Newell: Help and healing is available for survivors of suicide

A look at key factors in suicide and resources for those surviving such a loss

Newell Normand
August 14, 2019 - 5:25 pm

When suicide takes away a friend or a loved one, those who are touched by the tragedy often struggle with how to cope, how to heal and how to speak to one another in the aftermath. 122 Americans take their own lives every day - about 44,000 every year. It is estimated that 8-10 people are affected by each suicide death, meaning nearly 350,000 people become new survivors every year, and now face a battle of their own as they live their lives in the shadow of a devastating loss. 

To better understand how the healing process works and what tools we can rely on to overcome these sorrows, Newell invited Pat Mashburn into the studio. Mashburn is the author of "Just Breathe: Surviving a Loss to Suicide." He was joined by Camille Raulston, whose 21-year-old son took his own life only six months ago. 

"What brought you to write this book?" Newell asked. "We often just question the 'why' for the person who has taken their life, but we don't really talk about the healing process for the survivor."

"For five years in St Tammany Parish, I was a Volunteer Crisis Responder with law enforcement and the coroners office," Mashburn began. "I saw a side of the suicide issue that rarely ever gets talked about... when we hear about a suicide there is a rush to get an explanation so we can pack it up and move on, but for the survivor it's just not possible, so I wanted to write this book to help educate, and also let the survivors know there's someone that understands what they're going through. Family members are often at very high risk immediately following a suicide. They're bombarded on three different levels: philosophical, psychological, and physiological. So any coping skills you had are out the window. If you're at the scene, you might have the unpleasant task of talking to a detective and having to answer questions you never in your life thought you would be asked."

"Camille, I know this incident just happened six months ago and I know it's very fresh - how have you gone through this grieving process?" Newell asked.

"It's been very difficult... my boy took his life on March 25 of this year. He had been depressed for about ten years and had tried all the medications and he decided to give up. It's been extremely difficult. The first months, I could not leave my apartment. But what I'm doing now is I've been going to church which is really helping, but most of all, it's the reading, the groups, and the talking very openly about my son. If anyone asks me about my children, I will mention William - mention how he died, why he died - and I have not had one person that was anything but kind and compassionate. I'm having a hard time but I just recommend to anyone who's lost a family member or a friend to suicide... talk about it, read about it, and get yourself involved in groups."

One such group that exists to help people like Raulston is called Survivors of Suicide, or SOS for short. Their mission is to help those who have lost a loved one to suicide resolve their grief and pain in their own personal way and provide a safe place for survivors and friends of survivors to share their struggle and pain and offer comfort and understanding to others who have experienced a similar loss.

"Within six weeks, I started attending that group," Raulston said. "They are wonderful, because you get to talk and be around other people who understand your emotions."

Newell then shared a personal story on the air for the first time. 

"My biological father committed suicide when I was ten months old, and I didn't learn of his loss until I was 22. You go through that instant reply of life all the time, and I never knew the man. I feel for what you're going through. I wasn't old enough to know, but there's not a single day that goes by... I had a beautiful man who adopted me shortly thereafter who my Mom married, and I wouldn't have traded that for anything in the world, and you go through this appreciation process. And still when you talk about it 40 years later it touches your heart."

Every single suicide is a tragedy, but it doesn't affect all communities equally. "Statistical evidence shows that males commit suicide 3.5 times more than females - that's a striking statistic to me," Newell said.

 "As males, we derive our whole sense of being from our families," Mashburn replied. "Being the provider for everything, and when it goes awry, we lose our sense of being and go into a total state of crisis. Sometimes we hide it - women are much more forthcoming with their feelings than men, so sometimes it's harder to see it in males than in women. Other leading causes are breakups of relationships, whether adults or teens, and a big part of that now is the increased focus on social media. Everybody is tied up with their sense of being on social media and they don't see a way to save face, and the loss is so great they don't know how to cope with it."

Newell later pointed out that law enforcement officers are also susceptible to depression and suicidal feelings.

"The New York Police Department had their 8th suicide this year," he pointed out. "They had four in the month of June alone. That's a striking number as well."

"They see things the general public will never ever see," Mashburn replied, "so the public can't understand the depth, the huge degree of stress that law enforcement is under every day. Each day they put on the uniform, they don't know if that's going to be their last day... I that can be contribute to the large degree of suicides in law enforcement." 

Survivors have their own battle to fight, and it's a daily battle. Newell asked Mashburn, what's the most important thing for them to remember?

"The first thing I would tell a survivor is, you don't have to do anything right now. The most important decision you can make at this moment is just to take your next breath, and then the one after that, and the one after that. I realized my purpose wasn't to make somebody feel better, because you can't. It was to get them to move from one moment to the next, then they can focus on getting from one day to the next. It's incremental for a lot of survivors."

Raulston agreed. "When people ask you how you're doing, just say you're making it. I don't think 'fine' is even in my vocabulary anymore. When people ask how I'm doing, I say I'm making it and that's all I can do. I've got good days and bad, but I've got so much support and that's how I am making it. Family, friends, groups, books and church."

Hear the entire conversation in the audio player below, and if you should need it, the Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and they are available 24/7. You can also visit their website at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.


 

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