Survivors After Suicide Newsletter, Spring 2021

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SurvivorsAfterSuicide Your Path Toward Healing • There Is Hope • There Is Help A Program of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services

Spring 2021

My Husband’s Depression was like a Cancer By Jill Halper, M.D.

Depression is not cancer. It’s a completely different disease. Yet when I look back on my husband’s depression and death by suicide three years ago, it sure looks a lot like cancer to me. As an adolescent medicine physician in Los Angeles, I have cared for many patients with depression and mental illness, and as a pediatric resident in training, I also cared for many children with cancer. But the difference in how people view these illnesses is astounding. Before we met, my husband’s first marriage had ended, and his ex-wife told him that he did not deserve love. Primed by genetics and an abusive childhood, he was convinced he would always be alone. He attempted suicide with an overdose of pills. When he unexpectedly woke up in the morning, he drove to U.C.L.A. and was checked into the psychiatric unit. He was treated, started on medication and improved. Six months later we met, and soon felt that we were soul mates. He realized he did deserve love. We never took the suicide attempt lightly and always had professional support and treatment.

A treasured memory of Jill’s husband Jonathan traveling in Israel.

We were married for nearly 20 years. We had two children, purchased a home and negotiated our marriage as best we could. We communicated well, and had the support of a couples’ therapist. It seemed his horrible disease was cured — until it wasn’t. He wasn’t cured; as with some cancers, his disease was simply in remission. And while his first suicide attempt was about the fear of never finding love, his second fear, equally

unwarranted, was that he was a complete failure as a provider. My husband’s father was not trained in any skill or profession. He was laid off in his 50s, and never worked again. When he died in his 60s, he left behind a financial mess. He had always told my husband not to make the same mistakes, so my husband became both an electrical engineer and a lawyer. If one didn’t work out, he always had a fall back. Even as two professionals, the challenges in our marriage mostly centered on money. We had the typical spending differences, but we worked through the issues well, learned to compromise and were able to save for retirement. We were not in danger financially, yet my husband still worried it was not enough. During his final two years, his anxiety about work increased. He slept more than usual and lost weight. He also lost his spark and joy. We saw our couples’ therapist more often, and she helped us navigate our issues and better understand how to manage his disease. I cut expenses to help alleviate his worry. (Continued on page 5)

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Rick’s Corner It has been a year since COVID-19 forced us into isolation, distancing us from family and friends and limiting our personal interactions to little square faces on a monitor or laptop.

a loved one? We, as survivors, are a community built on empathy and compassion, who use our body language as the exclamation point of our feelings.

Granted, virtual platforms have afforded us the ability to stay connected, see more people at once, attend conferences without the airfare or jet lag, work from home without the commute or dress code, and even attend survivor groups and potlucks to get the support we need. It helps dispel the gray of isolation, keeping us connected to everyone at once.

“Zoomed out” is a term used in photography that describes widening our perspective of what we see. This can also describe virtual platform fatigue; an overload of virtual stimuli.

There can be a price for this optical overload. Although bars closed and traffic dropped during the pandemic, it may be tempting to use alcohol to help us through these uncertain times. Infrequent or moderate drinkers may become heavier drinkers as the stay-home orders continue. How many virtual happy hour invitations can you accept, especially if there is no bartender to suggest you may have had one drink too many?

When was the last time you called someone without using Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp or Skype video? When was the last time you closed your eyes to conjure up the face of the person you called? Give your eyes a rest. Turn off your computer, laptop or tablet. Call someone and really listen.


How many people will be negatively impacted by not being able to physically comfort and console family or friends after the suicide of

Rick Mogil Program Director Didi Hirsch Suicide Bereavement Services

Resources for Survivors and Suicide Prevention CRISIS AND HELP LINES



National Suicide Prevention Lifeline/ Didi Hirsch Suicide Crisis Line 24/7 English and Spanish (800) 273-TALK or (800) 273-8255

Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center 10277 W. Olympic Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90067 (424) 362-2900

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Support for Families (800) 950-6264

Bereavement Support Groups (Survivors After Suicide) Support Groups for Teens: (424) 362-2911 Support Groups for Adults: LA/Ventura Counties (424) 362-2912 Orange County (Eng/Span) (714) 547-0885

