Helpline Center launches website for suicide loss survivors

Helpline Center launches website for suicide loss survivors
Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 7:18 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Wendy Mamer wasn’t just in pain from the suicide death of her father, Robert Anderson.

Over 48,000 Americans die by suicide every year. But Mamer did not know anybody else who had lost a loved one whose life ended that way.

She felt misunderstood by those consoling her because “suicide grief is so different from any other type of grief.”

And she felt lonely and isolated because there was nobody she nor her mother knew who had gone through suicide grief.

Mamer knew about the Helpline Center in Sioux Falls, which has been offering grief counseling for suicide loss survivors for 24 years. Since 2005, Helpline has provided a phone number for survivors to call — now 988.

But Mamer just couldn’t bare to pick up the phone.

“It can be really difficult to reach out for help because replaying that story is just that constant reminder of the reality of their death,” Mamer said.

Wednesday, almost five years after the tragedy, Mamer helped announce the launch of a new Helpline Center website for suicide loss survivors like her who aren’t ready to talk about it.

It is a website Mamer, now Helpline Center’s Suicide Loss and Support Coordinator, helped create.

“We have all the different options laid out for them,” Mamer said. “They can check a box and not have to tell us anything, and then, we can reach out to them with exactly what it is they’re looking for. And, if they don’t want to fill out a form, they can still go to our website and access all of the resources we could send them.”

Resources include pages that both describe and connect readers to different kinds of support groups Helpline offers, from monthly in-person meetings, to “organizational survival support,” which helps those who worked with someone who died of suicide.

The website will also connect survivors to a virtual support group, which will re-launch on Thursday and provide help for those who live in rural communities across the state who can’t make it to Sioux Falls, or don’t have such groups available wherever they live. That group was originally launched during the pandemic, when in-person group meetings were considered unsafe.

Helpline’s new website also offers individual support for those not ready to talk about suicide loss in a group.

There is a section on how to talk to a child about suicide death, a page that helps educators navigate a student’s suicide loss, and a resource library of children’s books on the topic.

“Talking about suicide with children can be very, very difficult,” Mamer said. “So, those children’s books have been very beloved by the survivors in our community.”

Also appreciated is the site’s “In Remembrance” page, where survivors can post pictures and honor loved ones they lost.

“It is very, very special and something survivors have found a lot of comfort in,” Mamer said. “It’s hard to look through, but it’s also important.”

The website is entirely funded by this past September’s 437 Project, a relay running event spanning 437 miles across South Dakota, border-to-border. It raised $120,000 for the Helpline Center. There was always 12 people running together, and each runner was sponsored by either an individual or corporate donor.

Mental health awareness was the overarching theme of the run, but Helpline Center CEO Janet Kittans said, “we heard from so many people that there was a loss of suicide in their family, or they knew of a friend they lost to suicide, so we knew the need was great across South Dakota.”

“So, we wanted to develop a system, or tools, to better reach those loved ones who are experiencing that grief.”

Wendy Johnson was one of the 437 Project runners. She is also the director of client services for Electric Pulp, a digital marketing service that designed the website.

“To be able to help and provide this kind of resource has been a really great experience,” Johnson said. “It was a great team that helped with all of this, a great team at the Helpline Center that we worked together with, and I’m really excited to see how this can help people in the future and just make a difference.”

Mamer provided a lot of input in the content of the website, which she calls “truly a reflection of what I, as a survivor, needed, but what so many other survivors needed,” a site that meets the “needs that do exist, not those needs that we think exist.”

She can now tell her father’s suicide story, but it took plenty of time and “I haven’t been able to do it on my own.”

”I think back to five years ago and that loneliness I was feeling, and how much more comforted and understood I would have felt if I would have had access to these resources,” Mamer said. “This can really enable you to make it part of your story that you can live with and experience, instead of having to ignore it and stuff it down.”