Help available for survivors of suicide

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

Editor’s note: This article is the second in a series exploring the issue of suicide and how it has affected the SDSU campus.

Losing a friend or family member to suicide is painful and confusing.

“When you’re dealing with someone who has a friend or a family member who has committed suicide, there are questions that plague you in the grief. You always ask, ‘Why?'” said Debra Johnson, the clinical counseling supervisor of the Student Health Clinic and Counseling Services.

“It’s the people who are left behind that have to deal with the emotion and the grief.”

In addition to these emotions of confusion and sadness, the survivors may also feel partially responsible for the death or just plain upset.

“There tends to be a higher level of sense of guilt and usually anger related to the sense of betrayal and hurt that that person left you,” Johnson said.

As part of the grieving process, Johnson said it is important for suicide survivors – the friends and family left behind – to work through all of these emotions. She said that students can visit Web sites for suicide survivors, write or read poetry and attend support groups. In addition to its counseling services, which are free for students, the Student Health Clinic and Counseling Services is starting a group for survivors of suicide. Interested students can contact the clinic at (605) 688-6146.

Another good way to cope with the grief is to reach out to the family, said Johnson. By letting family members and friends know how the deceased impacted others’ lives, students are helping themselves and are giving a much-needed gift to other mourners.

Johnson said students can reach out to the family at the visitation or funeral, important components of the formal grieving process. If students cannot attend those services, Johnson recommended that they write a eulogy, put on memorial service for the deceased’s friends or go to a place that was important to those students and the deceased.

For a more individualist approach, students can write a letter to the person who has died.

“Outline the wonderful gifts that they gave you during their time here,” said Johnson. “Those will always be with. That person will live on through that.”

Although all these tactics should help with the grieving process, Johnson said the survivor’s anger and a sense of guilt might be the toughest emotions to deal with.

“The best way to cope with that is to really make the decision about moving on and not getting stuck in the anger or betrayal.”

As for blaming themselves for the suicide, Johnson said students need to realize that another person’s suicide is never their fault.

“Guilt is about feeling responsible. I think you need to look at the overall relationship you had with that person, to realize most of the time you were a responsible family member and friend. Even if you hurt someone really bad, you are still not responsible for them making that decision,” said Johnson.

“When people make that choice they’re making it from a very narrow-minded thought pattern. They only see one option at that time for whatever reason, and you are not responsible for that. You can’t be.”

While mourning the loss of a friend or family member, Johnson said it is also necessary for students to not get too wrapped up in the grief and forget about their own wellness.

“I ? think it’s very important when you’re dealing with this that you take care of yourself and try to get sleep and try to eat in a healthy manner,” she said. “Surround yourself with friends; let the emotions out.”

Suicide Prevention Resources

Student Health Clinic and Counseling Services, which is now located in the Wellness Center, offers confidential counseling services at no cost to student, and the clinical nurse practitioner can prescribe anti-depressants. The clinic is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the school year, and the counseling service also has someone on call 24 hours a day. The clinic generally prefers students to make appointments, but the service accommodates walk-ins on an emergency basis. Parents, members of the university and other students can make referrals. For appointments or referrals, call 688-6146.

Student Health is also providing a Healthy Living Series and a program called “Ask Somebody.”

Oct. 28, 12 to 12:50 p.m., Room 118 of the Student Health Clinic – Tame the Tension: How to survive college stress

Now through Nov. 25: Ask Somebody, a drop-in advice session with a counselor. Locations:Hansen Hall – Lower Level Lounge: Tuesdays 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Young Hall – First Floor Dayroom: Wednesdays 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Mathews Hall – Basement Multipurpose Room: Thursdays 1 to 2 p.m.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK. Calls in South Dakota are answered by the HELP!Line Center of Sioux Falls.