Forum to explore facts on depression and suicide

Tuesday, July 31, 2018 - Updated: 10:41 am

By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

When it comes to the topic of suicide, there is a stigma that often prevents people from addressing it.

“It’s hard to talk about,” said Jack Shaw, who is an organizer of a Depression and Suicide Forum that is set for Wednesday, Aug. 1, from 9 a.m. to noon in the Cardinals’ Great Hall of St. Paul Seminary in Crafton.

Sponsored by Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh, Lifeline of Listening Friends, Mental Health First Aid U.S.A. and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the main topics to be covered are: facts and information about depression and suicide, what to say and do for people in mental distress, and how to respond to loved ones who are left behind.

Guest speakers will be Lori Sachs, instructor/behavioral health specialist for Mental Health First Aid U.S.A., and Jennifer Sikora, regional director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Shaw is the coordinator of Lifeline of Listening Friends, a bereavement and suicide loss support group that supports once-a-month open meetings at four sites: Washington County at St. Benedict the Abbot Parish in Peters Township; Pittsburgh East at Madonna del Castello Parish, Swissvale; Pittsburgh South at the Elizabeth Seton Center, Pittsburgh’s Brookline neighborhood; and Pittsburgh North at St. Joseph Parish, O’Hara Township.

Shaw is part-time coordinator of evangelization at the O’Hara parish. He noted that he got involved in mental health ministry because he went through a period in his life when he battled depression. He also had two friends who had lost sons to suicide.

As part of the parish’s mental health ministry, Sikora came in to give a talk, he said. What they discovered was that support groups for those who had lost loved ones were almost nonexistent in the area. In response, the St. Joseph group was formed in fall 2016, followed by the others. The St. Benedict the Abbot group drew 20 people at its first meeting last month.

Among the reasons for the stigma, Shaw noted, is that, until fairly recently, the Catholic Church tended to distance itself from the issue. People wondered whether their loved ones were in purgatory. Did they go to hell? Was suicide a mortal sin?

“There’s still that feeling that it’s terrible and we can’t talk about it,” he said. A number of facilitators for the groups are friends or family members of those who have committed suicide.

Shaw pointed out that the recent suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and TV chef Anthony Bourdain have brought the issue into the spotlight. He said the goal of Lifeline of Listening Friends and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is to open communication.

If you have a pain in your knee and you can’t walk right, you go to a doctor, Shaw said. If you have chest pains, you go to the emergency room. But people who have a pain in their mind and are depressed often ignore it and reason that they’ll feel better tomorrow.

The problem is especially prevalent among young people, Shaw noted. Parents of suicide victims often relate that they had no idea that their children were depressed.

“We need to be able to talk about it and even need to say, ‘My loved one died from suicide,’” he said.

The root cause of suicide is the disease that comes from depression, Shaw said. He pointed to an article by a mental health professional who stated that it really isn’t “death by suicide,” but rather “death by depression.” He added that much more is being discovered about the relationship between chemical imbalances in the brain and depression.There is a need to have separate bereavement and suicide groups, Shaw said, because the dynamics, grief and guilt that are associated with suicides are much different.

The Aug. 1 session will open at 8:15 a.m. with registration and a light breakfast. There is no cost for the event. More information is available by calling Shaw at 412-508-5383. Information on Lifeline of Listening Friends groups is available by contacting Shaw or at www.mylifelinepittsburgh.org.

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