Suicide prevention resources available

Published 9:52 am Saturday, August 22, 2009

I would like to commend The Tidewater News and Nicholas Langhorne for the timely, informative and sensitive articles on suicide published on July 15 and 22 in the wake of the tragic murder-suicide in Boykins. The Tidewater News performed an important community service in providing accurate information on a subject loaded with myths and misperceptions.

Colleen Flick’s nursing students at Paul D. Camp Community College are also to be commended for raising community awareness about the lack of information about suicide and the few resources available locally, and by setting out to correct the situation.

I would like to point out some additional resources for dealing with suicide and suicide prevention.

Survivors of Suicide (SOS) is an organization that has helped many families navigate the grief process following a loved one’s suicide. According to SOS, the grief process for these families is much more complex and difficult than that in other circumstances. They are often haunted by guilt and thoughts of “if only I had …” and “why didn’t I …” And they, themselves, are at greater risk of suicide in the months following the death of their loved one.

Survivors of suicide find their guilt and grief much easier to bear when it is shared with others who are in the same boat. The contact for the Chesapeake chapter of SOS is Christine Gilchrist, a mental health professional who facilitates the group. She can be reached at (757) 483-5111. The Web site for the group is

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Western Tidewater offers two courses in Franklin: Family-to-Family and Peer-to-Peer, both of which include suicide prevention information and strategies.

The NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program is a 12-week course that provides insights into, and resolution of, the profound concerns experienced by families, close relatives and friends as they strive to cope with the realities of serious mental illness. Course participants gain vital information, insight and understanding of their loved one that many describe as life-changing.

Suicide-related sessions in family-to-Family cover suicide risk factors, signs a loved one may be contemplating suicide and strategies for intervening, as well as information on handling crises and preventing relapse. Other course topics include symptoms of the major mental illnesses: major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse.

Family-to-family discusses medication issues and the latest treatment options, as well as current brain research related to mental illness. Participants learn how to cope with worry and stress and learn to focus on care for themselves and their loved ones.

Family-to-Family takes place in a confidential setting, and attendees come together with others who are also dealing with a loved one’s mental illness. The course is taught by trained NAMI family members who have relatives with mental illness. In Franklin, the next Family-to-Family course will begin on Sept. 15.

NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Program will also be offered this fall. Peer to Peer is a program for people with mental illness who are interested in achieving and maintaining wellness.

Taught by trained mentors who have achieved a level of recovery and are successfully managing their own conditions, the course is appropriate for those diagnosed with such mental illnesses as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other conditions. Even those struggling with anxiety will find much here that will be helpful in their daily lives.

Following a structured format in a relaxed and confidential setting, Peer-to-Peer promotes effective paths to recovery, including individual empowerment, family and peer support, relapse prevention, communication skills and general health. The course offers comprehensive information on mental illness, and teaches strategies for personal and interpersonal awareness, coping skills, and self-care strategies.

Participants share experiences with peers who also are working toward recovery. They learn how to be an active participant in any treatment plan and how to strengthen interpersonal relationships.

Peer-to-Peer is probably the most effective suicide prevention resource available because it teaches participants how to manage and cope with various circumstances, as well as how to identify and deal early on with feelings, thoughts, behaviors and events that can result in relapse.

One participant who has completed the course comments, “The course presented a very powerful message. I am impressed by the total curriculum. It included a lot of different tools for recovery while allowing for choice, which is important to me.”

Orientation meetings for Peer-to-Peer in Franklin will take place on Aug. 24 and Sept. 14. For more information and to register for either Family-to-Family or Peer-to-Peer, call me at 562-2988.