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Survivors of suicide need support from community, friends

On average, 135 people died by suicide each day through 2022.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 49,449 deaths by suicide nationally, with the number of deaths by suicide this year on pace to surpass that total as suicide rates continue their upward climb.

For each of those untimely and tragic deaths, there are dozens of others — the families, friends, coworkers and neighbors — who are the survivors and who live with grief and guilt.

Grief over the loss of a loved one, and guilt over not having seen some sign or done something that may have caused the person to pause and rethink their plans.

November 18 marks International Survivors of Suicide Day. The day, set each year as the Saturday before Thanksgiving, was established nationally by Congress in 1999. It is a day on which those affected by suicide can come together for healing and support.

This coming together for support is especially needed now as the impacts of suicide continue to be felt within our local communities, said Melissa Moore, the public health coordinator with the Taylor County Health Department.

Moore’s sentiments were echoed by Jen Meyer of Taylor County Human Services who said the impacts on survivors of suicide can last a lifetime.

She noted that historically, healthcare professionals have seen the number of deaths by suicide ebb and flow in response to many other factors.

Recent trends have seen the number of those who have attempted or who have contemplated suicide only increasing.

“In human services we used to have an ebb and flow seasonally. Now in 2023, we have seen no ebbing, only flowing. We keep going up, up and up,” Meyer said.

She explained that when there is a suicide in the community mental health professionals know they will see the survivors coming in, in crisis. She said their reactions to the death vary greatly. Some, she noted, will express jealousy that their friend or loved one completed suicide while others will be unsure about how they can continue living without that person in their life.

Meyer used the comparison to a ripple in a pond. She noted that the untimely death of anyone is tragic and impacts people left behind, but that beyond the anger and grief that is common when losing someone to an accident or illness, with suicide, survivors often bring it back on themselves.

“Most people will turn on themselves and it becomes an internal conflict, she said.

“What did I last say? What could I have done?” Meyer said as being common questions survivors of suicide ask themselves.

Meyer said this is why it is important for people to get help and focus on their needs and self care. “The self care component is so important,” Meyer said.

She said that unfortunately for many there is still a stigma with counseling. She said it is important for people to find someone to talk with.

She said while there are sources such as the national suicide hotline people can call 988 or text 741741 to reach it. The suicide hotline also includes Spanish language options for the growing number of people from that community who are facing mental health crises with suicide.

Meyer said there are also other resources including a warm-line through Uplift Wisconsin 534-202-5438.

Uplift Wisconsin was launched in July 2023, and is staffed by certified peer specialists – people with lived experiences of mental health, substance use and other related life experiences. People are invited to call this line if they need someone to talk to for support when things are difficult, or when you just need a peer to connect with.

In addition, there is a local Survivors of Suicide Support Group which meets on the last Sunday of every month at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Medford. The group meets from 6 to 7 p.m. and is a time to support those impacted by the loss of a loved one due to being the victim of suicide or survivors of suicide.

Meyer noted that many people are uncomfortable in offering their condolences or support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

Meyer gave an example from her own life after losing a loved one to suicide.

“There is a strange isolating factor to it,” she said recalling the complete silence she encountered from people afraid that if they were to say the wrong thing she would crumble.

She said that if a death is due to cancer or a car accident people feel they can talk freely about it and that it comes easier. She said the reaction many people have to suicide is to not talk about it, she said this is the wrong thing to do.

“Don’t avoid talking about the person. It shows you have not forgotten them,” she said.

Meyer noted that it is especially important to have those conversations with survivors of suicide because statistically those who have lost someone to suicide are themselves far more likely to commit suicide in the future with that higher rate going with them throughout their lives. “That is something that puts you forever at risk,” she said.

Meyer said fear drives many people away from asking questions about mental health and how people are doing.

“We are afraid. Even if we know, we are afraid of the answer,” Meyer said of asking someone if they are contemplating suicide. The Taylor County Health Department and Taylor County Human Services are working with community partners to provide information and education about suicide and for people to know the questions to ask and the resources available.

They will be presenting to the Taylor County Tavern League in January providing QPR (Question, Persuade, and Refer) training which is used to help identify and provide intervention for those considering suicide.

Just as the ripples of a pond reach every shore, so too does suicide impact everyone in the community. As the community marks Survivors of Suicide Day, people are encouraged to be the one who asks the question and provides the support to save a life.