Suicide leaves its mark on survivors

Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
(Courtesy photo)

For those left behind, suicide is devastating.

Unlike most other means of death, suicide spawns guilt and unanswered questions that leave a lifetime mark on surviving family and friends, experts say.

"It changes them forever. Their world is never the same," said Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, a national nonprofit based in Bloomington.

While all death is difficult, suicide deaths tend to be more complicated, Reidenberg said.

"The unending and never-answered 'why' lingers for people, and it can tear people apart," he said. "It can change them so that they can never regain what they had because they can never get an answer to that question."

There is much guilt and responsibility and shame attached to suicide, experts say.

"It's different from any other accidental death that I've seen or a car accident," said Stacy Doyle, Wright County victim assistance coordinator, who often works with family members after a suicide.

"I think for a lot of the victims, they've really been able to hide the pain and the suffering from family members," Doyle said. "So I think just the impact on the family initially really is shock."

Unlike losing someone to cancer or diabetes, the suicide of someone close to you increases your own risk of dying by suicide by somewhere between 5 and 35 percent, Reidenberg said.

"That's something that makes this very, very important to be addressed by communities immediately following a suicide so that we don't lose others," he said.

Mary Jo Pine, suicide prevention coordinator for the St. Cloud VA Health Care System, spends a lot of time reaching out to survivors of veterans who die by suicide, even if the veteran wasn't being treated at the VA. She sends bereavement packages that include books on coping with grief and lists of local support groups.

It's important to pay close attention to the survivors of suicide, Pine said, because they will suffer for the rest of their lives and are at higher risk themselves for ending their own life.

"The veteran gets out of their pain," she said. "They often don't realize that they're transferring that pain to their survivors."

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About the reporters

Kirsti Marohn has been a reporter at the St. Cloud Times since 1998. She has covered local and state government, social issues and the environment. Her father was a U.S. Marine and her husband served in the Minnesota National Guard prior to 9/11.

Marohn became interested in writing about veterans after hearing about the struggles many have faced since returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and how community resources were not always adequate to help them.

You can follow Marohn on Facebook and on Twitter @kirstimarohn.

David Unze has been a reporter at the St. Cloud Times since 1997. He has covered primarily courts, public safety and higher education.

The problems that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face came to his attention through the interactions that police and the courts have with veterans in crisis. He also learned about the challenges that vets face when they return home and try to resume their education.

You can follow Unze on Facebook and on Twitter @sctimesunze.