by Erin Spalding, LCSW
For September, Suicide Awareness Month, I wanted to write something that spoke to the grief that follows suicide. Over the years, The Christi Center has moved from having suicide groups once a month to offering them weekly, due to the increased need. We have members that come to us having lost children, spouse/partners, parents, friends and many other loved ones. However, I want to focus on the teens and young adults who have to deal with the challenging grief process after losing someone to suicide.
I chose to write about young people and suicide, because unfortunately this loss is becoming more and more common. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the 3rd leading cause for death for youth age 15-24, only surpassed by homicide and accidents. Even harder to comprehend — it is the 4th leading cause of death among 10-14 year olds.
There are many resources for those who are concerned about suicide prevention with any youth in their lives (NAMI.org, afsp.org, suicidepreventionlifeline.org and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255) that you should be aware of. However, I wanted to share some resources for adults supporting the youth that are left behind after a friend, classmate, or other significant peer commits suicide.
One of the hardest things for anyone that loses someone to suicide is that grief is often compounded by the “what if” questions. Guilt and anger also are often magnified as people face the trauma of their loss. Unfortunately, adults often try to sugar coat discussions about death to protect teens, when what teens strongly desire is for the adults in their lives is for them to listen and provide honest answers.
Also, try to connect teens with youth that have experienced a similar loss. Just having a peer understand what they are going through can be transformative in their experience of grief.
Finally, I wanted to provide a resource that is both a good reminder to adults of what youth need and something that can be provided to teens to empower them to face the difficult task moving through the grief journey:
BILL OF RIGHTS FOR TEENS EXPERIENCING GRIEF
Although many people will give you advice, always keep in mind that you have basic rights as you experience your grief.
• You have the right to your own feelings. Your feelings are neither right nor wrong. They simply are. And they belong to you.
• You have the right to express your grief in any way that is not destructive, and to be comforted. If you do not get comfort, you have the right to request additional support.
• You have the right to continued loving care, but you must understand that it may sometimes be difficult for those who are also grieving to provide that care.
• You have the right to help plan and participate in the funeral ceremony, as much or as little as you wish.
• You have the right to ask any questions and expect thoughtful, honest answers.
• You have the right to be treated as an interested and important individual, not as someone’s “kid.”
• If you are a surviving sibling, you have the right to maintain your own identity. You are yourself; you cannot take the place of your dead brother or sister.
• You have the right to retrieve for days or years, however long it takes you to feel good again. There is no set time to “feel better.”
• You have the right to be free from guilt or continued grief, and you have the right to counseling if you need or want it.
• You have the right to be a comforter to others who are grieving, if you choose, and to share your grief with them.
Erin Spalding is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and is The Christi Center’s Program Director. She also facilitates the Teen and Young Adults groups.