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Installation of Hope: 2015 National LOSS Conference
October has been a busy month for just about everyone involved in the mental health world. October marks both Mental Health Awareness Week (October 4th-10th) and World Mental Health Day (October 10th). Many of our community partners chose to hold mental health awareness events throughout the month, and we also held our annual lunch, A Time for Hope & Healing (October 13th). In addition to the many dinners, luncheons, and speakers, I also had the opportunity to attend the National LOSS (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
The two day conference covered a variety of topics including survivor support groups, survivor risk and resiliency, victim services role and relationship with survivors, survivor impact on LOSS Teams, family needs following a suicide, how survivors are treated in the Armed Forces, and closed with a powerful survivor panel. The conference keynote speakers included Michelle Cornette, PhD., Executive Director of American Association of Suicidology; Jay Novacek, former Dallas Cowboy and suicide survivor; and Josh Rivedal author, actor, and suicide survivor.
During the opening ceremony of the conference, Dr. Donald Belau, Co-Clinical Director of Lincoln’s LOSS Team, and Co-Chair of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, presented LOSS creator, Dr. Frank Campbell with an achievement award for his work with the LOSS Team. The LOSS Team postvention model was created by Dr. Campbell in 1997 with a team of four volunteer staff members and eight suicide survivors.
“I envisioned an active model of postvention made up of a team of trained survivors who would go to the scenes of suicides to disseminate information about resources and be the installation of hope for the newly bereaved,” explained Campbell. “The primary goal of the team is to let suicide survivors know that resources exist as soon as possible following the death.”
Now, nearly 17 years later, there are hundreds of LOSS Teams across the country, including four teams located within the state of Nebraska.
One breakout session I found particularly interesting was entitled “Family’s Needs Following a Death by Suicide.” The session was led by Dr. Dave Miers, Dr. Donald Belau, and Teri Marti, who shared her own story about losing her father and her journey to healing. What made this session even more interesting was that the research presented was compiled from families in Lincoln, Nebraska. These interviews were conducted with parents who lost a teen about two years following a Lincoln/Lancaster LOSS Team call out. During these recorded interviews, Dr. Miers would ask them questions about their needs following their teen’s suicide. He did this in search of finding common needs among survivors, to ensure that the LOSS Team was fulfilling these unique needs. His research found six key themes:
1. Support in the way of listening.
2. Support from another suicide survivor.
3. Support in finding direction.
4. Support in seeing the teen (immediately after death).
5. Support in remembering.
6. Support in giving back.
It is crucial for our Metro Area LOSS Team to provide our local families with these six elements of support in order to ensure we are doing everything we can to support parents and families in the wake of a suicide. Toward the end of the session, Dr. Belau discussed the importance in helping families remember their loved one by celebrating important dates, sharing stories and photos, and continuing to finding ways to keep their memories alive.
The most powerful segment by far was the survivor panel at the end of the conference. The nine person panel took a few minutes to share their painful stories of loss and inspiring journeys of healing. This portion of the conference was extremely heavy and at times very tough to listen to. However, their messages were important to hear. When a number of the panelists talked about their experiences with their local LOSS Teams, it quickly reminded me why I was there.
About Jill Hamilton, The Kim Foundation Project Coordinator
Jill graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Speech Communication from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. During her time at UNO, she completed a two year PR practicum program where she worked with numerous nonprofit clients including the MS Society, The Archdiocese of Omaha, The Omaha Food Bank, and YWCA. Since becoming Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation in April 2014, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, The Omaha Metro Hoarding Taskforce, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, the Metro Area LOSS Team, and is helping lead a community-wide health improvement initiative with the Douglas County Health Department called, “Just Reach Out,” which is focused on improving the people’s view on mental and behavioral health treatment.