When a person commits suicide, his or her death will create a ripple effect throughout that person's circle of friends and family members. Each suicide, according to estimates from the World Health Organization, intimately affects at least six people.
Left behind is a trail of grief, guilt and unanswered questions. And in the wake of losing a loved one to suicide, sometimes the best way to work through those complicated emotions is simply by talking, says Marcia Epstein, a licensed master social worker with more than 30 years of experience in suicide prevention and suicide bereavement support.
“What I think it comes down to is that when we get honest about our own experiences, pretty much, we’re all going to be affected by suicide at one time or another at some point in our lives,” says Epstein, who also hosts her own one-hour radio show, “Talk With ME” at the online station LawrenceHits. “Because it’s something that affects so many people, we know that one way of helping, both with suicide prevention and support for people who are affected by suicide bereavement, is by getting people more comfortable talking and learning from each other.”
Epstein plans to create a dialogue on that very subject — one she still sees, despite some heightened awareness in recent years, as very much taboo in our society — Monday evening at the Lawrence Public Library auditorium, 707 Vermont St. Slated for 6:45 to 8:15 p.m., the second annual event is called “Connections For #LifeWorthLiving,” and it precedes several local, similar-minded programs throughout September and the fall in coordination with National Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 5-11.
During the event, which is free and open to the public, Epstein and her guests will share tips on caring communication, information about understanding and healing after losing a loved one to suicide (or, conversely, how to recognize and work through suicidal thoughts and attempts), and resources for those looking to connect with others through support groups.
Epstein recognizes that openly discussing mental illness and the factors that lead to a person taking his or her own life can be difficult on many levels for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. There’s the guilt of not being able to prevent the death, of course, and the anger or resentment at the individual who felt life was no longer worth living.
Oftentimes, survivors live in fear of judgment, which could include negative perceptions of the family member who committed suicide or of the loved ones left behind — i.e., “If you’re such a great parent, your kid wouldn’t have died,” Epstein explains.
“That doesn’t really happen if you had somebody in your life who died from, say, cancer,” she says. “…At this point, suicide still has this misinformation connected to it.”
That’s why it’s important to start talking openly and honestly about suicide, Epstein says. Professional experience aside, it’s an issue she’s dealt with personally. In 2003, Epstein lost her own mother, who had struggled with depression for years, to suicide.
“I didn’t know how bad it was until I got to college,” Epstein now recalls.
People grieve in different ways, she says, and it’s important to respect that. But “pulling away” from the outside world, whether you’ve just lost a loved one to suicide or are considering taking your own life, is never the solution.
Don’t assume nobody understands you, Epstein says, because chances are, somebody out there does.
At Epstein’s “Connections” event, “everybody gets to teach and learn, help and get help.”
“There’s power in that,” she says.
Here are a handful of other events aimed at suicide prevention scheduled throughout September:
Sept. 1, 7 p.m., Lawrence Public Library: Screening of "The Listeners" and a panel discussion. followed by candlelight vigil for those who have lost loved ones to suicide, those who have lived through a suicide attempt and for those who continue to struggle, in the green space next to the library. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/dcspc.
Sept. 9, 5 p.m., Woodruff Auditorium in the University of Kansas' Kansas Union: Dese’Rae L. Stage of www.LiveThroughThis.org speaks at the Kansas Union, hosted by Active Minds of KU. For more information, check out the "Live Through This: Dese'Rae L. Stage" event page on Facebook.
Sept. 10, 7 to 11 p.m., Lawrence Creates Makerspace: The third annual Words Save Lives presents poetry, music, stories and comedy in honor of International Suicide Prevention Day, loved ones who have attempted suicide, and loved ones lost to suicide. This will be held at Lawrence Creates Makerspace. For more information, check out the "Words Save Lives" Facebook event page.
Sept. 14, 6 to 8 p.m., location TBA: September brings the first meeting of Stayin’ Alive Autumn 2016, a 10-session support group that meets in Lawrence for survivors of suicide attempts. The group will be co-facilitated by Cari Gottstein and Marcia Epstein. Info about Stayin' Alive as well as lots of encouraging posts can be found at www.facebook.com/Stayin.Alive.Lawrence.KS