The Caribbean Volunteer Services, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides hope and support resources to those considering suicide and those affected by suicide, celebrated International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day virtually on Saturday.
According to the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day website, “it is an event in which survivors of suicide loss come together to find connection, understanding, and hope through their shared experience.”
Panel facilitator Karen D. Williams said, “Families and friends weathering with the loss of their loved ones struggle with it every day. It’s not as easy as getting over it or moving on, it’s a healing process, and it can be different for some versus others. ” In a panel of two guest speakers, the topic was on strategies and ways for prevention and resources for grieving families.
“Over the years, we have had many incidents, whether it is natural disasters or other types of disasters,” said Williams. “Crime has its manifestations, domestic violence, we have heard of incidents where not only the victim took their life, but the perpetrator took their life. Some can lead to coping issues and suicide in some cases.”
Sharifa J. Charles, who led the V.I. Department of Health’s Train the Trainer Suicide Prevention program in June of 2020, was one of the speakers. Charles, who left St. Croix after Hurricane Hugo with her family, has relocated multiple times throughout the mainland and Caribbean. “With that, it makes me very adaptable, “said Charles. “Suicide is a very taboo subject. We want to get people really comfortable talking about it. We associate it with being crazy, and we don’t want to associate it with being crazy,” said Charles.
She continued, “We also do not talk about non-death loss. Someone didn’t necessarily transition to another space. Maybe it is the inability to see your friends, engage in certain cultural events, or not have a certain milestone like the prom or a certain celebration. You can mourn those things; we are initially mourning our former lives.” Charles said that we need to recognize we are all grieving something before we can heal and move forward.
Panelist Tarik McMillan, a licensed professional counselor, said that his personal experience with a counseling session at a young age in the mainland inspired him to become a counselor, especially after taking a psychology class in the 12th grade. His understanding of the culture and stigma associated with mental health in the community has created a belief in the power of counseling.
McMillan discussed the early stages of a business venture called “Greater Changes Technologies,” geared towards creating behavior, health, and wellness software for Caribbean people abroad. You can create a virtual space to connect people who need your services and who want to provide your services through technology. This technology will help individuals of Caribbean descent connect with counselors that sound like them.
McMillan also shared the importance of individuals who experience loss and the importance of having support and counseling. “Having these conversations was not happening as frequently and openly 10 years ago. Seeing and having these conversations, I know we are on the right path, but we are not there yet, said McMillan.
Khnuma Simmonds, founder and C.E.O. of Girlfriendism H.O.P.E., gave some closing remarks to end the discussion. “There remains a need to address hope and healing. Not only for those who are at risk, but to those who have been affected.” Simmonds also said that there are seven stages of grief: Shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, reconstruction and working through, acceptance and hope.
“While many may be familiar with the seven stages of grief, we often think of it from the perspective of when we have lost someone close to us, dear to us, near to us, but we do not focus on how we grieve while we are alive. As we think on all these stages, I want us to reflect on acceptance and hope. “