This Saturday marks the 15th annual International Survivors of Suicide Day.
In New Hampshire, bereavement groups in Concord, Hampstead, Merrimack, Plymouth, and Keene will gather for an international teleconference on suicide loss.
Local survivors will have a chance to tell their own personal stories and hear mental health experts discuss the latest research on suicide and grief.
Maureen Sloan of Nashua co-facilitates a monthly suicide survivors group in Merrimack, which has been meeting since 2008.
As she explains, joining a bereavement group is fairly common after losing a loved one.
But when grieving a death by suicide, “It’s not easy to go to other support groups. They [members of other support groups] sometimes feel your loved one chose their death. And mine did not.”
Sloan lost her daughter ten years ago. And she says the need to talk about the loss is as strong as it was a decade ago:
“Suicide is a unique way of dying and it needs to be dealt with - with someone who truly understands. Because there’s depression usually or other aspects of that death that’s pretty horrifying. And many are traumatic deaths.”
Diane McEntee also facilitates the group.
“I lost my son Dan to suicide when he was 27. This was in 2001. He was an only child. He died by gunshot wound.”
McEntee says that by helping others, she’s come to terms with her own process of healing, which is anything but orderly.
“We’ve been told it comes in stages. I’ve learned it’s more like a roller coaster For me, there was anger, denial, guilt. Sometimes these come back. Once you get over one thing, it doesn’t mean another won’t come back. I’ve learned that it is a lifelong journey and I’m never going to be over it. I need to know how to best develop skills to survive.”
In a room of those left behind from a suicide, there’s a painful, but shared understanding.
Allison Sharpe lost her older brother two years ago after he struggled with addiction and depression.
Twice she talked him out of taking his life.
“I always knew the signs. I knew when he would stop emailing, texting, calling, that he was in trouble.”
Her brother didn’t live locally, so one night she reached out to him by phone.
“And I thank God he answered the phone. Because I don’t think he planned on communicating with us at that point. Because his mind was made up. This was a very clear conversation to tell me he loved me, to tell me it wasn’t my fault, to ask me to take care of his daughter and to say goodbye. And he hung up. That threw me. For a loop. I spent the next hour or two on one phone redialing his number and on the other phone trying to contact the police so they could find him.”
Sharpe says she’ll always wonder if she could have done more for her brother. But she doesn’t blame him.
“Depression is a medical condition. Depression can take lives in the same way that cancer can. I don’t honestly believe that people who take their life want to die. They want their pain to end.”
Each year more than 33,000 people in the United States die by suicide.
In New Hampshire, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 34.
Ken Norton directs the state’s National Association of Mental Illness.
He says any untimely loss, for example, from an accident or a homicide, is going to leave family and friends in shock.
“But suicide death is also very profound because people relive their last moments with the person. What did I miss? Were there warning signs that I should have caught? Could I have done something better? There’s a tremendous amount of regret, self-blame, sometimes feelings of rejection that the person has done this. It is a very complicated bereavement process.”
This Saturday, survivors of suicide loss are gathering at five different locations across the state for an international day of healing.
Maureen Sloan hopes the event will also generate awareness about the risk factors and warning signs of suicide.
“If you have any idea somebody might be thinking about suicide, don’t run away from it. Don’t be afraid of it. Talk to them. I wish I had talked more to my daughter. I don’t know if that would have saved her life. Probably not. She had attempted suicide before. But I didn’t want to face that it could be a reality. There needs to be more dialogue if you suspect somebody may be vulnerable.”
Officials from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention say that about 50 to 75 percent of people who attempt suicide tell someone about their intent.
They also say that 90 percent of people who attempt suicide do not die from suicide.
Click here for more information on suicide loss support groups in New Hampshire.