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Disaster Distress Helpline 24/7 English and Spanish (800) 985-5990 24/7 Lifeline/Didi Hirsch Crisis Chat or TEEN LINE Staffed by Teens 6-10 pm; Other Hours by Didi Hirsch. (800) TLC-TEEN, (800) 952-8336 or (310) 855-HOPE Didi Hirsch Korean Crisis Line (877) 727-4747 4:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. daily Trevor Helpline (LGBTQ) (800) 850-8078

Survivors of Suicide Attempts Didi Hirsch’s Support Groups (424) 362-2911 American Association of Suicidology (202) 237-2280 American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (888) 333-2280 Suicide Prevention Resource Center (877) GET-SPRC or (877) 438-7772 or thespark


LA Warmline 855-952-9276 10:00 p.m. - 6:00 a.m. daily Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health ACCESS Line 800-854-7771, 24/7


Editor: Randy Levin-Cohen Editorial Board: Kim Kowsky, Rick Mogil, Patricia Speelman Design: Julian Concepcion

Journey Forward By Dr. Alan Nager

The Loneliest Burden: Surviving My Father’s Suicide By Kristine Barry-Olsen

Emotions penetrate Deeply with impact Positive and negative With shame and insecurity Feeling judged, stigmatized Sensing futility, hopelessness Overwhelmed and suffering Do I reveal the real me With pain and confusion Embarrassment and hurt Can better ever feel better Should I find relief, support Trust, comfort, acceptance With desperation and desire I accept help and guidance Convincing myself to change With an evolving view That creates less isolation Numbing and awkwardness Infusing a fresh perspective A new found tranquility With inspired feelings And a new path forward Emotions penetrate Me, feeling like me .

Dr. Alan Nager wrote this poem to honor the life and memory of his daughter, Sarah Nager Grajower MD, a pediatric resident-in-training who died by suicide in 2018.

Kristine with her father, veteran character actor, Don “Red” Barry.

I loved my father. He was kind, funny, talented and a loving dad to me and my sister. When he smiled, his eyes smiled with him as did anyone else in his presence. I still struggle with the knowledge I now know; that his beautiful smiling eyes held a secret he was too terrified to speak about let alone ask for help. He was suffering alone with mental illness, and when his pain became too great to bear, he killed himself. He died in 1980 when I was 15 years old. The stigma of my father’s suicide battered me. My life went in a direction that scares me when I look back on it. Unlike my father, who struggled alone in his illness, I eventually found the support I needed to deal with my grief and my own mental illness. Didi Hirsch’s 8-week Survivors After Suicide support group showed me that I wasn’t alone and that my grief was shared with others who knew exactly what I was feeling. In these groups, I received the guidance I needed to now hold my grief with grace and, 39 years later, I am doing just that and so much more. I now have the support and am so thankful. Another way I found support was


by participating in the Alive & Running 5K, which raises funds and awareness for Didi Hirsch’s Suicide Prevention Center. I walked Alive & Running for the first time in 2013 and created Team Limelight with my dear friend and fellow suicide survivor, Greg Santilli, who lost his only brother Dave to suicide in 2005. Last year was Limelight’s eighth year walking alongside my brother and sister suicide survivors and friends. Whether you have experienced a loss by suicide, an attempt, or not, your support makes you a member of our team. We can’t make a difference in people’s lives alone. I began this journey by asking for others’ support to help ensure no one will be alone again, ever. During COVID-19, uncertainty, isolation, fear and loss have resulted in a dramatic increase in mental health and substance abuse issues. Just as we have witnessed changing attitudes towards Breast Cancer and AIDS, my hope is that one day soon, we will erase the stigma of mental health and suicide forever. Kristine is a suicide bereavement group co-facilitator and a member of the Survivors After Suicide Advisory Committee.

