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I should be over it by now

Three people, all survivors of a devastating gun violence event, recently took their own lives. This tragic news reignites sadness and heartbreak for all those who have experienced similar violent events: survivors, family and friends of the lost, people whose “it can’t happen here” innocence has been shattered. People like us.

We have learned yet another lesson: that the damage of trauma runs deep, and it doesn’t have an expiration date.

“All the more reason to remind members of our community to reach out for help,” says Angelica Joy Miskanin, a trauma therapist at JFCS.

Angelica meets with clients who have been impacted by the shooting on October 27th. She says that while each person responds to trauma differently, a theme she has noticed emerging from the community is around the complexity of survivor’s guilt. Many community members question the legitimacy of their feelings, as if only survivors and the families of those killed have a right to still be grieving and a right to reach out for additional support.

“Everyone’s level of grief is justified,” says Angelica. “I often remind my clients that they are part of this community and the better they care for themselves, the better they in turn can care for others. Seeking professional guidance to help navigate your feelings can be critical. Your feelings, whatever they are, are legitimate and important. Some people may try to minimize how this tragedy has affected them, but I can’t stress enough how deserving every person is to have their feelings heard in a safe and caring environment.”

The tragic suicides of the last week clearly demonstrate that the effects of trauma are life changing. They can lurk in the shadows, making it harder to cope with other stresses of daily life.

Rates of suicide are rising in this country. How do we help those who are suffering much more than we may realize? Perhaps we can first try to pay a little more attention. If you know someone who is having unusual difficulty, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says first of all to “Assume you are the only one who will reach out.”

Ask your friends or children who are unusually withdrawn or depressed what’s wrong – often. Listen carefully to their answers. Encourage them to get help. Don’t minimize their feelings or discuss the value of life or all their “blessings.” Whether one contemplates suicide or not, we all benefit from knowing that somebody cares.

And one more thing. There is a solid connection between suicide and the availability of guns. No one knows exactly what drives people to take that final action at any given moment, but since 51% of suicides involve firearms, easy access is a factor.

JFCS continues to offer individual therapy to anyone who is suffering over the events of October 27th and subsequent mass shootings. The tragedy at Christchurch has no doubt renewed our sadness, and perhaps our fears. If you are hesitant to seek individual help, please consider attending one of the group counseling sessions still being organized by JFCS at the JCC. For more information please call JFCS Counseling Services at 412-521-3800.

If you have any thoughts of suicide or know anyone else who does, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).