Response to Suicide Deaths of Survivors of Mass Shootings at Parkland and Sandy Hook
Our thoughts are with the communities of Parkland, FL and Newtown, CT as they mourn the recent suicide deaths of Sydney Aiello, Jeremy Richman, and the young student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Their deaths were brought to national attention due to the activism against gun violence originating from these communities, but they are certainly not the only survivors of trauma to become victims of suicide. Trauma and crisis are significant risk factors for suicide, and suicides are not uncommon following a mass shooting event. As gun violence continues to grip our nation, the ripple effects of these events will continue to be felt in communities around the country.
These tragic suicide deaths are a sobering reminder of the long-lasting effects of trauma and the tremendous need for postvention care. However, we must remember healing is possible and joy and happiness can be a part of life again. Suicides are not inevitable and are preventable. Significant traumatic events like mass shootings can place great strain on the resources available in local communities and their ability to provide adequate support to those affected, which often includes entire schools and towns. Funding from the state and national level is imperative for supporting the healing of individuals and communities, and the current responses are woefully inadequate. The response to these tragedies must go beyond the immediate crisis response and include sustained programming and support to build strong healthy communities that can better address the risk factors for suicide and violence. We simply must do better.
When several suicides occur in a cluster over a short period of time, they are often referred to using terms such as “copy-cat suicides” or “suicide contagion.” This terminology is misleading and stigmatizing. People who attempt suicide are not trying to copy or replicate what others have done, and suicide is not contagious. More accurately, clusters of suicides are likely due to a lack of crisis support. The effects of a traumatic event or death can deeply impact many people, including those closely connected to the event or death and those seemingly more removed. People may feel hopeless, depressed, unsafe, insecure, anxious, or guilty, and may experience overwhelming emotional reactions that they have difficulty coping with. Thoughts of suicide can occur any time someone is experiencing an emotional crisis, but proactively providing community-based support and intervention can help prevent subsequent suicides.
As our hearts ache for those in Parkland and Newtown as they heal from these traumas, we must remember that people in our community are also impacted by gun violence and other traumatic events. While support from professionals is essential in a crisis, peer support should not be underestimated. Suicide intervention education for community members is an essential component of any crisis response. Everyone can learn the essential skills to provide emotional support and intervene with someone having thoughts of suicide. If you are processing the news of these tragedies and wondering what you can do, consider attending a training or workshop to learn how you can support your loved ones and others in your community. Connect with a suicide prevention organization to learn more (rattlethestars.org, suicidology.org, suicidepreventionlifeline.org, afsp.org).
If you or someone you know needs support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. In the Champaign-Urbana area, call the Rosecrance Crisis Line at 217-359-4141.