With the suicides of both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, suicide is again at the top of our national conversation—and for good reason. Last week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report showing suicide rates in the US rose across the country from 1999 to 2016, with 25 states having an increase of at least 30 percent.
This bad news is made worse because data also shows that after high profile suicides, the suicide rate temporarily increases among the rest of the population.
My heart is heavy. Not only for the lives lost but also for the lives impacted. See, the statistics tell how many lives are lost, but they also should remind us that now there is also a large increase in the number of families and friends who are left behind and devastated.
I couldn’t help but hurt for Kate Spade’s teen daughter. Even though Spade wrote, “This has nothing to do with you. Don’t feel guilty. Ask your dad,” I knew that, for her daughter, it has everything to do with her—and will impact her for the rest of her life.
It probably has an impact on you too. An article from the National Institutes of Health shared that 85 percent of people in the US know someone personally who has completed a suicide and, for every person who commits suicide, six loved ones are directly affected by one of life’s most anguishing experiences.
Grieving a suicide comes with a whole host of additional emotions, such as guilt, anger, confusion, rejection, and abandonment. And then there is the often-unanswered question: Why? Even if there was a note left behind, one mom shares that she constantly relives her son’s last day, wondering if she might have done or said something that could have changed the outcome. Some questions might get answered; others may not.
So in what seems like a hopeless situation, there are still ways you can help.
Check in on them frequently. For many, the stigma associated with suicide means they grieve in silence. Christians are called to carry each other’s burdens. Let them know they aren’t alone.
Reach out on holidays. These days are painful reminders of their loss. Whether it’s a phone call or card, let them know you are thinking of and praying for them.
Pay close attention. Sadly, survivors also are at a higher risk of developing major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal behaviors. Learn what signs to look for to make sure they are safe.
Help them develop a support network. Whether they talk to a pastor, therapist, or join a survivors’ group, sharing their story with those who understand their pain can help them heal.
Pray for them. That seems obvious, but it is especially important. Sometimes in the middle of people’s deepest darkness, they might not even be able to bring themselves to pray or even know how to pray. Your prayer on their behalf is powerful and effective.