Suicide: Resources to Help Those Left Behind
The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have highlighted one of society's unspoken secrets. The back-to-back deaths of these two well known cultural figures is helping shine a bright light on suicide and by doing so, hopefully taking away some of the judgement, stigma and shame. At the same time, very sadly, there will likely be an increase in copy cat suicides after a celebrity's death, which was seen in 2014 when Robin Williams' killed himself.
Kate Spade seemed to have it all, fame, creative energy, money, and a family including a young daughter of 13. But she also struggled, as many of us do, with mental illness and depression. Anthony Bourdain also seemed to be on top of the world. If you've read his books or seen his TV show on CNN, you really got a sense of him as a person (or did we?). It's hard to imagine someone who travels the world for work, whose work is eating and who had a young daughter he deeply loved could also be depressed (as Rose McGowan has suggested he was). It's hard to understand how could someone who was such a bon vivant and has such an infectious joie de vivre could take his own life.
Flowing from these two suicides, I think we'll also see more open discussion about mental illness and depression, although not every person who is depressed will be suicidal, and not every suicidal person will have a mental illness. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 54% of people who died by suicide did not have known mental health conditions.
During periods of loss and grief, the Library can be a place to turn to help cope with the death of a loved one by suicide. These are personal stories of parents, children, spouses, siblings and strangers who have killed themselves and those who survive to mourn them. This is the first of a two-part blog post, the second part will look at resources for those who are thinking about suicide. There are some additional online and phone resources at the bottom of this blog to help those with suicidal thoughts. I would also suggest reading a USA Today article by Kirsten Powers, who speaks about coping through her own suicidal experience and the strong value that such survivor stories have. Here's a TV interview with her from CNN.
No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One: "brings suicide survival from the darkness into the light, speaking frankly and with compassion about the overwhelming feelings of confusion, guilt, shame, anger and loneliness that are shared by all survivors. Drawing on her own experience and on conversations with many other survivors--as well as on the knowledge of counselors and mental health professionals--Carla Fine offers a strong helping hand and invaluable guidance to the thousands of husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and lovers who are left behind each year, struggling to make sense of an act that seems to them senseless, and to pick up the pieces of their own shattered lives. And, perhaps most important, she allows them to see that they are not alone in their feelings of grief and despair."
Dying to be Free: A Healing Guide for Families After a Suicide: "Honest, gentle advice for those who have survived an unspeakable loss--the suicide of a loved one. Surviving the heartbreak of a loved one's suicide - you don't have to go through it alone. Authors Beverly Cobain and Jean Larch break through suicide's silent stigma." You may also be interested in The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War.
Touched by Suicide: Hope and Healing After Loss: "Whether you are struggling with fresh grief at a loved one's death by suicide or your loss happened years ago, you should know that you are not alone. 5 million Americans are affected-directly or indirectly-by this tragedy each year. And it sends us on a lifelong search for answers, both to the practical questions and the deepest question of all- Why?"
The Girl Behind the Door: A Father's Quest to Understand His Daughter's Suicide: "An award-winning, candid, and compelling story of an adoptive father's search for the truth about his teenage daughter's suicide: "Rarely have the subjects of suicide, adoption, adolescence, and parenting been explored so openly and honestly."
Truth be Told: A Memoir of Success, Suicide, and Survival: "A few years ago, Bassett's husband and business partner, David, committed suicide after an agonizing year's struggle with mental illness. Lucinda and her children were devastated."
Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One's Search for Comfort, Answers, and Hope: "A 2003 Finalist in the United Kingdom Christian Book Awards. After his father's death, Hsu wrestled with the intense emotional and theological questions surrounding suicide. While acknowledging that there are no easy answers, he draws on the resources of the Christian faith to point suicide survivors to the God who offers comfort in our grief and hope for the future.For those who have lost a loved one to suicide and for their counselors and pastors, this book is an essential companion for the journey toward healing."
