Why This Topic Matters:
To begin, please take five minutes and listen to Riley’s story about losing her older brother to suicide and the impact it had on her life.
The story of Taylor Porco is another example of the tragedy of losing a sibling to suicide.
When Taylor Porco’s brother, Jordan, died by suicide during his freshman year of college in February 2011, people told her to be strong for her parents, who were incapacitated by their grief. Hardly anyone seemed to notice that Porco, only 14 at the time, was suffering and suicidal.
“I was really depressed and in such extreme pain. Nothing, literally, mattered to me after he died. All I wanted was my brother back. I never loved someone as much as I loved him” – Taylor Porco
Young people across the country and around the world are struggling silently without adequate support, attempting to cope the loss of a sibling to suicide on their own.
Twenty-five thousand people each year become sibling survivors of suicide. In terms of statistics, 5 to 8 percent of children with siblings lose a brother or sister to early death. Those who lose a sibling to suicide at any age can experience anger, complicated grief reactions, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of taking their own lives. Until recently, these survivors often fell under the radar.
“Sibling survivors are often called the forgotten mourners. When a sibling dies, those siblings left behind, no matter their ages, are considered secondary mourners to the parents and/or spouse of the sibling who died,” -Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., former president of the American Association of Suicidology
Until a few years ago, no studies had been done that categorized survivor relationships and helped figure out which survivors are most at risk of anger, depression, self-harm and other problems.
They were overlooked in medical research, and no one understood what they were going through or how to support them. But, according to several studies of survivors, those who lose a sibling to suicide, especially one of the same sex or close in age, have more serious mood disorders and thoughts of suicide themselves than survivors who lose a sibling for any other reason.
“There’s a big gap between this new knowledge and what’s happening in the real world,” -James M. Bolton, director of research at the department of psychiatry
A recent United Kingdom survey of 3,432 bereaved young adults ages 18 to 40 who lost a friend or relative by suicide found that 20 percent of them received no formal or informal mental health support.
“Suicide changes the relationship between parents and their living children irreparably. The sibling left behind is either angry or feels like they have to be perfect or like they always have to be checked on by family for fear they will kill themselves.”
The immediate effects of a sibling’s death, and the grief that follows, are obvious to all. But the consequences are more than emotional and can last for decades. They are even associated with an increased risk of death in those who remain. This is why we must know the warning signs, not only for those who have been lost, but for those who could face the same fate as a result.
“If a sibling dies of any cause, the rush, very often, is to the parent. Kids are lost in all of that. They don’t have support in their grief,” -Marion Earls, chair of the mental health leadership work group for the American Academy of Pediatrics
We can’t change the past, but we can provide necessary support, attention and love after a tragedy like this occurs. A big part of this is being aware of the warning signs.
Typically, siblings will carry this loss through a large portion of life. They will want a way to memorialize the sibling. No one ever gets over a death, it becomes a part of us and we take it with us throughout life. Some ways siblings can be remembered includes involvement in the Lifekeeper Faces of Suicide quilts, writing about the loved one, or getting involved with suicide prevention. There are options and more to come as this issue is given more light.
Teens need a place to explore grief safely, hold the vulnerable feelings that can be an extraordinary challenge for those leaving childhood understandings behind, and use new levels of consciousness to create meaning through loss. In addition to the necessary help with coping, the goal is to offer teens support for a private, authentic exploration of their relationship with the sibling who died, and to facilitate growth in identity formation and self-compassion.
An amazing example of an organization for teens who’ve lost a sibling to suicide is “Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide” (LOSS).
Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS) is a non-denominational program that supports individuals who are grieving the loss of a loved one by suicide. LOSS offers a safe, non-judgmental environment where survivors of suicide can openly talk about feelings and experiences. They help survivors to find community, direction and resources for healing.
How they Help:
- Provide a warm, nurturing network of other survivors
- Educate members about the grieving process
- Support your unique struggle to regain hope and strength
LOSS is one of the few organizations that exist for this purpose, and the more that are created, the more support becomes available for these teens. Organizations like this ARE the solution. As more awareness grows regarding the lack of support for these teens, the more resources will be created and the better off our youth will be.
To conclude, please take five minutes and watch this ted talk. Bridget Park is a high school senior who was inspired by the tragic loss of her brother. Bridget wrote her debut memoir at the age of 15 in the hopes that her story would encourage others to find healthy ways of grieving. In this talk, Bridget shares her insight on how to comfort a grieving teen.
Ted Talk: How to Comfort a Grieving Teen
Carroll, Aaron E. “When Children Lose Siblings, They Face an Increased Risk of Death.” The New York Times, 31 July 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/07/31/upshot/when-children-lose-siblings-they-face-an-increased-risk-of-death.html. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.
Linn-Gust, Michelle. “When a Sibling Dies by Suicide.” Open to Hope, 1 July 2008, www.opentohope.com/when-a-sibling-dies-by-suicide/. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.
“Losing a Sibling to Suicide.” American Psychiatric Association, 14 Sept. 2017, www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2017/09/losing-a-sibling-to-suicide. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.
“Sibling Grief.” Sibling Survivors, POS-FFOS, 2015, www.siblingsurvivors.com/sibling-grief/. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.
Waderlow, Cynthia. “When Teens Grieve a Sibling’s Suicid.” Alliance of Hope, 23 Jan. 2017, www.allianceofhope.org/blog_/2017/01/when-teens-grieve-a-siblings-suicide.html. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.
Weinstock, Cheryl Platzman. “After A Suicide, Sibling Survivors Are Often Overlooked.” National Public Radio, 25 Aug. 2017, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/08/25/545554065/after-a-suicide-sibling-survivors-are-often-overlooked. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.