International Survivors of Suicide Day is a national awareness day that takes place this year on November 18th and is organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Survivor Day is the one day a year when people affected by suicide loss gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope. This observance began in 1999 when Senator Harry Reid, himself a loss survivor, introduced a resolution to designate the Saturday before Thanksgiving National Survivors of Suicide Day, an occasion for families and friends of people who died by suicide to join together for healing and support. The stigma
surrounding suicide and mental illness is still prevalent and many survivors do not know how to cope, where to seek help or if the feelings they are experiencing are normal. Below is a list of how to help yourself if you lost a loved one from suicide or if you are a suicide survivor yourself.
- You are not responsible for the loss: Self- blame guilt are common feelings of those who lose a loved one to suicide. It may be very painful, but you must learn to hold tightly to the truth that you are not responsible for your loved one’s suicide in any way, shape, or form.
- Don’t put a limit of your grief: Grieve in your own way, on your own time frame. It will take time to find a place for your sadness and loss. It may take even more time for you to feel hope again and envision possibilities.
- Remember your loved one: When you feel ready, assist your family in finding ways to mark your loved one’s birthday, family holidays or other milestones. Understand that new moments, experiences or events will be met with sadness, even with emotional setbacks.
- Find your community and lean on them: Consider joining a support group specifically designed for survivors of suicide loss. The environment can provide a mutually supportive, reassuring healing environment unlike anywhere else. There are millions of individuals who are going through similar circumstances and connecting with those who are experiencing this loss can help your healing process.
- Acknowledge your emotions: You may spend a day in bed crying, you may have days where you lose your temper, you may feel guilty and angry or some days you may feel at peace. Regardless of your emotions, it is important to recognize the negative and positive emotions and be present with your feelings. If you feel that your emotions are too overwhelming then seek professional help.
How you can help others
If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, there are many things you can do. In addition, by reaching out, you also help take stigma out of the equation.
- Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the death: Many of us are scared to acknowledge the reality and to speak the individual’s name to the point that we try to hide what happened but this is unhealthy on so many levels. Extend your condolences, express your feelings of sorrow. Make sure you use the loved one’s name and acknowledge the individual.
- Ask the survivor how and if you can help: Though they may not be ready to accept help, asking signifies that you are there, not avoiding or distancing during this tragic event. The notion of being there if needed is extremely comforting for survivors. Ask if you can bring them food, run an errand, take care of any household chores or contact loved ones. Many survivors struggle with the day-to-day mundane chores so offering to help out with these things can be a tremendous way to support a loved one.
- Encourage honest and open feelings: Be accepting of how survivors need to express their feelings. It may be with silence, with sadness or even anger. You may not know what to say or how to handle emotionally charged situations but sitting in silence with the survivor or telling them it is okay
- Don’t set a time limit for a survivor’s grief: Complicated grief can take years to process. Moreover, don’t limit a survivor’s need to share and repeat stories, conversations or wishes. Repetition is a key factor in grief recovery.
- Be a compassionate listener: This means don’t look to fix things or do not feel you have to have all the answers. The greatest gift you can give someone you care about who has survived a suicide loss is your time, reassurance and love.