MARTHA K. SEAGLE
In 2009 â€” the latest certified data available â€” six people in Lincoln County chose to end their lives. In Gaston and Cleveland Counties, 59 additional individuals committed suicide.
These 65 human beings left behind loved ones to question themselves, â€œWhy?â€ or â€œWhat could I have done?â€
The devastated family and friends left behind by suicide are known as â€œsurvivors.â€ On Saturday, Pathways Mental Health in Gastonia will host the American Foundation for Suicide Preventionâ€™s â€œInternational Survivors of Suicide Healing Conference.â€
The conference is observed at 1 p.m. EST around the world at 200 different sites. Although 2011 marks the thirteenth year of the conference, it is the first year that Pathways-Gastonia has been a host site.
Stacy Bryant, Community Outreach Manager, told the Times-News that survivors experience a wide range of reactions to suicide.
â€œWe are providing a way for survivors to talk to others who have experienced the same situation,â€ Bryant said. â€œThey need to know that they are not alone.â€
Survivors may experience some or all of the following, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Preventionâ€™s website:
Shock â€“ feeling numb, disoriented and having difficulty concentrating
Depression, including disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, intense sadness and lack of energy
Anger toward the deceased, other family members or yourself
Relief, particularly if the suicide followed a long and difficult mental illness
Guilt, including thinking â€œIf only I hadâ€¦â€
Bryant says that by talking with others who have experienced the suicide of a loved one, conference participants can learn how to better sort out their feelings. Some coping strategies that have worked for others include:
Reach out to family and friends. Because some acquaintances may feel awkward in dealing with the situation, survivors may need to take the initiative to talk about their feelings and ask for help.
Understand that there is no set process or timeline for grieving. Grieve at your own pace and on your own terms.
During special times of the year, such as anniversaries, birthdays or holidays, make a conscious decision about whether you will hold with old traditions or make new ones.
Children are especially vulnerable to feelings of abandonment and guilt when a suicide occurs. Listen to their questions, and offer honest but age-appropriate answers.
Participate in community, religious or spiritual activities that bring you comfort.
Be kind to yourself. Enjoying life again is not a betrayal of your loved one, but rather a sign of healing.
Between 50 and 60 people are expected for Saturdayâ€™s event, which begins at 12:45 p.m. at the Pathways Auditorium, 901 S. New Hope Rd. in Gastonia. The event will conclude around 2:30 p.m.
The conference will begin with a candlelight ceremony followed by an informative DVD. After the DVD, participants will be able to share their experiences in a â€œpeer-to-peerâ€ environment.
â€œThe focus of the event is on the survivors and how they can help each other by sharing their experiences,â€ Bryant said.
For more information on the event, coping with suicide or suicide prevention, call Pathways at (704) 884-2501.
For more information on recognizing the signs of suicide, visit whennottokeepasecret.com.