BEYOND THE HEADLINES: It’s time to talk suicide

CMHA’s eight-week support group program for those impacted by suicide runs from April 14 to June 2.

Cecilia Skerritt has come to accept that her mother took her own life.

“She’s an inspiration to me. She had five children and managed to stay around as long as she could,” said Skerritt.

“She was the coolest person and she gave us enough on her good days.”

But it wasn’t always like that.

When her mom, also named Cecilia, died at age 49, Skerritt was afraid that people would be judgemental or ask a bunch of questions. Instead, they didn’t know what to say and ignored her altogether.

“People kind of ran away from me.”

Thirty years later, Skerritt is co-ordinating the suicide grief support group for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“Participants get to be with others who have had similar experiences,” she said.

While people can talk about cancer diagnoses or other diseases at length, there is still a stigma attached to suicide. The support group provides a safe environment.

Among the topics are the impact of loss, guilt, anger, coping as a family and building a support network.

“They get to celebrate the person who died. Sometimes with suicide there is shame but they were here. They did live,” said Skerritt.

“They were loving spouses, children and siblings. How they died is a small part of their lives.”

Societal perceptions about suicide and mental health are also discussed.

“People say it’s a selfish death but it’s a death from a disease she (her mom) struggled with,” said Skerritt.

“It’s a symptom of the illness. It’s hard to blame a person for being ill.”

I have previously written about my life with anxiety. It’s a day-to-day struggle and no matter how supportive family and friends are, you can have this sense of being very alone.

My family has also been touched recently by suicide and the questions and pain it has generated have been overwhelming. But I have also been impressed with the strength and openness of those on the front lines of this tragedy. Through their grief, they have reached out to others in the hope of raising awareness.

And the first step towards awareness is knowing that resources exist.

If you are feeling suicidal, the People In Need Crisis Line is available at 1-888-353-2273 or 1-800-784-2433.

CMHA’s eight-week support group program for those impacted by suicide runs from April 14 to June 2.

Pre-registration is required by calling 250-275-8062, extension, 4 or e-mailing sgsg.vernon@cmha.bc.ca

Like with all forms of death, closure is elusive and virtually a myth. The goal is to manage those emotions and move ahead.

“If they are stuck in grief with no place to turn, I hope this is where a journey without their loved one can begin,” said Skerritt of the support group.

It’s not only time for us to have the conversation about mental health and suicide, but to challenge ourselves to be compassionate and understanding. We are not alone.