Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan hosts suicide survivors’ event Nov. 18

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan will host the West Michigan Survivors of Suicide Loss 2023 event.

On November 18, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan will host the West Michigan Survivors of Suicide Loss annual event, which brings together people impacted by a death by suicide. The event is held annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving as the holidays are a particularly difficult time of year for loss survivors. The event begins at 8:30 a.m. with a light breakfast. As people arrive, Rebecca Olson and her father, who died by suicide.those attending can write the names of people they want to honor on cards placed on the dining tables.

“It’s a really important part of our day … a reading of the names,” says board member Rebecca Olson. “We actually close out the day by turning the lights down, lighting some candles, playing a song, and having one of our team members read the names of those that have been lost by those in attendance that day.”

A station where guests can make multicolor honor beads to wear. These signify the loved ones whom they have lost. Different colors represent parents, siblings, and friends or communicate if the person wearing them is attending to support others. The color-coded honor beads help guests find other people who have experienced similar losses.

“We tend to find that people hear others with very similar stories to their own, whether it was a loss of a spouse or a child,” Olson says. “It just gives them a place to connect and know that they're not alone on this day.”

"Be gentle with yourself and realize that everyone grieves differently.”

The five-hour event also includes panel discussions and keynote speakers Gail and John Urso. The Ursos are cofounders of Kevin’s Song, a nonprofit they created after the death of their son that is dedicated to suicide prevention and supporting loss survivors. 
Clinician Ben Taylor will moderate the event.
The Ursos will speak about the loss of their son and how they were moved to create their organization, the work it has accomplished, and how it provides support for survivors. 

As moderator for the event’s discussions, clinician Ben Taylor specifically counsels people who have lost someone to suicide. Taylor will offer a clinical perspective to the discussion and work with anyone who begins to feel overwhelmed and needs to speak with a professional during the event.

As guests socialize, they will have opportunities to visit a range of attending organizations to learn about the services they offer. In addition to Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan and its be nice. program, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and Forest View Hospital will have information about their services including therapy and suicide education.

Therapy for suicide loss survivors addresses unique situations other patients may not experience. Grief support groups not focused on suicide grief may include people whose loved ones died after living with a disease like cancer for years. After hearing their story, Olson says it may be uncomfortable for a survivor of suicide loss to say their loved one died on purpose — even though mental illness is as much of a disease as cancer is.

Due to the complexity of suicide grief, events like this can be uncomfortable or overwhelming to guests. Olson recommends that those thinking of attending for the first time take the event at their comfort level.

“There are no expectations of you having to get out of the car when you park in the parking lot,” Olson says. “If you walk in, and you need to walk out, we all understand because we've all been there. Maybe you just want to listen this year, and you don't want to share or ask a question. Just seeing that you're not alone, that could be enough for some people — to be gentle with yourself and realize that everyone grieves differently.”

The International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event will take place at the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, 160 South West 68th St., Suite 120. in Grand Rapids. To register for the event, click here.

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan educates all ages to recognize the signs of mental illness.

As the go-to source for mental health education, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan educates communities, schools, workplaces, faith communities, and individuals of all ages to recognize the signs of mental illness and have the confidence to take action when helping themselves or others using the be nice. action plan and other life-saving tools.

Get help right now. If you are thinking of harming yourself or you are in emotional distress, please reach out. Emotions can be really painful sometimes. If you are using self-harm to manage your emotions, we want you to pause and reach out to one of the numbers above. Texting "nice" to 741741 (Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan Crisis Text Line) is a good way to cool down and get some positive coping mechanisms to manage how you're feeling right now. Call 988 if you prefer to hear someone's voice on the other line — they can talk you through this.

Joseph Goral graduated from Oakland University in the summer of 2023 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Before his graduation, Joseph was a digital news intern at ClickOnDetroit and a contributing writer for The Oakland Post. When Joseph is not writing, you can usually find him watching Pistons basketball, playing with his dog Biggie, doing personal photography, and spending time with friends and family.

Photos courtesy West Michigan Survivors of Suicide.
be nice. photo courtesy Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of MichiganCenter for Health and Research TransformationGenesee Health SystemMental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorth Country CMHNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointSanilac County CMHSt. Clair County CMHSummit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.
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