A Mother Finds Comfort in Her Aviary By Stacey Calhoun

For the past 10 years, Stacey Calhoun honed her passion and hobby for breeding and raising parakeets. Her aviary at home is filled with about 40 parakeets of every hairdo and color: blues, purples, greens, yellows, turquoises, grays, whites, multi-colors. Some are crested with flat tops, mohawks, monk style and other unusual feather do’s. As a former teacher, Stacey would give her beautiful parakeets as gifts to her students. When Stacey lost her oldest son to suicide in January 2020, the parakeets became even more special to her and took on a different meaning. Kenneth Yale Calhoun was 32 years old when he passed. Whenever Kenny would visit Stacey’s home, he would go into the aviary and meditate and talk to the birds. He felt they talked back to him and they had a special connection. Now, in her grief process, Stacey feels she has become more connected to the parakeets after Kenny’s passing. Watching their vibrant colors and personalities interact, fills her with with a sense of calm. Stacey participated in Didi Hirsch’s 8-week Survivors After Suicide support group in Orange County. During the final meeting, Stacey spontaneously offered parakeets as gifts to her fellow group members as a way to honor their loved ones. “To me, giving them away is a gift that I hope will help others find a connection to their loved ones too,” Stacey said. If anyone in our community is a bird lover who would like to give one of Stacey’s parakeets a new home, please contact Survivor Support Services at 714-547-0885 for more information.

Stacy Calhoun’s aviary is filled with a variety of multi-colored parakeets.

The Healing Power of a Smile The SAS Winter 2020 potluck participants used the magic of Zoom to share their stories and memories while complying with all pandemic safety requirements. This year’s opening remarks by Didi Hirsch’s CEO Dr. Jonathan Goldfinger, Division Director Patricia Speelman and Program Director Rick Mogil explored the healing power of a smile. Participants then broke into smaller discussion groups to share a memory of their loved one smiling and when they were finally able to smile again after their loss. The holiday season can be a difficult time of year for many of us but COVID-19 added a whole new level of isolation and loneliness. The invitation to the potluck included a quote from Theodore Roethke, (1903-1963), an America poet, that captures the difficulty of finding ones’ way after tragedy strikes.

“Over every mountain there is a path, Although it may not be seen from the valley.” Mr. Roethke had a difficult childhood and suffered from bipolar disorder. His ongoing search for truth through his poetry led to a life spent pursuing the mysteries of one’s inner self. Although he described himself as “odious” and “unhappy,” Roethke’s poetry transformed what he considered life’s humiliations into something beautiful. The closing ceremony ended with everyone holding up photos of their loved ones accompanied by Bad English’s song “When I See You Smile.”


Do You Know a Teenager Who Has Experienced the Death of Someone By Suicide? Teen grieving a suicide death? Join our group.

Help us connect teens to a virtual 8-week grief support group where they can talk with other teens about their shared experience. Meetings are in small groups, once a week, for 90-minute sessions where they’ll learn healthy stress-management tools and new and creative coping skills to help them deal with their loss. Here they’ll find emotional and therapeutic support from clinicians and other teens so they don’t feel isolated and alone.

For more information call 424-362-2911 or

For info, please call


My Husband’s Depression was like a Cancer (Continued from cover) The weekend before he died, he couldn’t get out of bed. I asked if I needed to take him to the hospital, and he said no. On Saturday I called his psychiatrist, who spoke with him and made an appointment for Tuesday. He died on Monday. I found out afterward that one of the last things he told his psychiatrist was that he felt his intellect was going, and that he was a failure, just like his dad. When I compare photos from our son’s bar mitzvah in 2012 and our daughter’s bat mitzvah in 2015, I can see the change in my husband’s eyes and in his thin frame. His face lacked color, his smile was forced, and he didn’t look as if he were all there; he looked like someone dying. That was nearly a year before his suicide. My rabbi said that my husband, like a dying cancer patient, had been in hospice care. We just didn’t realize it. When he died, my husband was still in treatment, as he had been for 20 years. After his first suicide attempt, he successfully went through intensive treatment of his disease — comparable to the radiation and chemotherapy phase of cancer treatment — and his disease went into remission. He did everything a cancer

patient would have done to prevent a recurrence: He faithfully checked for the earliest signs of the disease returning, and minimized his risk factors. His psychiatrist adjusted his medications as needed and provided excellent medical care, support and counseling. But in the end, everything my husband was doing somehow couldn’t help anymore. He was still on the medication that had worked for so many years, but now it was failing. Just as cancer may go into remission but still kill in the end, depression is a chronic disease that may ultimately prove fatal even with state-of-the-art care and resources. Not all cancers can be cured. Nor can all depressions. With the strong foundation of our love and his excellent care, my husband had almost 20 years of remission before succumbing to his disease. I know that depression is not cancer, but both diseases can be insidious. With cancer we see uncontrolled cellular division and the spread of cancer cells throughout the body, and in depression we see the workings of neurotransmitters and how molecules affect mood. Researchers believe each is the result of


