COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Saturday Nov. 19 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
It was designated by the United States Congress as a day when the friends and family of those who have died by suicide can join together for healing and support.
The day always falls on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving. As the holiday season can be particularly challenging for those who have lost a loved one.
In recognition of this day, a nonprofit organization called Heartbeat Survivors After Suicide is holding a gathering event and lunch at 10 a.m. at Woodmen Valley Chapel. It is located at 290 East Woodmen Rd.
Heartbeat is a peer support group which offers empathy, encouragement, and direction following the suicide of a loved one.
"We lost our son in 2014 and we decided that we needed to know that this loss was survivable," Heartbeat Lead Facilitator Betty Vanthournout said. "So we wanted to find others, so we started to attend Heartbeat. And it was a lovely place to go to hear other people's stories, their journey, and to know that we're not alone. Losing a loved one to suicide can be incredibly isolating."
All participants are survivors who validate suicide loss and grief, they role model resolution, and assure suicide loss is survivable.
"Suicide is complicated because there's a guilt, there's an anger," Heartbeat Lead Facilitator Kevin Vanthournout said. "So we needed to know there were others that were also dealing with these same thoughts and feelings that we were immediately dealing with. It was three weeks after Ryan died we attended our first Heartbeat meeting and in that meeting we were able to bring out all these feelings, thoughts, and confusion. Everybody else around the room could say yes, you are normal and what you're thinking is perfectly normal for the tragedy you just experienced."
Their mission is to offer empathy, comfort, relief from isolation, and to role model healthy adjustment to the loss in a safe, judgment-free environment to anyone touched by suicide.
They say their purpose is to resolve the grief for the cause of the death in order to achieve healthy reconciliation with the loss, to restore hope, joy and wholeness within the lives of those affected by suicide.
"We try to connect people on a familial connection," Betty said. "So people who've lost a sister can all sit and talk together. People that've lost a partner, a spouse, a parent, a child. If you've lost a child, you and I will connect on a very different level."
At the event, those who are interested can learn more about the groups regular meetings, resources, community, and support from those who have also lost a loved one to suicide.
In 2021 in El Paso County, 17% of deaths at a count of 176 were classified as a suicide in their manner of death by the Coroner. 81% were male at an average age of 44. The most common risk factors present were ruled as relationship issues, financial struggles, substance abuse, chronic health problems, grief, and legal issues.
Heartbeat Survivors After Suicide meets in person once a month. But they are available for one on one support as well. To connect, head to their website or send them an email at email@example.com.
The group does say however, that they are not licensed professionals and they are not a substitute for mental health assistance. If you or someone you care about is suicidal, call your physician, your local mental health agency, 911, or 1-800-SUICIDE immediately.