There are dozens of support groups in the Western New York community with topics ranging from alcoholism to eating disorders to bereavement support. They’re not readily advertised at more public venues (which I imagine is a good thing, so the meetings aren’t overpopulated with people that may not really need the help – think Fight Club), but with minor research or a referral from a counselor, it’s easy enough to find one that is a good fit for a variety of issues you may be struggling with.
That being said, for my Group Counseling course with Dr. Fetter, I was assigned to attend two open and anonymous support group meetings at the start of the semester to begin learning about group process and content. One of the ones I chose was a Survivors of Suicide or Suicide Bereavement Support Group. The discussions that took place were heartbreaking, but what made my heart particularly heavy at that meeting from a mental health advocate standpoint was the number of people in attendance; there were over 15 people in the small room – all there grieving over the loss of a loved one to suicide. Now, there may have been one or two individuals there that have been attending meetings for close to five years, but the majority of the attendees were relatively new – within the past year, their child, parent or significant other took their own life.
Yet, I don’t recall hearing about these passings. And as the title of this blog suggests – this lack of publicity can be good and it can be bad. On the one hand, not publicizing a suicide can both allow the family and friends to grieve in their own way, on their own time, and it prevents the likelihood of what some researchers call a “copycat suicide” to occur. But on the other hand, we’re not letting the public know how significantly high the rates of suicide are in our immediate community and across the country. And when we don’t publicize this, there is little to no call to action. People need to be made aware of issues in their communities to feel empowered and become advocates and this is particularly crucial in cases like suicide where it is far more important to be proactive and preventative than reactive.
So my question to you is, how should our local community and media as a whole address the issue of suicide and suicidal ideation, while still supporting the bereaved? Is what we’re doing the best we can do?