The recent deaths by suicide of high profile, successful, individuals have left many people stunned and asking “why?” Both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had young children adding an extra sadness to the story.
Unfortunately, coping with a death by suicide is something at Kate’s Club we work with on a weekly basis. On average, we have four new families join per month who are grieving the death of someone by suicide. For the first time, deaths by suicides have increased. “On Thursday, US government health officials said US suicides had risen by 30% since 1999, and that the crisis presented a growing problem. Nearly 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2016.”
Adults often struggle with helping children understand something that they do not understand themselves. We do know that children need honest talk about suicide in age appropriate language. They need reassurance nothing they did or said caused the suicide. They also need help understanding mental illness. Most people who have depression or other forms of mental illness do not attempt suicide, but some do. Suicide survivors including children need to know it is okay to ask “why?” but also need help to live without the answer in many cases.
Each September, Kate’s Club offers a family support group for suicide loss. This is a remarkable time of healing and support. Adults and children learn that they are not alone in their grief journeys. Many times, they have feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, and anger. These feelings are often magnified because of the stigma and many times the curiosity of others after a death by suicide. People saying their loved-ones were “selfish” or “weak” is not helpful nor is asking intrusive questions. People who lose a loved-one to suicide need the same support as other grievers. They need friends who will listen, who will be available anytime, and who talk about their loved-one and share memories. A person’s death should not overshadow their life.
I leave you with a quote from Fred Rogers, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
For further resources, check out The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (a great national resource for additional information), The Link (an Atlanta area counseling center that specializes in suicide grief), or our “Explaining Suicide to Children” guidelines.
-Lane Pease, Kate’s Club Program Director