Shawnee Family Health to offer support group


PORTSMOUTH — Coping with suicide of a loved one can be one of the most challenging experiences that a person can face. Succinctly, Shawnee Family Health Center (SFHC) of Portsmouth, has established ‘Shine a Light,’ which is a group designed to support people who have lost a loved one to suicide.

Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of deaths by suicide, and Shawnee Family Health Center recognizes the feelings of darkness and despair that people experience after a loved one commits suicide so they will soon be offering a free support group. The group will be led by Tracie Riffe and Elaine Evans, both mental health professionals from SFHC.

Tracie Riffe, SFHC Health Home team member, support group developer and co-facilitator, said that the goal of the group is to give survivors a place where they can be comfortable expressing themselves, and find support, comfort and hope in a judgment-free environment.

“Suicide obviously is being more prevalent in our community, and what we are trying to do is offer support to the survivors, the family members, the children, the mothers, the fathers who have to live with the aftermath of suicide,” Riffe said. “Sometimes people can be very judgmental as it relates to suicide, and family members left behind are made to feel very badly as a result. We just wanted to get a support group together so that people don’t feel like their alone, and they are not going through it alone.”

Riffe believes that the people that come to this support group will learn from each other and reassure each other through the sharing of their experiences and feelings.

There is a stigma associated with suicide that can affect survivors’ health in different ways, according to Riffe.

“With suicide, there is such a stigma that surrounds it. It can leave family members with shame or even denial that it was suicide, so they may shun it off,” Riffe said. “That can lead to physical health issues or mental health issues for the survivors.”

Elaine Evans, SFHC Health Home team leader/supervisor at SFHC, said the focus for the SFHC suicide support group is ‘Coming Out of the Darkness.’

“I will be co-facilitating the suicide support groups with Tracie Riffe.’Coming Out of the Darkness,’ is the support group focus, and we will eventually be starting a similar support group for teenagers, but that is still in the works,” Evans said. “Anyone that has lived in the area these last several years knows just how hard our area has been hit by suicide deaths. It hits all ages, and it is a different type of loss to work through than other losses because of the stigma about it. People are more hesitant to talk about suicide than they are any other type of death or loss that a family experiences. We realize that, and wanted to respond to it by making something available in the community that would reach out to the folks that are in that season of their life.”

SFHC hopes to start a suicide support group for teenagers in the near future as well.

“This group that we’re starting on April 21st is actually an adult group. They do not have to be clients of Shawnee Family Health Center, just anyone adult who has experienced a death or a loss like that,” Evans said. “As an agency, we just want to respond to that need in our area, which is why we started the Shine Your Light 5K, so this is sort of a branch from that.”

The adult suicide support group will begin Thursday, April 21, t 6 p.m. There will be six sessions over twelve weeks (every other Thursday). The group is open to the public. The location of the support group will be the building that houses Jeremy Burnside’s law practice on 1118 Hutchins Street in Portsmouth. Formerly Calvary Baptist Church. Mr. Burnside is making his space available at no cost for this group to meet.

For more information or to register, contact Traci Riffe at 740-354-7702.

By Portia Williams

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Reach Portia Williams at 740-353-3101, ext. 1929, or on Twitter @PortiaWillPDT.

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