For suicide survivors — the ones left behind, forced to grieve the loss and left thinking if they could have done something to prevent it — there is a place and a program in Northeast Ohio to help them heal and give them hope to move forward.
Statistics show that there is a mental health crisis in our country and our state with suicides up for both men and women across all age groups in Ohio.
According to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, the biggest increase in suicides is in Black Ohioans, who have seen a 56% over the past 14 years, compared to a 34% increase for white Ohioans.
On the most recent episode of our "Voices for Change" podcast, News 5's Danita Harris spoke about youth mental health and coping with trauma with Robyn Hill, a licensed therapist, author and speaker; and Liz Ferro, founder of Girls With Sole. Listen here.
“Christopher was a Fourth of July baby,” said his mother Ann Atkinson. “He was very kind and kind of quiet and soft spoken, but he had a real good sense of humor — kind of witty almost."
“He was just a wonderful kid, very smart. I was proud to be a stepdad,” said Mike Atkinson.
The Atkinsons shared the loving thoughts they had about their son Christopher Lysyj. He went on to attend Case Western Reserve University to get a master’s in anesthesia.
Admired by his classmates and professors, life looked great for Lysyj.
“But troubled with depression that started out in high school. And being a mom that didn't really understand what that was, I didn't see the trajectory,” Ann Atkinson said.
On Aug. 24, 2020, the Atkinsons experienced a parent's worst nightmare.
"I was at home and the North Royalton Police came to my home. They said they found him dead in his apartment…You got hit by something BOOM – right there!” his mother said, slapping her chest to express the emotional impact. “And you can't make sense of it.”
“The last, you know, thing he did, he gave us a Father's Day gift,” his stepfather said. “He had a picture of me and him in Vegas. And you know that touched me. And then a few months later he's gone. So, you know it was tough."
Lysyj was 23 years old when he died by suicide.
“I was mad at God, I was mad. But then I came to realize I want to live,” Ann Atkinson said.
She received a letter from the coroner's office signed by Pete Bliss, who also works with Cornerstone of Hope, a comprehensive bereavement support center that has served Ohio communities for the past 20 years.
“I'm bawling and I'm reading the letter and I’m already calling him while I'm not even done reading the letter yet,” she said. “And at that moment I just knew I was going to survive."
Survivor of Suicide Loss is a free support group program at Cornerstone that helped his parents process their grief.
“We have 40, 50 people coming every month for these monthly programs where we give them an opportunity to share and connect with others, but also provide some education around things like the suicidal mind, you know, and what might cause them to think about that as an option,” said Julia Ellifritt, Education Director with Cornerstone of Hope.
Ann Atkinson shared how the group helped her come to terms with her son’s death.
"And then you realize, you come to realize that there wasn't anything I did and it wasn't anything I didn't do. It was a brain illness. And it got the best of Chris,” she said. "Cornerstone offered me a place to learn about how to heal my grief."
It also helps parents manage the enormous guilt parents experience after losing a child to suicide.
“Such a common thing,” Ellifritt said. "But my theory is that guilt maybe isn't the appropriate word, because what guilt means is I purposely did something wrong and now I feel bad about it…Regret, I think, is a much better word, because we all have regrets. We process through it and we move forward in our process of grief and on that journey of grief."
Atkinson said that once you get a grip on the guilt, ”you can lay a plan for how you can survive. You still have pain. It never goes away, but you can make ways to live with it."
Cornerstone of Hope just received grant money from the state mental health board to provide training and education in specific counties on how to care and counsel survivors of suicide loss.
The Atkinsons shared that going to the meetings helps them because they know they’re not alone.
Learn more about Cornerstone of Hope’s Survivor of Suicide Loss programs here.
Help is available - call 988 to reach the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and speak to someone anytime.
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