International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event to raise awareness of suicide prevention

by Eileen Brady | 11/10/17 2:05am

The Mood Disorders Service at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center will host its first International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event in Filene Auditorium on Nov. 18 to raise awareness of suicide prevention. The service, which seeks to advance recovery from mood disorders through scholarship, teaching and clinical care, is working with the New Hampshire chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to plan this event.

The International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day has been observed nationwide since 1999 when former Sen. Harry Reid introduced a resolution designating the Saturday before as Thanksgiving National Suicide Survivor Day. AFSP organizes and supports Survivor Day events in 18 different countries, with more than 350 events worldwide last year, according to New Hampshire AFSP chair Lisa Riley. The core goals of AFSP are to fund research, educate the public, advocate for public policies related to suicide and support survivors of suicide loss.

Riley said the AFSP has held “Out of the Darkness Campus Walks” at Dartmouth for the past three years to raise awareness, with the fourth annual walk planned for next spring. Out of the Darkness Walks are a main source of fundraising for New Hampshire AFSP, with roughly half of the money raised going towards research and programming on a national level and the other half funding local programs like Survivor Day events, she said. The decision to hold a Survivor Day event in Hanover was based on the growing capacity and number of volunteers in the area, according to Riley. The event at the College will be one of 10 held across New Hampshire on Nov. 18, Riley said.

The event will include food, discussion, sharing of resources and screenings of two documentaries produced by AFSP that tell the stories of suicide loss survivors, Riley said.

“The research suggests that when you have a family member, friend or colleague who dies by suicide that there’s a lot of shame and stigma and a lot of unanswered questions,” Riley said. “Survivors tend to do very well when supported by other survivors, and we make a point to bring them out of the shadows, bring them out of isolation and offer them this healing event.”

Shannon Malloy, a research coordinator for the Mood Disorders Service who, along with Riley, is leading the event on Nov. 18, said although it is hard to predict the attendance as it is the first event of its kind on campus, she hopes to see both students and community members present.

“[We are planning to welcome] anyone who has any connection with suicide loss [or anyone] interested in helping out with the cause in general,” Malloy said.

Malloy said the decision to hold the event on campus rather than at DHMC was based on both logistical concerns and the desire to create a more comfortable, welcoming environment than some might find DHMC to be. She also said she hopes that the location allows more students to participate.

Paul Holtzheimer, director of the Mood Disorders Service and professor of psychiatry and surgery at the Geisel School of Medicine, said the event is important because it raises awareness of suicide loss on college campuses and supports suicide loss survivors at Dartmouth.

“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and there’s a need for more research and education about suicide … I think that’s especially true for college students, who are relatively young, energetic and motivated and may be less aware of just how prevalent depression and suicide are,” Holtzheimer said. “Or, they are very aware because they’ve had someone in their family, or themselves, suffer from depression, or somebody in the family or a close friend die by suicide, and that can feel like a very isolating experience.”

He added that Survivor Day events can bring people together who have had shared experiences, reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and start conversations about how communities can improve mental health.

Students and community members can register for the event on the AFSP website, though non-registered participants are also welcome, according to Malloy.