Empathy, and Continual Dialogue, Key for Healing Post-Suicide

Jan 23, 2017

Suicide rates in the United States are the highest they’ve been in 30 years, but no matter what statistics show us, each individual loss to suicide is devastating. Survivors are left with grief, anger, questions and often a sense of guilt. Cheri Jenkins, whose father and mother both died by suicide, said one of the hardest emotions for her to reconcile was anger.

"Anger has come and gone with me, and I did seek an individual counselor right after I got home from my mom's funeral, and she gave me some great advice. She said, "If you're angry, write a letter to your mom or dad and say why are you angry, why are you pissed off?" And then I take it and I burn it, and I let it go at that time."

While Jenkins' counselor was helpful, she hadn't personally dealt with suicide. So Jenkins decided to find another avenue.

"The support group let know that my feelings were validated ... to let me know that I was not alone, that there are other people who have lost someone to suicide that are there. And talking about it. Talking about it has helped a tremendous amount."

John Westefeld, professor emeritus in the counseling psychology department at the University of , says that type of open dialogue, whether it's with a counselor, a close friend, or a support group, is critical after someone has lost a loved one to suicide.

"They need to talk to someone about it. The people I worry about are the ones who completely internalize it and don’t talk about it at all. I think most could benefit from a few therapy sessions."

In this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Westefeld and Jenkins about suicide loss and prevention. Keri Neblett, Crisis Intervention Services Director at the Crisis Center of Johnson County and a board member for the Iowa Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, also joins the conversation.