September is Suicide Awareness Month. Thank you to The Palm Beach Post for publishing this Op-Ed today by Ronni Cutler, who reminds us that “we must also recognize the victims of suicide who deal with the ensuing trauma every day: the friends and families of those who have taken their lives.”
We need to help victims of suicide – the ones left behind
Ronnie Cutler – Guest columnist
September is Suicide Awareness Month, and although the focus is on prevention, we must also recognize the victims of suicide who deal with the ensuing trauma every day: the friends and families of those who have taken their own lives. These are the loved ones consumed with grief, despair, anger and guilt, paralyzed with thoughts of what they could have done, replaying a loop of possible signs, wondering what they could have said.
These forgotten victims of suicide need our help. I started a support group for families of those who have taken their own lives in 1995, when I became a therapist at Ferd & Gladys Alpert Jewish Family Service. For 27 years, I have worked with mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and the those who lost the love of their life. Years ago, there was much more shame involved. People were either too afraid or too embarrassed to talk about what happened and getting them into a group was, as it still is, incredibly important. Now, however, with mental health finally gaining public interest, there is less shame but the stigma remains. Therefore, it is important that we all be aware, be compassionate and not be afraid to talk about it.
It’s human nature to want to “keep things light.” By bringing up certain topics, people often fear they’ll stir painful memories that may upset a person. However, it is important to note that these memories and the feelings that come along with them are always there. Traumatic events have a habit of remaining on the surface and talking about them can help.
Speaking the name of a loved one who is no longer with us, in a way, keeps them alive. It is important to remember the happy times, the fun memories and funny moments, to tell the great stories no matter how many times you’ve told them, no matter how many times they’ve heard them. Continue to celebrate them and don’t focus on how they left us but on how they brought us joy when they were here.
It can be scary to go into such topics, but there are ways to ensure you are doing the best you can. I always make sure to listen more than I speak. I take in the information, and afterward, give it back to them. By refrarning what they’ve said into a simple narrative, people often discover something about their loved ones, and themselves, that they may not have thought of before. And that is such a tremendous gift.
I help them with their guilt. I let them scream and yell and make a space for their anger so they can let it out and not have to carry it around anymore. Often, these individuals need their own help, and it is important to encourage them to seek it out. They have gone through trauma, and trauma must be dealt with, because it will never go away on its own.
At Alpert JFS, I work with families who have lost loved ones, not only from suicide but with parents who are mourning their adult children regardless of how they lost them. The terrible truth surrounding these matters is that the loss never goes away. It will always be there. And that’s OK.
It is important to share. Grief is a long process, and no matter what stage you’re in, there is nothing more important than being open, not keeping it in or bottling it up. And it’s important for all of us to remember that as we go through this month and spread awareness, that it’s OK to ask for help. Depression is the cancer of the soul, and no one should go through it alone. Because we’re all in this together, just doing the best we can.
Ronni Cutler, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Ferd & Gladys Alpert Jewish Family Service of Palm Beach County.