After the Suicide: Helping the Bereaved to Find a Path From Grief to Recovery: "Drawing on the testimonies of suicide survivors and research into suicide bereavement, this book provides those working with the bereaved with the knowledge and guidance they need ... This book will be invaluable to all those supporting those who have been bereaved by suicide, including counsellors, bereavement support workers, social workers, and psychologists. *Highly Commended in the Health and Social Care category at the 2012 British Medical Association Book Awards." You may also be interested in Susan Auerbach's personal story I'll write your name on every beach : a mother's quest for comfort, courage and clarity after suicide loss.
What made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen: "A sports journalist relates the story of Ivy League freshman and track star Maddy Holleran, who seemingly had it all and succeeded at everything she tried, but who secretly grappled with mental illness before taking her own life during the spring semester."
These biographies may also be of interest:
- The Future Tense of Joy: A Memoir
- Good Morning Midnight: Life and Death in the Wild
- A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke
The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving my Mother's Suicide: "Award-winning novelist and poet Gayle Brandeis's wrenching memoir of her complicated family history and her mother's suicide."
Voices of Strength: Sons and Daughters of Suicide Speak Out: "Authors Judy Zoints Fox and Mia Roldan share the results of their survey of children of a parental suicide. Exploring the ways their lives have been affected and addressing the emotional, psychological, and physical effects, daughters and sons of all ages -- from children to adolescents to adults -- reveal their reactions."
Luna's Red Hat: An Illustrated Storybook to Help Children Cope with Loss and Suicide: It is a beautiful spring day, and Luna is having a picnic in the park with her family, wearing her Mum's red hat. Luna's Mum died one year ago and she still finds it difficult to understand why. She feels that it may have been her fault and worries that her Dad might leave her in the same way. Her Dad talks to her to explain what happened and together they think about all the happy memories they have of Mum.
You may also find these memoirs by children whose parents died by suicide helpful:
- The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order
- In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother's Suicide
- Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, a Memoir
- A Woman on the Edge of Time: A Son Investigates his Trailblazing Mother's Young Suicide
If you are in crisis, please remember that there is help available:
The National Suicide Prevention service is available 24 hours a day by phone, text or chat:
1-866-277-3553 (in Quebec)
Distress Centre of Toronto
Distress Line: 416-408-4357
Survivor Support Program: 416-595-1716
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention/CASP has provided the following tips, that are current as of now, but it's important to also check on their website for any changes or additional information:
Some Important Facts We Would Like to Share with You
Suicidal thinking is usually associated with problems that can be treated.
Clinical depression, anxiety disorders, chemical dependency, and other disorders produce profound emotional distress. They also interfere with effective problem-solving. But you need to know that studies show that the vast majority of people who receive appropriate treatment improve or recover completely. Even if you have received treatment before, you should know that different treatments work better for different people in different situations. Several tries are sometimes necessary before the right combination is found.
If you are unable to think of solutions other than suicide, it is not that solutions don’t exist, only that you are currently unable to see them.
Therapists and counselors (and sometimes friends) can help you to see solutions that otherwise are not apparent to you.
Suicidal crises are almost always temporary.
Although it might seem as if your unhappiness will never end, it is important to realize that crises are usually time-limited. Solutions are found, feelings change, unexpected positive events occur. Suicide is sometimes referred to as “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Don’t let suicide rob you of better times that will come your way when you allow more time to pass.
Problems are seldom as great as they appear at first glance.
Job loss, financial problems, loss of important people in our lives – all such stressful events can seem catastrophic at the time they are happening. Then, months or years later, they usually look smaller and more manageable. Sometimes, imagining ourselves “five years down the road” can help us to see that a problem that currently seems catastrophic will pass and that we will survive.
Reasons for living can help sustain a person in pain.
A famous psychologist once conducted a study of Nazi concentration camp survivors, and found that those who survived almost always reported strong beliefs about what was important in life. You, too, might be able to strengthen your connection with life if you consider what has sustained you through hard times in the past. Family ties, religion, love of art or nature, and dreams for the future are just a few of the many aspects of life that provide meaning and gratification, but which we can lose sight of due to emotional distress.
Do not keep suicidal thoughts to yourself!
Help is available for you, whether through a friend, therapist, or member of the clergy. Find someone you trust and let them know how bad things are. This can be your first step on the road to healing. Contact a crisis centre.
Source: American Association for Suicidology, www.suicidology.org