genetic and environmental factors, and with my husband’s family background of mental illness and an abusive childhood, it’s not hard to see why he was sick. Suicide is how my husband died, but depression was what killed him. His suicide was not a rational, intentional act, but a complication and fatal outcome of a very complex and difficult disease. Just as cancer invades the body, depression invades the psyche. And just as the surviving family members of patients with incurable cancers know that they were powerless to stop the progression of the disease, so are the survivors of a person with depression who dies by suicide. I so miss my husband. He was a beautiful, brilliant, sensitive and gentle soul, but the disease made life too much for him. Depression causes many people, like my husband, to seek to leave this world so they can finally end their pain. Just as we keep working to find cures for deadly cancers, we need to find ways to help people overcome the depression that cuts short too many lives. This article is from the New York Times.© [2020] The New York Times Company. All rights reserved. Used under license.

Thank you to our many donors who have generously donated to Didi Hirsch in memory or in honor of loved ones.

I N HONOR OF Jackson and McKenzie Reissa Seth Beverly Atkins Avant Artists Dr. Stephen Ball The Blues Congregation Jasmine Cameron Susan Celentano Judie Churchill Corridor Capital Dr. Kita Curry Jen and Ari Daube Danielle David Antone Desantis Mary Dravis-Parrish El Segundo Ladies Golf Club Joanna Elliott

Fraser Kinnear Pam Kluft Leslie Lapides Nancy Levin Carolyn Levitan Janine and Henry Lichstein Gail Kamer Lieberfarb Will Lippincott Rachel Marcus Kate Marder James Mattone John McDuffie Susan McDuffie Rick Mogil Renee Moilanen Harry Nelson and Family Laura Ornest Margie Padron Dr. Amy Rosenman

Robert Floch Dr. Norman Farberow Charlotte Fletcher Melissa Garcia Libby Gill Dr. Jonathan Goldfinger Linda Gruesin Dr. Nick Guttierez Lizzy Hale Adele Hare & Kevin McGahey Michael D. Hindman Hotline Workers Michael Huynh Connor James Cheryl R. Kaiser Kelly Kearns-Bonifield Martin Luther King, Jr. Coretta Scott King

Andrew Rubin Nancy and Miles Rubin Anna Marie Russo Matthew S. Christina Sandman Jilliene Schenkel Lisa Schumacher Robbi Shulman Glenna Smith Geraldine Stewart Brian and Raquel Tenzca Mark Vierra Meilani Wang Welk Music Group Laurie Woodrow Meg Wynne Rachel Yomtob & Todd Rubin Rebecca Zeitlin Robert and Eileen Zigman


Bud D.S. Lisa Emily Ady Christopher Bandasch Alec Becker Leon Broussard IV Christie Carter Sandy Chu Zachary Clark Michael Gregory Clarke Estelle Cohen Linda Cooper Chris Cornell Arieh Diamond Julia Asher Donham Bess Drust John Patrick Dryden Jason Elzer Joshua Edward Erman Amy Ewert Wendy Fenster

Alex Fiederer Kathy Fiore Melvin Fischler Sam Florez Irene Garry Derrick Gerson Brendan Gilligan John Francis Gilligan Catarino Gomez Paul James Gresch Joshua Haber Dr. Linda Hannick Marty Trent Harris Beth Hess Barbara Hornicter Jeff Hughes Mark Hurlimann Sheila Hutman Michael Arthur Igdaloff Jakara Mae Jackson Douglas James Sweeney Samantha Karkanen Tabi Katouzi

Mary Kay Bergman Hana Kimura Wyatt Lee Stan Lelewer Gary (Lefty) Leth Eddie and Osnath Levin Lenore Levine Daniel Lichstein Mark Linkous John Lynch Evan Mackey Brandon Mena Matthew Mezza Wendy Mishkin David Modjallal Keith Moilanen Nika Nikopour Aiko Nobori Margaret Ou Robert H. Paris Hallie Rabin Joshua Raff Julie Rosenberg

Tom Rykoff Jonathan Sacks Spencer Safty David Sanchez III Tristan Sanchez Alejandro Serricchio Stephen H. Shadowen Rick Shin Benjamin V. Siegel Jaileine Aaunna Steele Larry Szpila Lee Tacker Brandon Toh Tommy Typser Ricardo Geronimo Acosta Villanueva

Jerry Vu Johnny Wardlaw Emma Nicole Wheeler Zachary Whitson Cheri Renfroe Yousem Paul Zigman

