Business Press Healthcare Corrrespondent
Norma Garcia Lopez was 22 _ the oldest of five siblings _ when her 18-year-old brother hung himself in the garage of her family’s home in Forest Hill, in 2002. In 2009, her uncle, who was “living the American dream” with a great job and a beautiful home in Rowlett took his life the same way. He was 33 years old and “left an amazing wife and four little children,” Garcia Lopez says. Yet, no one in her family was willing to talk about suicide or mental illness, or even their own grief.
“We had no resources in 2002. We didn’t know how to deal with the grief of suicide…We were shocked. We were just lost. I blamed myself because I was the big sister. I should have known what to do, and everyone kept telling me that I had to be strong. I had no clue what that meant. I was lost…I couldn’t even grieve until later on,” Garcia Lopez says. Then came the second family suicide. “It was déjà vu all over again, and no one saw it coming,” she recalled in a recent telephone visit.
“All I could think was, ‘Oh, my gosh. We need to start talking about this. We have to talk about it,’” Garcia Lopez said. “Suicide is still such a stigmatized subject, especially in the Hispanic community. Nobody talks about it. It’s such a hush, hush thing, still to this day.” But, Garcia Lopez says she is a survivor – a double suicide survivor – and she wants to talk about it because she wants others to know they are not alone. There is help, and it is within reach. “The scars cannot heal without help, but there is help available,” she says. “I decided I was going to use this as a positive thing.” Garcia Lopez is a volunteer with the Mental Health America of Greater Tarrant County’s LOSS (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) Team. Last year she signed up family and friends to participate in Run For Life, the 5 K and 1K fun run to provide funding for the LOSS Team. This year she made a YouTube video to help raise awareness about the LOSS Team and the Third Annual Run for Life! Saturday, Sept. 7. The LOSS Team of Tarrant County was organized in Arlington in April of 2011 and made its first on-scene “call-out” in Fort Worth in October 2011.
Fort Worth police have agreed to “call-out” to LOSS Team volunteers for immediate survivor support at the scene of a suicide as well as any other time they see the need, Lezlie Culver, LOSS Team coordinator said. The team of about 45 trained volunteers, including counselors and other mental health professionals, survivors, educators and representatives of area hospitals, non-profit agencies and police departments provide both immediate and long-term assistance to people who lose a loved one to suicide. “I think if the LOSS Team had been available in 2002, our family would have been better mentally and emotionally dealing with all the grief,” Garcia Lopez said.
The LOSS Team has helped 220 individuals in Fort Worth and Arlington, providing immediate support at the scene, as well as on-going counseling, therapy and whatever resources they need in the weeks, months and even years ahead, Culver said. It is part of the Suicide Awareness Coalition of Tarrant County. Formerly the Suicide Prevention Coalition, the new Awareness Coalition leads the community in suicide outreach, education and prevention. Suicide killed 2,857 people in Texas in 2010 _ 200 in Tarrant County alone, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office. Last year, the number here increased to 222, Culver said. And, for every suicide, an average of six surviving friends and family members are left to grieve. “We are, unfortunately, getting very busy,” Culver said.