Massachusetts Daily Collegian

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day to be held Saturday

By Colby Sears

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American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Official Facebook Page

(American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Official Facebook Page)

An International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is scheduled to be held at the University of Massachusetts on Saturday to provide a therapeutic setting where individuals who have lost someone to suicide can gather and discuss their personal healing experiences.

The event, which is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will be housed in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall at 11 a.m., featuring a film screening, a letter-writing healing activity, presentations and group discussions.

“This event is focused on helping people who have already lost someone to suicide,” student and event coordinator Afroze Shaikh said. “We’re hoping to reach out to people in the area and help them in their healing process.”

The senior psychology major and Sherborn native has never helped host a program like this before, though she got involved with AFSP after volunteering for the Out of Darkness Campus Walk held at UMass in March, an event also sponsored by the organization.

The Out of Darkness Campus Walk is held to raise awareness about depression and suicide and to get the word out for suicide prevention. Shaikh said she had been getting e-mails from AFSP after she got involved with the Walk, and soon discovered there were no local Suicide Loss Day events being hosted in the area.

She said she contacted the UMass Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, the mental health organization Active Minds and the National Residence Hall Honorary to help make the event happen.

Scheduled to last until 2:30 p.m., the day will begin with a welcoming reception with food and refreshments, followed by a screening of “Family Journeys: Healing and Hope after a Suicide.” The film is an AFSP documentary that follows the ripple effect suicide can have on families and communities and discusses the challenges of coping and healing in its aftermath.

“We’re going to have breakout groups so people can talk about the documentary, their own stories, and their own process and how they’ve been healing,” Shaikh said. The event is open not only to students dealing with suicide loss, but also to adults and local community members.

The documentary will be followed by half-hour small and large group discussions, as well as presentations put on by local suicide loss survivors. The day will conclude with a letter-writing activity in which participants can talk about their healing process in losing someone to suicide and write about their memories of that person.

According to the AFSP website, 41,149 suicides were reported in the US in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. Data is not yet available for 2014.

In 2013 alone, someone in the country died by suicide every 12.8 minutes.

Statistics for the same year show that the highest suicide rate was among white individuals and people aged 45 to 64-years-old. Almost 78 percent of those who died by suicide were male and 22 percent were female.

Founded in 1987, AFSP operates under five core strategies to fully achieve its mission: funding scientific research, offering education programs, educating the public about suicide prevention, promoting public policies and providing resources for suicide loss survivors and people at risk.

The organization has 75 local chapters that hold events across the country, including the Western Massachusetts Chapter in the area, which was chartered in 2006 after providing years of survivor programs as part of the New England Chapter. To better serve the western part of the state, volunteers applied to form this second chapter for Berkshire, Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties.

The event is free to the public, and those interested in attending can register online at the Survivor Day website.

Colby Sears can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colbysears.

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