Navigating Loss After Suicide

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On July 20, 2017 I found myself, along with hundreds of thousands of other music fans, shocked, saddened, and heart broken by the death of Chester Bennington from the band Linkin Park. I spent a lot of time crying and as I’m writing this post I’m still mourning the loss of one of my favorite musicians. For the past 17 years I’ve been singing along with Linkin Park while making dinner in the kitchen, driving around in my car, running, and when I attended their concert at the Gorge in George Washington in 2014. Their music has been a part of my daily life, and my world feels different without Chester in it.

As I watched fan and media reaction following Chester’s death, which was determined to be a suicide, I started noticing the suicide hotline number being shared (which is provided below), I saw fans sharing stories and posts on depression and addiction related to suicide, and I saw fans coming together in support of each other, the band, and Chester’s family, to help us all get through a terrible moment in our lives. People rallied together to support each other.

As a mental health counselor I feel compelled to provide information about ways people can successfully navigate the loss of someone after a suicide. This post focuses primarily on survivors healing after a completed suicide. For a post I wrote about suicide risk factors and warning signs click here. The current post provides resources and encouragement for ways to care for yourself if you’re a survivor of suicide loss or if you have been exposed to or affected by someone else’s suicide.

USE YOUR SUPPORT NETWORKS AND COMMUNITY RESOURCES

Research shows that, following a suicide, people find help through different forms of support that include both informal and formal avenues during their healing process. Informal supports are people like friends, relatives, spouses, partners, siblings, parents, neighbors, colleagues, and extended family. Formal sources of support include mental health counselors, clergy, primary care physicians, and even funeral directors.

In addition to people in your support network, using resources in your community can be helpful too. Survivors of suicide loss report they have found healing in the following ways:

  • attending suicide-specific bereavement support groups
  • reading books on suicide and grief
  • talking one-on-one with other suicide survivors
  • utilizing pastoral counseling
  • contacting advocacy organizations
  • taking prescribed medications

USE THE NATIONAL HOTLINE NUMBER

This is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline mentioned earlier: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is free, confidential, and available 24/7. The website has resources to help yourself and ideas about how to help someone you know if you think they’re struggling. There is also information on safety planning and help for different groups such as LGBTQ people, Veterans, youth, Native Americans, and those who are deaf and/or hard of hearing.

BE AWARE OF YOUR FEELINGS

After a suicide, those left behind often have a number of mixed feelings as they deal with the grieving process. Depressed mood, trauma, guilt, anxiety, high levels of distress, grief, shame, isolation, shock, denial, and anger are all common. If you notice that you continue feeling sad, lose interest in your favorite activities, feel worthless, lose your appetite or have sudden weight loss, eat more than you usually do, can’t concentrate, lose energy or motivation, can’t sleep, sleep much more than you normally do, or have suicidal thoughts, seek out professional help to determine whether you may be experiencing symptoms of depression. Talking about your feelings with another supportive person can create a feeling of solidarity and connection that can help you heal. Being mindful about what exactly it is that you’re feeling can help you decide how best to care for yourself. You may need different things if you’re feeling angry versus if you’re feeling sad for example.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

After experiencing a loss it’s important to continue caring for yourself so you stay healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally.

  • Eat healthy food. Sometimes grieving people overeat because of stress or stop eating due to loss of appetite, take care of your body by keeping nutritious food available.
  • Let yourself cry if you need to, tears can be our body’s way of letting us know we care and that something or someone matters to us.
  • Get help from your formal or informal supports for negative feelings that linger on too long or that interfere in your daily life.
  • Do things that feel good and nurturing to you like walking in nature, taking a warm bath, or reading.
  • When you’re ready, engage in activities you enjoyed before the loss of your loved one.
  • Feelings may be difficult to put into words, try expressing your feelings through art, music, and writing.
  • Avoid trying to numb your feelings with alcohol or substances since these can worsen your situation.
  • Spend time with others to prevent isolation.
  • Give yourself permission to be happy.
  • You may feel something different every day, take care of yourself one day at a time.

Whether you have been indirectly exposed to someone’s death by suicide or have been directly affected and are bereaving the loss of a close friend or family member, there are helpful ways to navigate the loss. It is not necessary to feel isolated and alone in your experience, or, to borrow from Chester’s lyrics, it’s not necessary to “feel cold and lost in desperation.” If you’re someone having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Please allow me one more quote from Linkin Park’s most recent album in which Chester sings:

“who cares if one more light goes out in a sky of million stars, it flickers, flickers,who cares if someone’s time runs out if a moment is all we are, we’re quicker, quicker, who cares if one more light goes out? Well I do.”

I do too, Chester. Suicidal thoughts can weigh heavily on a person’s mind and death by suicide directly and indirectly affects peoples’ lives every day. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that someone dies by suicide nearly every 13 minutes in the United States every day. I hope that by circulating information about ways to prevent and heal from suicide we can continue finding ways to keep one more light from going out.

Are you someone who has survived a loved one’s suicide or someone who has otherwise been affected by suicide? What have you found helpful in your own healing process after such a loss?

Express Yourself

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I know very little about art, except for maybe a few general things. I know that I like some art, dislike other art, and feel neutral about the rest of it. I know there are various mediums people use to create art, like sculptures, painting, photography, poetry, writing, dance, theater, music, and drawing. In another post, I wrote about how I find counseling to be a form of creativity. I also know I appreciate the work that goes into creating a piece of art, whether it’s something I like, or not. I am frequently filled with admiration for peoples’ creative abilities.

Another thing I know about art is that it can be a great way for you to Irises2express yourself. It can be a way to take what’s “inside” and share it with the outside world. It can feel rewarding to see a finished product or to turn an idea into a reality.

Artistic expression can also play a role in your mental health. One of the signs of depression, for example, is a loss of interest in things that you normally enjoy. If you notice a sense of sadness and lack of energy and just can’t seem to motivate yourself to do the activity you usually enjoy, pay attention to your mood and notice whether it lingers longer than you think it should, especially if it worsens or doesn’t go away after a couple weeks. Sometimes picking your hobby up again can be a step toward a better mood. Art can also help you manage anxiety by channeling that restless energy into something constructive, it can be a healthy skill to use for self-care and to cope with distressing feelings.

Some of my favorite art is from Vincent van Gogh who I learned suffered from a combination of physical and mental illness, both of which were made worse by his abuse of alcohol. In addition to his paintings, van Gogh also expressed himself through handwritten letters in which he described his struggle with his illnesses. Although van Gogh’s story ends tragically with his death at the age of 37, it is also a story that shows hope as he sought meaning and explored his mental and physical problems through his painting, spirituality, and writings. I think that artistic expression not only allows us to gain a greater understanding of the artist but gives us a greater understanding of ourselves as well. Maybe in this way, art acts as a way to connect us with ourselves and with others.

How do you express yourself creatively? In what way does your artistic or creative ability help you manage stressors in your life?

 

Inspired by a prompt from ~The Artist’s Eye ~