.)
Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Southern Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.