Finding Meaning After Suicide Loss
Aug 27, 2017 06:39PM
● By Elaine Ostrum
Death by suicide is a serious public health issue that has increased by 24 percent over the last 15 years in the U.S., claiming more than 42,000 lives each year. Suicide rates have risen across all age groups and genders during this period, though the rate for men remains almost four times higher than that of women. Experts suggest that the key to lowering the suicide rate is prevention, including educating the public about recognizing suicidal behavior and improving support resources for those who are at risk.
The issues leading a person to attempt suicide are typically multifaceted. Life stressors combined with untreated depression and/or substance abuse increase the risk of suicide. Stigma surrounding suicide and mental health conditions cause many to feel fearful of the reactions of peers, co-workers, family and society. Continuing to treat suicide as a taboo subject only perpetuates feelings of isolation and shame, and detracts from crucial suicide prevention resources for those at risk.
After his 21-year-old son Desmond’s suicide in 2011, Mark Schantzer was prompted to do something to help prevent such a tragedy for others. He participated in a suicide awareness walk in a neighboring county and immediately made plans to hold a walk in Lancaster County, with the first Walk for DES held in November 2012. He saw the incredible value of bringing together survivors who had lost someone to suicide. The Walk creates a safe environment to meet others who have lost someone, to share stories and support each other. In doing so, survivors gain strength in their ability to go on. In finding the courage to share their story, some of the stigma surrounding suicide is lessened.
Funds from the first Walk began the Lancaster Suicide Prevention Coalition, bringing together many professionals and survivors interested in working toward the goal of prevention and awareness. Agencies share information about mental health services and screenings provided in schools and the community. Trainings for counselors, clergy and First Responders have been offered to our community on how to assist persons in a suicidal crisis. Numerous support groups are offered for those struggling with mental illness. Mental Health America offers groups for Bipolar Support and Education; Depression Awareness; Anxiety, Panic and OCD and Moms Supporting Moms. Additional community support groups include No Longer Alone Ministries Family Support Group, Combat Veterans Group and Survivors of Suicide groups. The Pathways Center for Grief & Loss offers a six-week series for suicide survivors.
Mike and Elaine Casey reached out to support groups after their 18-year-old son Tim died by suicide in November 2015. They felt a need to be with others who had experienced a loss. They participated in groups at the Pathways Center with other bereaved parents and also a series specific to suicide loss. “Seeing the number of others who are also impacted by suicide helped in feeling less alone,” said Elaine. She states her family has always been open in talking about the cause of death and have not experienced any negative reactions from others. She has found it important to talk about suicide and to find ways to honor Tim’s life and memory.
The Casey family wanted to mark the anniversary of Tim’s death in a meaningful way and to use it to create awareness about suicide and give back to others. They organized a fundraiser at Tropical Smoothie Café where Tim had worked, with proceeds going to the DES Foundation. The family had participated in the 2016 Walk for DES and wanted to support suicide prevention efforts in the community. This year, they will be volunteering at the Walk for DES to support others. “Giving back has brought us closer together as a family,” states Elaine.
For more information on the walk or support resources, visit WalkForDES.org or call Mark Schantzer at 717-207-9634.
Elaine Ostrum, LCSW, CT, is a bereavement counselor and coordinates the adult support services at the Pathways Center for Grief & Loss at Hospice & Community Care, located in Mount Joy.