Surviving suicide loss

Janet Benz holds a photo of her son, Christopher.

Christopher Benz died by suicide. He was 17 years old. “It has been a while but in some ways it is just like it happened yesterday,” says his mother, Janet Benz. “He was kind, humble, caring and a loving young man.” His friends described him as charismatic, a dependable friend who was very social and quick-witted.

“You think, ‘never in a million years.’ You don’t think it could happen in your family,” she explains. “As a nurse and as a mother, how could I have not seen the warning signs, that he had so much pain and sadness and decided to take his life? I still ask myself those questions.”

Suicide survivors can feel alone after the death of someone in their life.

For Janet, part of that healing process was finding support and learning to tell her story through the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota (NAMI). She talks about QPR – Question, Persuade, Refer for suicide prevention. It’s the “CPR of mental health. We teach the warning signs, how to intervene if someone is in crisis and how to get trained help for them.”

Another part of Janet’s healing was the founding of the Christopher Benz Foundation to help prevent suicide through raising awareness and education. The Foundation has sponsored a baseball tournament since 2007, including a banquet and suicide awareness program. Each team receives grant money for suicide prevention work in its schools. The Foundation will participate in the 2016 NAMI walk in September, and does QPR training throughout the year.

Janet feels that there is negative stigma about suicide, which stops people from being supportive of those who are left behind. “People were well-intentioned, but I got the sense that people didn’t want to talk about [Christopher]. It is an uncomfortable topic. They don’t know what to do or say.”

If you know a suicide survivor, her suggestion is that you reach out. Let them know you care, that you are sorry about their loss. Bring them food. Mow their lawn. Take them to coffee. Or, just be there, in silence. “We don’t expect anyone to fix it, because they can’t. It’s very powerful just to know that they are there.”

Her advice to other survivors is to be patient with yourself and with others. “Know that there is life again. It is through our living that we honor our loved ones.”

For a list of suicide survivor support groups in Minnesota:
National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota (NAMI)
1-888-NAMI-HELPS or
Warning signs of suicide:
• Talking about wanting to die
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated or reckless
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings
The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

What to do if someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:
• Stay with the person until you can get further help.
• Listen without judgment and show you care.
• Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
• Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 800-273-TALK (8255).
• Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional. If danger seems imminent, call 911 and tell them this is a mental health emergency.
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