HELENA – Dozens of people gathered at the Montana State Capitol Saturday evening, for an event designed to provide help and hope for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.
The third Saturday of November is recognized as International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. This was the second year of Helena’s event – one of more than 300 gatherings around the U.S., Canada and beyond.
Groups like the Montana Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; the East Helena Suicide Prevention and Awareness Coalition; Breathe, Let’s Start a Conversation and the Montana VA Health Care System hosted the event. Organizers said it was intended to bring together people who have suffered this kind of loss.
“We don’t need to do this by ourselves; we don’t need to do this alone,” said Tova Reddick-Starkel, a board member with AFSP Montana.
Advocates said they saw a need to provide more support for survivors.
“They have a lot of questions; there’s often a lot of guilt,” said Jess Hegstrom, one of the event organizers. “This way they can gain some understanding, some perspective. They’re together with other people who’ve had a similar loss, and they can heal together.”
The event began with a resource fair, with local support organizations like the Center for Mental Health providing information about services.
Dr. Tina Barrett, the founder and executive director of Tamarack Grief Resource Center in Missoula, was one of the keynote speakers. She said it’s important for anyone dealing with loss to find their own way to cope. Importantly, she said, it’s a different path for everyone.
“General rule of thumb: If it’s not hurting you or someone else, it’s probably okay,” she said. “It’s your journey.”
Those in attendance watched a short documentary by AFSP, following a young woman dealing with the loss of her father. Afterward, they took part in a question-and-answer session with other local survivors.
Dozens of luminaries – small paper lanterns – were lit and placed on the Capitol rotunda steps, in honor of those lost to suicide. Students from the Helena and Capital High School choirs then closed the event with a performance.
Organizers say for anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one to simply know they have somewhere to turn.
“If you lost someone to suicide, you’re not alone,” said Hegstrom. “There are resources for you and people who care and have been through similar experiences, so if you want to have more support, please reach out to us.”
You can find more information at the AFSP’s website.