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Sibling Survivors: Teens Who’ve Lost a Sibling to Suicide

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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

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The Problem:

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

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The Solution:

 

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.

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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

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Sources:

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.

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COMMENTS: 34
  1. April 26, 2018 by Tatum Angotti

    Hi Anna, I think that this topic was really interesting and it really opened my eyes and helped me to empathize with siblings who are suffering from suicide. I think that you took an interesting approach when focusing specifically on siblings because I had never really thought about how much a sibling could be affected. I feel like I usually focus on the parents or significant other, but never how much the sibling could be suffering so I think that your project did a really good job raising awareness of this.

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Thank you Tatum! I really appreciate it. I’m really happy to hear that it was impactful for you.

  2. April 26, 2018 by Rio.Townsend

    Hi Anna, this is such an important topic that you opened my eyes to. I know that a lot of attention is placed on suicide and its provention but I do agree that I think a lot of how the traumatic event of losing apart of your family can truly damage the life of the sibling that was left behind. What got you so intersted in this topic? Also from the solutions you have offered, what do you think is the best way to support those who are in this situation? Your project tackled something really difficult to talk about and I really appreciate that you worked so hard to raise awareness to such an important topic.

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Thank you, Rio! When I was thinking about possible topics to pursue, I knew that I wanted to do something that was a bit outside of the norm relating to teens, and I came across the website Sibling Survivors. The moment I found that website, I knew that I wanted to look deeper into this topic. Thank you for your comment!

  3. April 26, 2018 by Caroline.Rollins

    Hi Anna, I think you did a great job including videos in your project. They really helped me grasp the severity of the impact on siblings. This is such an interesting topic, why did you choose it? What inspired you to choose this as your topic?

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Thank you, Caroline! I really appreciate it. After reading the stories of siblings like Riley and Taylor, and hearing how overlooked and ignored they felt, I knew that this was a topic I wanted to pursue.

  4. April 26, 2018 by Anne Bingham

    I also had not thought through the impact of suicide on siblings. I nodded as I read through your project, in agreement that, yes, we do tend to focus on the parents or spouse. I appreciate that you brought these sibling voices to us., and the coaching on comforting someone in grief had really good reminders.

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Thank you for taking the time to view my project and comment, Ms. Bingham! I’m glad that my project was helpful and eye-opening.

  5. April 26, 2018 by Avery.Courts

    Hey Anna, I thought that you did a really good job tackling a difficult topic. I really like how you added videos, because they added a personal touch and made the topic easier to understand. I really liked how you decided to focus on the family and siblings affected by suicide because this was a side of the issue that I had never considered before.

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Hi Avery, thank you for your comment! I’m glad that you liked the videos and I agree that hearing personal experiences is extremely important.

  6. April 27, 2018 by Abigail.Kelley

    You did a really great job with this super difficult topic. I did not know much about how siblings handle suicide and I had no idea they received such little support compared to other family members. Great incorporation of pictures, videos, and charts! I really like the Ted Talk at the end, and it did a nice job summarizing what you talk about throughout your page. Great job!

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Hi Abigail, thank you for your comment! I really appreciate the positive feedback. Thanks again!

  7. April 27, 2018 by Eric Hudson

    Thank you for raising awareness about a perspective on suicide not often discussed.

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Thank you, Eric!

  8. April 27, 2018 by Mandy.Friedlander

    Hi Anna, I really enjoyed your project and I think you did a great job with this difficult topic. I know that when people die by suicide, it can affect the family and increase percentage of suicide between all the members of the family. I personally lost my father to suicide, and have been told all my life that my chances of committing suicide are increased. I really liked the statistics you provided because it puts things into perspective for people that haven’t considered a topic like this before. What exactly got you interested in this topic?

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Hi Mandy, thank you so much for your comment! I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m really sorry to hear that. Though this project was specifically about the siblings, I’m sure that some of the ideas I worked with and statistics I researched overlap with your situation as well. Remember that statistics don’t define you or your future. Thank you again for your insight!

  9. April 27, 2018 by Annika.Singh

    I really liked that you focused on siblings of people who have committed suicide. I think we don’t always consider the risk that they are at, but I’m sure that dealing with a sibling’s death is really hard. You have some really good statistics in here. Overall, really nice presentation! I was wondering, why did you decided to focus on this topic vs. suicide in general?

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Thanks, Annika! In terms of choosing this subject, I was doing some research on suicide when I came across Sibling Survivor’s website and that’s what began my interest. I was shocked to hear that the children are often overlooked in these situations, and I wanted to bring light to that. Thanks again!

