CHATHAM — Unbeknownst to most residents, several people have taken their own lives in the last two to three months in Chatham. In response, the Samaritans are starting a new support group at the Eldredge Library for loved ones left behind by suicide.
“It's a community that's really in need right now,” said Stephanie Kelly, Executive Director of the Samaritans on Cape Cod and the Islands. The Samaritans, best known for operating a crisis hotline for people contemplating suicide, also organize “Samaritan Safe Place” support groups in Falmouth and Hyannis. In light of the suicides in Chatham, they are launching a new Safe Place here.
It's different from other bereavement support groups, Kelly said.
“The grief is so unique when you lose someone to suicide,” she said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions, and there is a lot of anger.” When a loved one loses a friend to an accident or illness, that anger can be directed at God, society or other people. But when the cause is suicide, that anger may be directed at the late victim. And Kelly said that can be a difficult emotion to share with someone who hasn't experienced it before.
In addition, those who are grieving the loss of a friend to suicide might find themselves shut out by friends.
“It's not that they don't care. It's that they don't know what to do,” she said. Society tends to keep suicide a secret, and that leads to a stigma. The result can be that suicide survivors feel isolated.
Most Safe Place groups are facilitated by people who have lost a loved one to suicide, Kelly said. Those volunteers guide the discussion, but the session is really led by the participants, she said.
“They really are a very safe environment where people can talk about the loss and the person they loved, and get feedback,” Kelly said.
Samaritan Safe Place groups are not just for those who recently lost a loved one to suicide.
“We have one participant who comes back periodically, and he is decades away from his loss,” Kelly said. The sadness may come and go, being absent for months before flooding back unexpectedly.
“This time of year is a great example of that,” she said. “There are things that trigger that sadness” like anniversary dates or holiday traditions.
Anyone touched by the loss of a loved one to suicide is welcome to attend the group, which will meet on the first and third Thursday of each month at the Eldredge Public Library. The first session will be held on Dec. 15 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. For information, call 508-548-7999 or email CCSamaritans@verizon.net. Kelly thanked the library for providing the group with an excellent meeting space.
For those who can't attend a Samaritan Safe Place, or who don't feel comfortable doing so, the group provides free “care packages” with books and other resources, “just to let them know that there is someone who's caring about them out in the community,” Kelly said.
Suicide touches every age, gender, race and socioeconomic group. “The highest rate nationwide right now is white men over the age of 85,” she said. While the suicide rate on the Cape and Islands is about one-and-a-half times the state average, Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates of suicide in the nation. One reason for that is the fact that Massachusetts provides adequate funding for suicide prevention and awareness programs, she said.
Kelly offered some advice to people who might become aware that a friend is suffering from the loss of a loved one to suicide.
“Definitely don't walk away from it and don't ignore it,” she said. People may mistakenly believe that talking about the person's loss will only hurt them more. With a kind word or even a hug, “let them know you care and you support them. That's the best you can do,” Kelly said.