The holidays can be a difficult time for people who are bereaved, but for those impacted by suicide, the stigma that surrounds it can make it an even more isolating experience.
Susan Marine and Lena Heilmann know that all too well. Susan lost her two children, Kevin and Alice, to suicide and Lena lost her sister Danielle to suicide. Their families have developed special traditions during the holidays to help them cope with the loss.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10 through 24 years, with 15-17 year olds having a dramatic increase in the rate of suicide in recent years.
Colorado Health Institute reports that suicide rates are on the rise in Colorado, a state which has already experienced higher levels of suicide.
Suicide claimed 1,093 lives in Colorado in 2015, the most ever recorded in one year, according to the latest data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE).
Since 2000, when Colorado recorded 612 suicide deaths, the annual number of suicides has increased by 79 percent. A comparison of 2014 Colorado suicide data with national data from that year, the most recent available, reveals that every one of Colorado’s 21 health statistics regions had a higher suicide rate than the national average of 13.0 per 100,000 people.
Susan Marine developed the Hope Lights the Night program a year after her daughter Alice died of suicide. “I knew from my own experience but because of dealing with other people, often parents who had lost children to suicide, that people are often isolated and they need to feel a sense of community.” Susan Marine lost Alice after she had already lost her son Kevin to suicide.
Lena Heilmann lost her sister Danielle to suicide 5 years ago at the age of 24. “My sister struggled with increasingly severe PTSD the last few years of her life. So though we knew she was struggling, her suicide still took us by surprise. It was something we didn’t want to think or thought was possible. So we knew she was struggling with a very severe mental illness but the suicide itself definitely caught us by surprise.”
90% of people who die by suicide have some type of mental health problem, often un-diagnosed and untreated depression.
If you are impacted by suicide and need help, the National Suicide Helpline is 1800-273-8255 (TALK) and the Colorado Suicide Helpline is 1844-493-8255 (TALK). Both helplines are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Update: June 26th 2018: This show was recognized by PRNDI, Public Radio News Directors Inc., in their 2018 awards. It came second in the Best Call-in Show Category among small newsrooms