By: Bill O’Connell
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
The sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one or a close friend is a tragic and devastating life event that can often require a very long time for those left behind, to work through the tremendous grief that follows. Typically, there is an outpouring of sympathy and support from friends, family members, co-workers and members of the community that help facilitate the grieving process.
However, if the death was self-inflicted, or to put it more bluntly, a suicide, the desperately needed support rarely materializes or is severely minimized at best, often leaving “survivors” as they are known, isolated and in dire need of help as a crushing amount of guilt and shame compounds their grief. And, they are often left with the one question that almost never gets answered, “Why?”
Unfortunately, in this country, suicide carries with it a social stigma that serves as the biggest obstacle to survivors receiving the treatment they need. In fact, while it is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, exceeding 41,000 annually, the Center for Disease Control uses the term “Intentional Self-Harm” to describe it. Generally speaking, people do not want to talk about it or hear about it, or acknowledge it in any way if at all possible. Meanwhile, most of the survivors are left to suffer in silence, believing that is the way they are supposed to deal with the intolerable pain.
“This is what our survivors say. ‘It’s such an isolating effect’”, explained Pam Pflum, a counselor and program coordinator at the Four County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMhs) Board in Archbold. “Because a lot of people that you love, a lot of them can’t talk to you because they don’t know what to say. So you’re isolated and you’re going through the grieving even worse because a lot of people leave you. That’s the worst thing that can happen. That’s the worst thing you can do, to not acknowledge their loved one.”
In 2010, after receiving a $5,000 grant from the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, the Four County Suicide Prevention Coalition (FCSPC) was started. And in May of 2015, the ADAMhs Board and the Four County Family Center in Wauseon collaborated to form the Four County L.O.S.S. Team (Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide). It is regarded as an arm of the FCSPC.
L.O.S.S. is a national post intervention program started by Dr. Frank Campbell of Louisiana approximately thirty years ago to aid survivors as soon as possible after a coroner’s ruling of suicide. Studies conducted by Dr. Campbell’s foundation have shown that post intervention will lower the time before a survivor seeks help from an average of four and a half years to less than forty days.
Statistically, the Four County area, which includes Fulton, Defiance, Henry and Williams, closely matches the state and national rate and demographics of suicides. Between 2007 and 2014, the area suffered 122 suicides with Fulton accounting for the most with 41 and Williams second with 32. People, mostly men, between the ages of 40 and 59 comprise 45% of the total number with firearms followed by hanging being the two most common methods of choice.
In March of 2015 Dr. Campbell came to Northwest State Community College in Archbold and trained 150 individuals that included law enforcement, clergy and mental health professionals on his L.O.S.S program. From there a group of 28 volunteers were selected through an application and screening process and in May of the same year the local program went live. The current group contains 11 survivors, as well as eight clergy and counselors and acute care providers.
When a suicide occurs, the law enforcement agency on the scene calls a LOSS coordinator and a first responders team of three or four volunteers, including at least one survivor, is quickly put together. They arrive on the scene or a designated meeting place within two hours to meet and counsel the grief stricken family or individual. The team spends approximately one to two hours with the survivor, encourages they seek counseling, leaves a packet of information and follows up later on with phone calls.
Another reason for rapid intervention, or “postvention for prevention” as they put it, is survivors or those directly impacted by suicide are nine times more likely to take their own lives later in life. Suicide has a definite contagion effect. Information and education are critical components to this prevention.
Additionally, the FCSPC has been extremely proactive with educational programs designed for middle school and high school students, a demographic that accounts for around 12% of all suicides. There are 23 school districts in the Four County area and Kathy Helmke, Director of Family Service of NW Ohio, and her team have visited and spoken at many of them, but not all.
“We get into as many as we can. As many that will allow us to do that program,” said Ms. Helmke. “In certain districts, smaller districts there’s some resistance. I think what we run up against is the myth that we’re still struggling against as a suicide prevention coalition in the whole community and the stigma. You don’t want to talk about it. And if you talk about it and you say the word ‘suicide’ it will plant ideas and they(students) will go do it. That’s an old stereotype, an old myth that some still hold today.”
There are a lot of resources available in the fight against suicide deaths. Data collected by the FCSPC shows that compared to the two years prior to its formation, the average number of suicides over the next five years have dropped by over 26%. There is also a Survivors After Suicide Support Group that meets once a month in at the ADAMhs Board facility in Archbold.
Survivor Teresa May of Liberty Center is one of the original attendees of the group and is now a LOSS volunteer. Teresa lost her father to suicide when she was 17 years old then lost her uncle, his brother, to the same fate eight years later but never sought help until she joined the group 16 years after her father’s death.
“I thought I was okay but I really wasn’t,” Teresa recalls about herself before joining the group. “It was so hard joining but it made me feel like I really wasn’t alone and there was other people out there going through what I did.”
She was then encouraged to attend Dr. Campbell’s seminar at Northwest State and applied to the LOSS program immediately after. “It’s amazing to be a part of the LOSS team,” says Teresa. “It’s something that’s indescribable as a survivor when I meet another survivor. We can just look each other in the eyes and we get it.”
The numbers are improving but there is still a long way to go. What may be the most helpful in this battle is for society to reevaluate their “head in the sand” attitude and tackle it straight on.
Dr. Campbell is returning to Northwest State on May 4th, 2016 for another seminar. For more information on the seminar, the LOSS Team or about suicide in general you can contact Pam Pflum at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 419-267-3355, ext 5. You can also contact Tonie Long at email@example.com or call 419-335-3735.
Bill O’Connell may be reached at