Losing a loved one to suicide is a loss that not many understand.
Recognising the need for support for those who are grieving a death by suicide, the Befrienders has started a support group for them called Healing Connections.
The support group will provide a safe environment for these suicide survivors to seek comfort from others going through the same experience.
“Grieving a death by suicide is more complicated that mourning a normal death, and survivors go through a range of emotions.
“At first, there is shock and then anger, either at themselves for not recognising or acting on signs that their loved one was in trouble
“There could also be anger at the person who died. There may even be feelings of anger at the doctors or therapists who were not able to prevent the suicide. With this anger comes guilt.
“A support group like this will provide a safe space for those who are struggling with their emotions and grief,” says Befrienders KL executive director Kenny Lim.
Because of the shared experience, they will feel supported and can share whatever they are feeling. They can vent, confide or just talk about what they are going through. It is safe because everyone in the group is going through a similar loss,” adds Lim.
The Befrienders is a non-profit organisation that has been providing support for those who are suicidal or in need of emotional support for close to 50 years. Founded in 1970, the non-profit group has branches in Penang, Ipoh, Melaka and Kuala Lumpur.
“All this while, we have been providing support for those who are suicidal but we saw the need to reach out to those who are getting over the loss of a loved one to suicide.
“We did a lot of research, spoke to psychiatrists and visited the Samaritans of Singapore (a suicide prevention center) and learnt what we need to start our own support group,” shares.
Being among fellow survivors of suicide is in itself comforting, Lim says. For one thing, it takes the apprehension of being judged or pitied away.
“You may think no one understands what you are going through but with a group of people with the same kind of experience, you know you are not alone.
“The process of recovery actually begins when you can talk about the suicide and how you are feeling openly. Members are not forced to share … some things, you want to keep private. In fact, some members may not want to share much initially, but listening to another’s experience can be helpful.
“Although everyone’s grief is unique, there are some experiences that are common and that’s where you will find comfort and support,” says Lim.
Support groups are important because of the stigma attached to suicide which makes it a difficult subject to broach.
“Sometimes, it’s not that the person experiencing grief doesn’t want to talk about the death or their grief.
“Some friends and family avoid the subject as they don’t know how to react, respond or even approach suicide.
“Many of us are uncomfortable discussing suicide and so, we advise those who are mourning ‘not to think about it’. This really isn’t very good advise,” says Lim.
In a support group, survivors will find that it is okay to talk about suicide.
While there will be a facilitator to help move the group meetings along, if necessary, Lim emphasises that the members of the group decide on what they’d like to talk about based on their needs.
“This is important – they get to control what they want to share within the group. And, they can be reassured that nothing they are feeling is “wrong”, be it is anger, frustration, sadness or despair.
“Talking about the topic acknowledges their feelings and this acceptance will help in recovery. The (healing) power that comes from the support of others is very important,” he says.
Recognising that trust is an important component of a support group like this, Lim says those who want to join have to go through an informal one-on-one session to see if they are “ready” for group sharing. The sessions are open to anyone who is grieving a loss, whether the suicide is recent or happened a decade or more ago.
“Not everyone is ready to share their feelings with others. And not everyone wants to. For these people, we’d recommend one-on-one sessions first. To emphasise trust and confidentiality, it will be a closed group … we won’t accept walk-ins simply because we want members of the group to feel safe … knowing the people in their group and feeling they can trust them,” he says.
The Healing Connections Suicide Survivors Support Group meeting will be held at the Befrienders KL centre in Petaling Jaya. The first meeting will take place today. If you are interested or want to find out more, call Befrienders KL at 03-7957 1306.