By Dr. Mark Edward Pleiss, PsyD, Washington & Jefferson ’11
So, as we are in the middle of National Suicide Prevention Month, the reality is that within our lifetime, we are likely to know at least one person affected by suicide, and still, I hope for the day when we no longer need a whole month dedicated to preventing suicide. But even with all of the prevention, resources, and support, we may one day find out that someone we know died by suicide. It could be a chapter brother, a coworker, a family member, or just about anyone else we have had a relationship with. I cannot say that I know of a single easy way to change the many thoughts and emotions that someone experiences when they learn that someone they knew has died by suicide. Often, we experience grief for the many moments and memories we will no longer have with that person.
So, how do we talk about it?
Although I do not have all the answers, I can provide some evidence-based practices for when we unfortunately lose someone to suicide. I would suggest that you talk about it whenever it feels right, but in a benevolent and understanding manner, with grace and patience paramount—also, knowing when it is too much for you at that moment to have a deep conversation and communicating that in a healthy way to others.
First, try to limit the what if questions after someone dies by suicide. We can find just about every scenario, every opportunity that we didn’t connect or recognize a sign, and often that leads to blaming ourselves for not acting. Questions will most likely lead to more anger, sadness, and frustration.
Second, although all of us will process grief differently, avoiding the topic altogether will likely lead to isolating ourselves and others suffering in that moment. By not talking about what happened, how we felt about it, and how we are trying to recover, we may isolate ourselves from the support that may help us to heal. Also, we may hurt others indirectly by not speaking about our loss. The time and place of these conversations should be based on your needs, your ability to have that conversation, and the boundaries that assume the same for the other side of the conversation.
Last and most important, it is okay not to be okay. Recovering from any loss means experiencing and facing challenging emotions. We may be fine in one moment and not the next. Grief will come in waves, and the waves that knock us down are the ones we never see coming. For example, it could be a place, a memory, a favorite song, or even a meal you always had with that person. Know that these experiences are normal, and that is okay. I always felt that the grief meant that the person meant enough to be that I am sad that I can’t have them in my life anymore. Sometimes, it is just the grief of all the future events that the person won’t be at. Although the waves may become further apart when they hit us, they will still come, and that is where we must utilize our best means of coping, be it talking it out, taking a moment to cry, doing physical activity, or taking a couple deep breaths and moving forward.
We are very fortunate to have a positive and healthy fraternity experience, as a brotherhood should be one of the best forms of social support anyone could ask for; it is a protective factor that quite literally could mean the difference between life and death. Sometime this month, take the time to have conversations around mental health, celebrate the great things you do as an individual and a chapter, and enjoy the fall semester. But also take time to care for one another, remember those who have died by suicide, and try to have conversations with those around you so that we honor their memory, and try to reduce the deaths by suicide wherever we may be.
Together, we can be our brother’s keeper. Together, we can prevent suicide.
If you are in a crisis and need immediate support, please call or text 988 or TALK to 741741.