With the death of Channing Smith, Coffee County Central High School student who took his own life Sept. 22, shocking the community, local mental health professional David Statum offers tips to help prevent another tragedy and to cope with the sadness.
Statum has a doctorate degree in professional counseling and mental health therapy. He is a nurse educator with a master’s degree, a certified cognitive behavioral therapist and an advanced practitioner of mediation. Statum has experienced the issue personally, losing loved ones to suicide.
Suicide is preventable. That’s why recognizing red flags is vital.
Warning signs of suicide include talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself; looking for a way to kill oneself; talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose; talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain; talking about being a burden to others; increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious, agitated or reckless; sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or feeling isolated; showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; and displaying extreme mood swings, according to Statum.
Coping with suicide
“The aftermath of a loved one’s suicide can be physically and emotionally exhausting,” Statum said. “As you work through your grief, be careful to protect your own well-being. Everyone has their own way of grieving, and it’s okay to experience grief. It’s healthy and responsible to grieve; don’t isolate yourself and try to process things alone. It’s okay to feel the way you feel, and over time, grief becomes more manageable.”
“Reach out to loved ones, friends and spiritual leaders for comfort, understanding and healing,” Statum said. “Surround yourself with people who are willing to listen when you need to talk, as well as those who’ll simply offer a shoulder to lean on when you’d rather be silent.
“Grieve in your own way. Do what’s right for you, not necessarily someone else. There is no single ‘right’ way to grieve. If you find it too painful to visit your loved one’s gravesite or share the details of your loved one’s death, wait until you’re ready. Be prepared for painful reminders.”
Anniversaries, holidays and other special occasions can be painful reminders, said Statum.
“Don’t belittle yourself for being sad or mournful,” he said. “Instead, consider changing or suspending family traditions that are too painful to continue. Don’t rush yourself. Losing someone to suicide is a tremendous blow, and healing must occur at its own pace. Don’t be hurried by anyone else’s expectations that it’s been ‘long enough.’”
Expect setbacks, added Statum.
“Some days will be better than others, even years after the suicide, and that’s okay,” Statum said. “Healing doesn’t often happen in a straight line. Consider a support group for families affected by suicide. Sharing your story with others who are experiencing the same type of grief might help you find a sense of purpose or strength. However, if you find going to these groups keeps you ruminating on your loved one’s death, seek out other methods of support.”
When someone dies by suicide, it can be difficult to maintain privacy.
“Community tensions may arise because of differing beliefs and religious practices,” Statum said. “People tend to talk a lot, and often the actual events and circumstances surrounding the death can become skewed by inaccurate information and public perception. The community’s demand for information and information providers’ intention of telling the story first, can lead to gross inaccuracies in the actual account of the details of the suicide events. When wrong or inaccurate information about the suicide makes news, it can compound the feelings of loss for family members as they try to keep details as private as possible.”
People’s desire for immediate information often overrides the family’s need for privacy during the initial phase of their grieving process.
“There may be emergency services at the scene and visits from police,” Statum said. “There may be media attention which can happen when the person dies and may be repeated after the investigation by the coroner. The best thing that community members can do is to be okay with their lack of information about the details surrounding the suicide and offer unconditional support for the family.
“Rather than growing together, we often grow apart as a community because our demand for information, combined with our own judgmental attitudes and practices can make surviving family members and friends feel isolated and alone, when they really need to see and feel unconditional support from the community.”
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources. Call 1-800-273-8255.