Nebraska LOSS Teams’ conference, Uniting to Support Survivors of Suicide Loss, took place late last month in Omaha. The creator of the LOSS postvention model, Dr. Frank Campbell, joined us for the two and a half day conference and shared his vast experience in working with suicide survivors. On Thursday, March 23rd, we had about 75 community members attend the panel event where we had a community discussion about suicide loss. The panelists included Chaplain Jeff Kaiser, Lead Chaplain for Sarpy County; Luke Wilke, retired Police Sergeant for the Lincoln Police Department; Kim Lowe from Kearney and Sharon Egan from Lincoln, both suicide loss survivors. The panelists each took a few minutes to share their personal stories and experiences while working with their local LOSS Team.
One of the most heartbreaking moments of the panel was when Kim Lowe described finding her brother who died in 2011. She compares her tragic memory of the day as clearly as most Americans remember the awful events of 9/11. It is a day that she will always remember, full of sights and sounds she will never forget.
“Everybody over the age of 25 remembers September 11, 2001. They remember where they were when they first heard that planes had flown into the World Trade Towers,” said Lowe. “They remember what they were doing and they remember that sick feeling in the pit of their stomachs. They remember thinking ‘This can’t be real.’ Even when the reality sunk in, they were left with the feeling that the world had just changed in a significant and consequential way.”
She went on to describe all of the things she wish she would have known, including how to move forward, the stigma her family would experience, the guilt and blame, and that there is hope following a suicide loss. Lowe is now an active member of the Central Nebraska LOSS Team and has completed training in the suicide prevention program, QPR (Question, Persuade, and Refer).
The amount of interest in Friday’s workshop was overwhelming! We surpassed our maximum registration of 100 people and were forced to start a waiting list in the days leading up to the event. After squeezing in some additional seats, our room was filled over capacity with 115 mental health professionals, community members, suicide survivors, and law enforcement. Dr. Campbell outlined the basic theory behind postvention, explained the important role of the community following a suicide, discussed crisis resolution, and postvention best practices. Dr. Don Belau, former Chair of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, also presented a segment about language and words that promote healing.
On Saturday, we welcomed LOSS Team survivors and clinician volunteers from across the state to come together to learn from one another. As the Metro Area LOSS Team Outreach Coordinator, I took away several ideas on ways we could improve our team, specifically by strengthening our relationships with law enforcement and developing team member engagement.
After hearing Dr. Campbell speak, it became very clear to me that our team needs to be viewed by the community as an immediate responder and as a crucial resource by law enforcement. Until recently our team had not been requested to come on to the scene. The only call-out requests we were receiving were delayed call-outs, usually in the days or weeks following the funeral.
“The LOSS Team concept is still very new to most people,” explained Dr. Campbell. “If you ask a survivor if they would like a LOSS Team visit in the minutes, hours, even days following a loss, chances are they will say ‘no’ simply because they don’t know what a LOSS Team is. When a person has experienced such a traumatic loss, they simply don’t know what they need. That’s what the LOSS Team is for – to help guide them through the complicated loss process.”
Dr. Campbell’s original postvention model calls for an immediate response. However, when our team started back in July of 2015 we simply didn’t have the volunteer power to cover the number of suicides we were seeing in the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Department and the Omaha Police Department (OPD) territories. While we have been able to contact and provide dozens of families with survivor resources and offer our support, we have not been able to meet with as many families face-to-face as we would like. We now have a team of 13 suicide survivors and six clinicians and we are prepared to take on these immediate calls. Adjusting our current protocol to match the community needs will take work, but we know it is the change we need.
We are currently working with Sarpy County Sheriff’s Department in creating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which will eventually be implemented throughout OPD and Douglas County Sheriff’s Department as well. This MOU will standardize the process by which law enforcement notifies the Metro Area LOSS Team of a suicide death. It will also set the guidelines and expectations of our LOSS Team when responding to a call. It is my hope that we can finalize this agreement and begin responding on the scene by early to mid-June.
We also are moving our monthly meetings to the first Tuesday of the month in order for members to be able to participate in the local American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Chapter (AFSP) meetings. This change will allow members to be active in both groups, as well as potentially foster some collaboration between LOSS and AFSP Nebraska. In addition to moving our meetings, we will begin adding conference calling for those members who may not be able to attend in person every month.
With the implementation of these changes, we hope to continue strengthening our team and partnership with local law enforcement. It is our mission to provide immediate, as well as ongoing support, to all of the newly bereaved by suicide in our community.
Jill Hamilton, Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill Hamilton has been the Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Speech Communication Minor from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition and The Metro Area Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, is Chair of the Nebraska LOSS Teams Conference Planning Committee, and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.