March 24, 2020 through February 8, 2021

UPCOMING EVENTS Mental Health Is Health experience May 26, 2021 |

American Association of Suicidology 2021 Hybrid Conference Wednesday, April 21st–Saturday, April 24th 2021 |

Survivors After Suicide Summer Virtual Potluck Saturday, June 5, 2021 | For questions, contact Rick Mogil at or call 424-362-2912

23rd Annual Alive & Running 5K Walk/Run September 2021 |


Join our Mental Health Is Health experience Didi Hirsch is excited to stream its inaugural Mental Health Is Health experience May 26, 2021 in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. Recognizing their advocacy and support for mental health care, we are proud to announce our incredible 2021 Mental Health Is Health Ambassadors: Selena Gomez and her company, Rare Beauty, Bebe Rexha and Headspace. The free event will highlight the inseparable mind-body connection and provide an unforgettable experience that includes special performances by Broadway legend Jennifer Holliday, guest appearances by Jimmy Smits, Judd Apatow and Melissa Rivers, inspiring stories, wellbeing tips and advocacy strategies for advancing healthcare. Over 25 years ago, Didi Hirsch launched a movement to help those with mental health needs and their families out of the shadows. Our annual Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards honored public figures who shared their stories. Today people of all ages and backgrounds speak openly about mental health. And yet a more insidious stigma remains – 100% of Americans can access a doctor but only 40% of us can access mental health care and only 10% can get substance treatment or support for a mental health or suicide crisis. The Mental Health Is Health experience was designed by Didi Hirsch and partners to ensure that mental health

and physical health are finally treated equally. This mean equal access to care whether someone has asthma or ADHD, diabetes or depression, breast cancer or bipolar disorder. Our extraordinary ambassadors support and advocate for mental health as an inseparable part of physical health: singer, actress, producer and entrepreneur Selena Gomez and her

brand Rare Beauty donate 1% of all sales to increase access for mental health in educational settings; singer/songwriter Bebe Rexha uses her platform to raise awareness for mental health; and Headspace, a meditation app, offers free access to healthcare professionals and educators. Attend the experience for free by registering today at

Didi Hirsch Welcomes New Clinical Director Leslie Kolb! Leslie Kolb, LCSW, joined Didi Hirsch’s Suicide Prevention Center as our Counseling Center Clinical Director in October 2020. In this role, Leslie will oversee all of the suicide prevention therapeutic services and therapists in Los Angeles and Orange County, including those who facilitate Survivors After Suicide bereavement groups and Survivors of Suicide Attempts support groups. Ms. Kolb also provides clinical oversight to other counseling programs operated in partnership with Comedy Gives Back, MusiCares, and the Nina Gutin Scholarship. Kolb’s team of eight staff provides counseling and support to people thinking about suicide, those who have survived an attempt or the loss of a loved one, and their families. Ms. Kolb will also oversee the MSW/MFT students from local universities who will be accepted for internships at Didi Hirsch’s Suicide Prevention Center in September 2021.





4760 South Sepulveda Boulevard Culver City, California 90230


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Survivors After Suicide Group Meetings Eight-Week Groups Meet Virtually

Groups meet virtually once a week for 90 minutes. All LA County survivors are welcome to join any LA County group. Santa Ana groups are available to all survivors who reside in Orange County.

Drop-In Groups Everyone who has completed an eight-week support group is invited to attend free meetings, which are also meeting virtually. San Gabriel Valley Meets the 3rd Sunday of each month, 10:00—11:30 a.m. Meeting Dates: Apr 18, May 16, Jun 20, Jul 18

Santa Ana—English and Spanish Meets the 1st Wednesday of each month, 6:00—7:30 p.m. Meeting dates: Apr 14, May 12, Jun 9, Jul 14

San Fernando Valley Meets the 2nd Saturday of each month, 11:30 a.m.—1:00 p.m. Meeting dates: Apr 10, May 8, Jun 12, Jul 10

South Bay Meets the 2nd Sunday of each month, 11:00 a.m.—12:30 p.m. Meeting dates: Apr 11, May 9, Jun 13, Jul 11

West Los Angeles Meets every Saturday morning from 10 a.m.—11:30 a.m.

To learn more and join a group please call: Los Angeles/Ventura counties: (424) 362-2912 or Orange County: (714) 547-0885

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