Yesterday marked a bittersweet day for thousands of people. National Survivors of Suicide Day – the day meant for those left behind in the wake of a loved one’s suicide – stirs up painful emotions for me of my father’s suicide six-and-a-half years ago.
But more than that, it reminds me of something even bigger: I am a survivor. I’ve lived through the one experience no one should have to go through, and I’ve slowly but surely begun to see the other side, a side that is beginning to show a glimmer of light again.
In honor of the far-too-many survivors around the world, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Leslie Seppinni, an L.A.-based clinical psychologist with experience as a Crisis Intervention Specialist. Read on for her insights into suicide and the road those left behind are forced to traverse:
Why is suicide such a rising concern in this country?
The economy has put forth a higher suicide rate than anything we’ve seen before. Suicide begets suicide, meaning that when one person commits suicide, often you see another person close to them commit suicide later in life. For example, a father who commits suicide may leave behind a child that his death weighs heavily on, and maybe later in life they decide their fate is intended to be the same. It’s not uncommon to have a family member commit suicide, and then later on hear of another family member who does the same.
In your view, why is the subject of suicide such a taboo topic?
No one ever wants to talk about death, so they don’t plan for it; no one makes a will or health care directive, or even lets family members know how they want to be taken care of after they pass on. Death is their greatest fear, death of anything – a relationship or their bodies. They don’t want to not be here and not be seen. Their fear makes them reluctant to speak about it. When someone around them commits suicide, it brings up fears for their own mortality.
What can people do to help eliminate the stigma that surrounds suicide?
Talk openly with your kids, family members, etc. about death and disease, particularly when a grandparent or someone they know passes away. You don’t have to bring it up beforehand, but when it does happen, then is the time to openly communicate about it. This at least keeps the dialogue open. When someone says, “I feel suicidal,” don’t freak out and jump all over them. Instead of judging them and making them more frightened to talk to you, you should instead ask them to what degree they feel suicidal. Have they thought of a plan? Do they have the means? Through conversation, gauge how serious they are without judging them. Offer to help remove dangers such as weapons that they may be tempted to use against themselves. Sometimes people commit suicide because they are thinking about it, and in an act of desperation decide to act spontaneously.
Experts always speak of the person who committed suicide, but those left behind have a tough road to travel. What are some of the typical emotions and experiences those left behind face?
Someone who has a person commit suicide that is close to them, in addition to the pain from the actual loss of that person, may also be in utter shock or disbelief because they didn’t believe the person would do it, or they weren’t aware things were that bad. They are often completely overwhelmed and distraught, or especially filled with anger at the person. They may feel extreme guilt, recounting over and over the last conversation they had, particularly if they were one of the last people to see them.
Look for the second half of our chat next week, along with additional words of advice on what you can do to help someone in need.