  10. April 27, 2018 by Caterina.Prestia

    What an interesting project. This was not a marginalized group that I had considered before, but my heart goes out to the siblings of those who committed suicide. As an only child, I cannot really imagine what it is like to lose a sibling you grew up with and feel hopeless. However, I did lose a infant brother when I was a toddler and have seen how it has affected my parents.

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Thank you for your comment, Caterina! I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. Loss of any kind or form is extremely difficult. I’ve thought about the same thing before, as I have two younger brothers myself, and I can’t image losing them. My project definitely brought out a lot of empathy and compassion within me for these siblings.

  11. April 27, 2018 by Alex Treisman

    Hi Anna! What a great project topic. I think that it is important to acknowledge the families of people who commit suicide as well as the people who commit suicide themselves. I love the use of your infographics; they convey necessary information in a clear and engaging way. What kind of therapy/treatment do you think would be the most beneficial to the struggling family members of someone who commit suicide? Thanks!

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Hi Alex, thank you for your comment! Though I didn’t do extensive research into therapy or treatment, I think that therapy is crucial after losing a family member, especially to suicide. Many siblings and parents are left to deal with an enormous amount of guilt and grief, and therapy is a very beneficial way to deal with that pain and get through it.

  12. April 27, 2018 by Terri Nakamura

    Anna, well done. Siblings of those who commit suicide may not be seen to suffer as great of a loss as parents or spouses. Your project is informative and opened my eyes and awareness. Thank you.

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Thank you for your comment, Terri! I really appreciate the feedback.

  13. April 27, 2018 by Caroline Ortiz

    Hey Anna, I really enjoyed reading about your project. You did a great job highlighting why the topic is so important because of how little it’s talked and thought about. I feel equipped to empathize and raise awareness about this topic. A young student in my school committed suicide early this school year, and I think about his younger sister often. I can only imagine what she, and all siblings who must go through something similar, feel everyday.

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Thank you, Caroline! I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed reading my project and I really appreciate the feedback! I’m sorry to hear about your peer, and given everything I’ve learned, I hope that his younger sister is doing well and is receiving adequate attention.

  14. April 27, 2018 by Zachary.Schroeder

    Hey Anna. Your page was extremely compelling to me. I have two siblings that I am close with and I can’t imagine how devastated I would be if this happened to one of them. I find it really interesting that you chose to focus on the people who are affected by suicides, specifically siblings, instead of suicide victims themselves. It was a cool spin on a big problem. All of your research was presented very clearly, and I really enjoyed reading your page. Great job!

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Hi Zachary, thank you for your comment! I’m really happy you enjoyed my project. I have two siblings as well and the thought of losing them is unimaginable. I can’t imagine. I appreciate your feedback, thanks again!

  15. April 27, 2018 by Nhat Nguyen

    Hey Anna, this is a great project. I found the points very compelling and believed that the presentation was well carried out. Knowing someone who went through this, I saw first-handed how the twin is often not given adequate attention. How they are told to be strong for someone else. I, however, thought that it was an isolated experience. I didn’t know that this happened to other twins who went through this situation.

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Thank you Nhat! Your personal connection to this issue is interesting, and I’m sure that the effects of losing a sibling to suicide are likely amplified considering the siblings were twins. I can’t imagine dealing with a loss like that. Siblings shouldn’t feel forced to “stay strong” for others, rather be okay with hurting and work through that grief. Thank you for your insight.

  16. April 28, 2018 by Miza A. Ridzuan

    This is an incredible project that brought attention to suffering siblings that I never though of. I love everything about the project as it educated me and it definitely helped me learn what to do and what not to do in order to help someone that is grieving. As mentioned in this project, death is rarely talked about, and I never knew how to care for someone that has to experience this kind of tragedy.

    • April 28, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

      Wow! Thank you so much, Miza! I really appreciate your feedback and taking the time to comment.

  17. April 30, 2018 by Madison.Collins

    I really like how many different images and graphics that you have provided. This project is really good.

  18. May 04, 2018 by Grant Komin

    I have known people who have lost a loved one to suicide and I have never known how to empathize with them. I am close with both of my younger siblings and I cannot imagine how much pain I would be in if I lost them to suicide. Be it with someone who has lost a brother, mother, sister, whoever, this presentation has helped me learn to empathize with them and I can’t thank you enough for bringing this to light.

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