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Why We Need to Support Suicide Loss Survivors Struggling With Mental Illness

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Suicide. Intrinsically linked with mental illness, help is frequently provided for families who have lost a loved one to suicide. There’s even a title for those family members: “suicide survivors.” But what about people with mental illness who lose their friend with mental illness?

Mental illness can be a lonely journey, where day in and day out, someone battles with their own imperfect mind, often surrounded by people who do not understand what it’s like to have mental health problems. For those of us who reach out for help, a hospital stay is often required.

Within these hospitals, patients often befriend each other. Bonds form over similar experiences, even if the diagnoses differ. And why not? The pull of friendship makes the experience of living with mental illness a less lonely one, a shared struggle, where friends help each other through their days. Indeed, many people with mental health issues become naturally more empathetic and compassionate souls, as they learn what it means to struggle and don’t like seeing it in others. Friendships form as a natural response to this.

But with making friends with others with mental health issues comes a dark, little spoken of truth: We almost inevitably will lose someone to suicide. I, personally, have lost at least five friends in the last three years and am writing this essay whilst digesting the knowledge that the latest death happened mere days ago. She was a beautiful soul, whom I met during one of my stints in a psych ward and kept in touch with on the outside over Facebook. I don’t regret the friendship for one moment, quite the opposite. It has been a gift.

But it’s hard losing loved ones to an illness I too have. I can’t help wondering, who will it take next and will it ever be me? My heart goes out to the people around me, should I ever become a suicide victim. My family, naturally, but especially my friends who, like myself, have a mental illness. I know the loss and heartache. We’ve shared those feelings before when we’ve rallied together over the loss of some of our numbers. I know the fear. It brings home just how potentially deadly this illness can be.

At the psych ward I’ve been to there is no inpatient group for patients who have lost friends to suicide. There is a group on grief and loss, but it’s more generic in nature. It makes me wonder why. It’s not like they’re unaware we befriend each other. They see it in action on a daily basis. Are they afraid there might be a “copycat” fallout if the “elephant in the room” is spoken about? Who knows.

What I do know is it needs to be addressed. It’s not enough to rely upon other people with mental illness – our friends – to help us grieve the loss of one of our own. We are strong people, but we are also vulnerable at times. There needs to be something official put in place. There needs to be resources both online and offline designed for our particular demographic, to really deal with this issue.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: December 9, 2016
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