Saturday November 22, 2014 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
In the United States, the latest evidence reports that 40,600 people died of suicide in 2012 and the number has been increasing. More Americans die from suicide than from car accidents. It is the second leading cause of death in college students, and the third leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults.
In the military the rate is even higher. In 2012 more soldiers died from suicide than in combat and as of 2014, the numbers were again on the rise.
“Suicide is a Personal and Interpersonal Disaster”
There are 39,000 deaths a year by suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States among 19-14 year olds and 15-14 year olds, and the second leading cause among 25-34 year olds. Spanning the ages, each of those who have taken their lives is someone’s child.
On hearing of the suicide of her 18-year-old son, singer Marie Osmond shares, “I thought someone had run a knife into my heart.”
The agony of losing a child by suicide is complicated by a number of factors:
According to Dr. Deborah Serani, author of the new book, Depression and Your Child, it is only recently that we recognize that children, even babies, experience depression.
Whether in the past or the present, a traumatic event experienced by one or all members of a family, impacts the entire family system. Be it the violent loss of a child, the devastation from natural disaster, the injury of a combat vet or the suicide of a family member, trauma assaults the lives of all family members and the legacy they share.
How Does a Family Cope?
One of the most important things a family can do in the aftermath of a traumatic event is to find a way over the days, months and even years “to speak about what happened.”
All families engage in story telling. Around the dinner table, in car pools, at holidays, in the middle of the night, family members share the day-to-day experiences of big and small events in their lives. Through the stories they tell, families create the fabric of their life and their legacy.
Why is it Difficult for Families to Speak About Trauma?
Family Protection Through Silence and Avoidance
Given this impact of trauma, the inclination of many family members is to protect each other by not speaking about the trauma.In an effort to spare others from more pain, prevent the stirring of feelings, avoid contaminating with traumatic memories, or burdening the family with grief, both adults and children disavow history, deny feelings and often avoid connection. The myth is that “if we don’t talk about it we can live beyond it.”
Historically we know that the opposite is true. As trauma expert, Cathy Caruth says, trauma “will out” in one way or another in spite of being silenced or denied. What can’t be said must be carried and acted out.
Disaster and trauma studies often focus on identifying the incidence of PTSD as the sequel to traumatic events.
Early interventions with those affected after a disaster or traumatic event increasingly utilize psycho-education to clarify and normalize common post-traumatic stress reactions and coping strategies.
While mentioned as a possible response, the high incidence of depression after trauma is less delineated and often goes unrecognized by those suffering.
Depression Occurs after Trauma:
Both major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occur frequently following traumatic exposure, both as separate disorders and concurrently.
Depression is the most common disorder suffered in conjunction with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Depression is nearly three to five times more likely in those with PTSD than those without PTSD.
It would seem that hope, which is broadly defined as an emotional state that promotes the belief in a positive outcome, is in inherent in human nature.
Reflections of the importance of hope are found in early mythology, religion, philosophy and literature.
Pandora, although forbidden, opened the box given to her by Zeus, and in a moment, all the curses were released into the world and all the blessing escaped and were lost- except one: hope.
“To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” ― The King James Version of the Bible
“Hope is a waking dream.” –Aristotle
“Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.” -Albert Camus
“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops — at all.” -Emily Dickinson
Clearly we need hope, but even as we embrace it we often wonder – Does hope really make a difference? Is it myth, fiction, collective denial?
There is actually increasing scientific evidence that hope changes us psychologically and physiologically – that it makes a difference.
The definition of catastrophe is an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering. The early morning shooting and killing of 12 people and wounding of others as they eagerly began viewing the latest Batman movie; “The Dark Knight Rises,” tragically qualifies.
As we shockingly take stock of this horrific event, we once again dare to imagine the pain of the families or resonate with memories of having faced similar pain. In the face of traumatic loss we are left without words, helpless to understand ‘Why’ and needing to believe there is a way to prevent such events.
We have come to know that even as we can still barely catch a breath and struggle for answers, there are some initial steps of Psychological First Aid (PFA) that offer some relief.
Here are some suggestions worth knowing and owning when life has suddenly become so darkened.
Many people face a traumatic event in adult life. Be it a serious car accident, combat, rape, a natural disaster or the loss of a child, people are often confronted with a horrific event that threatens death or serious injury to themselves or someone else, or involves the traumatic loss of a friend or loved one.
While such trauma is in itself physically and emotionally assaultive, trauma theorist Robert Stolorow proposes that beyond the actual event, it is the emotions suffered after the event that become the unbearable emotional pain of trauma.
Stolorow’s contribution to the field is his articulation of these feelings in a way that becomes an invaluable resource for validation.
“Trauma defies language; it resists being communicated”
Central to healing in the aftermath of a traumatic event is the transformation of trauma’s unspeakable imprint to a story that can be told without reliving it.
Understanding how trauma leaves us without words may make it easier to consider ways that can help unlock the story hidden in visual images, painful feelings, flashbacks, bodily symptoms or silent avoidance. Both are important steps toward finding your words and continuing your story.
What is a Traumatic Event?
A potentially traumatic event is most often one that is threatening to the life or bodily integrity of self or a loved one. It may include combat, sexual and physical assault, death of a child, suicide of a loved one, accidents, being held hostage, imprisoned, or tortured, natural and man-made disasters, as well the diagnosis of a life threatening illness.