Oklahoma ranks in the top ten when it comes to the number of suicides. On Saturday, families worldwide gathered to share their stories during Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. Phil Holeman attended one event at the University of Central Oklahoma. He spoke to a group of about 30 people whom he shares the same bond.
“Suicide affects everyone within the family to their core, it shakes you to your foundation,” he said.
Holeman’s 31-year-old son Derek took his own life three years ago.
“He was a great kid, brilliant young man, but he had been suffering from depression for about eight years,” Holeman said. “He had been going to counseling for about nine months, but when the time came, we were not ready for it.”
More than 44,000 people die by suicide in the US each year. Oklahoma ranks as the 7th highest state in suicide deaths.
“We're making a record in a way we don't want to make here in Oklahoma,” said Ken Elliott, school counselor for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Elliott is part of a task force trying to figure out why the state ranks so high in suicide deaths.
“In my nearly 30 years of community based and school counseling, I have worked with people wanting to die from suicide from ages five to 85. For youth wanting to die by suicide, they often share feelings of thwarted belonging, a sense of hopelessness and feelings of being a burden to others.”
It’s estimated that for every suicide, 147 people are affected, from church and work to friends and family. Elliott says events like Survivors of Suicide Loss Day are crucial to healing.
“Therapy helps, family therapy helps but profound impact is talking with others who have lost someone to suicide,” Elliott said.
Following the viewing of a new documentary “The Journey Revisited, about suicide and grief, the families joined together and wrote their loved ones names and personal notes on balloons. Then they gathered outside and released them into the air.
“Sharing of your story is where the healing comes,” Holeman said. “Interacting with people who have gone through the same sort of debilitating loss that we've had, it’s an excruciating pain but you're not alone."
If you or anyone you know is thinking about suicide, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) anytime or visit HeartLine Oklahoma.