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NEWARK – Nothing could have prepared Tarsha Raker Henry for the chaos after her husband attempted suicide in April 2006.
The investigators and emergency personnel were everywhere and Raker Henry and her daughters had to wait outside in the cold. She was torn between contacting family members, talking to investigators and finding out what happened to her husband.
She had never felt so alone.
“It would have made a big difference if I could have had someone there that night to sit with me and just be there to hold my hand and let me ask questions,” she said. “It would have been nice just to be comforted as I go through this.”
Her husband died from his injures a month later in the hospital and Raker Henry and her family continued to struggle to find resources. Although they were able to eventually get the help they needed, she’ll never forget the feeling of being lost.
She’s hoping she can use those difficult experiences to help other Licking County families dealing with the loss of a loved one from suicide.
Raker Henry will be volunteering for the newly formed Licking County Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors Team — more commonly referred to as the LOSS Team — when it starts serving residents in April.
The goal of the team is simple — to respond to the scene of a death by suicide and meet with family members to help them process the event and provide resources, said Justina Wade, suicide prevention coordinator for Mental Health America of Licking County.
“I feel the sooner we can get to survivors and connect them with the resources they need, we can help prevent more suicides,” Wade said.
Based on preliminary numbers, at least 30 county residents died by suicide in 2015.
In 2014, Licking County’s suicide rate was 14.5 per 100,000 people, which was higher than the national average of 13.4 per 100,000, Wade added.
Family members of those who have died by suicide are 3.7 times more likely to attempt suicide themselves, Wade said.
The LOSS program was founded in 1997 by Dr. Frank Campbell and has spread around the country. It brings mental health professionals together with clergy members and those who have been personally affected by suicide to respond to a crisis as soon as possible.
Wade heard about the program several years ago at a conference and knew it would be an asset to Licking County. This year, all the right pieces came together to make it happen, she said.
Mental Health America will be coordinating the project with support from The Licking County Suicide Prevention Coalition, said Penny Sitler, executive director of MHA.
To make the program a success, volunteers are needed, including representatives from the faith community and those who have lost family members or close friends to suicide.
They must be empathetic, willing to listen and be able to respond to a call at any time, Sitler said.
A training will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 23 at the Licking County Health Department. The goal is to have team members ready to go by the beginning of April, Wade said.
Once volunteers are in place, Mark Weiner, the Licking County Prosecutors Office’s victims’ advocate, will work with Pathway’s of Central Ohio’s 211 crisis line to contact the LOSS Team when they are needed.
Team members will bring information about resources with them as well as simple items such as bottles of water and tissues, Weiner said.
“People are in shock, sometimes they are forced out of their homes (during the investigation),” he said. “Those little things are really huge.”
Team members will try to follow up with families several weeks after they respond to the scene, to see how they are doing, Sitler said.
“We want it to be more than just that initial interaction,” she said. “We want to ask them, ‘How are you doing? Are you going to the support group? Are you getting the care you need?'”
Margie Williams, of Utica, is planning to be trained as a volunteer and join the team.
Her best friend, who was the father of her son, took his own life in April 2009.
Although she went to therapy, the thing that helped the most was talking to her sister, her cousin and her best friend.
“I could go to them and talk to them and ask questions that people don’t want to ask,” she said. “That was part of my grieving process.”
As a member of the LOSS Team, she’s hoping she can give people the opportunity to talk and process their grief.
“I just want to let people know, don’t be ashamed to ask these questions,” she said. “I want to go there and let those people know they are not alone. There are survivors, help is out there. There are resources out there.”
Williams said she’s thankful that the LOSS Team will be there to help families get through a difficult time.
“To help somebody, to be there for them is an honor. It’s a blessing,” she said. “If you’ve saved one life, then you have done your job.”
A training for LOSS Team volunteers will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 23 at the Licking County Health Department, 675 Price Road, Newark. For more information, contact Justina Wade, MHA’s suicide prevention coordinator, at 740-522-1341.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call 211 or 740-345-4357.
Found in The Newark Advocate February 16, 2016