Suicide in the spotlight at annual Chicago conference

At the time when Heidi Bryan’s brother killed himself, she wasn’t sure she loved him. That’s why she says she was totally unprepared for her reaction.

If you go

  • Suicide: Responding and Creating Hope
  • Naomi Ruth Cohen Institute for Mental Health Education
  • Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, 1224 Dempster St., Evanston
  • June 1, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
  • Cost:
  • (312)

“I felt like somebody snuck up behind me and just whacked me on the back of my head with a 2-by-4, and I was leveled,” she says, adding that her relationship with her brother had always been complicated.

He was four years older than her, just shy of his 40th birthday.

“Whatever he was thinking at the time of his death, that we’d get over it, that we were better off without him, all that stuff, it wasn’t the truth,” she says. “He was wrong.”

Just about six weeks before her brother died, Bryan had her own suicide plan in place – with a backup plan and a backup plan to the backup plan.

“I was just waiting for the opportune time, the right time and place,” she says. She had been planning her death since she was a little girl.

But after realizing her brother’s death wasn’t something his family would ever get over, her plans changed.

“From that point on, I knew suicide would never be an option for me. I wish I could say from that moment on the birds were chirping, the skies were blue and life was oh so good, but it wasn’t. Nothing changed except I couldn’t kill myself anymore,” she says.

Bryan, a nationally recognized suicide prevention advocate and author, is one of the panelists at the Naomi Ruth Cohen Institute for Mental Health Education’s 13th annual community conference June 1 at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, 1224 Dempster St., Evanston.

The conference, Suicide: Responding and Creating Hope, will share the developments on suicide prevention and stigma. Eighteen breakout sessions are planned, including sessions focusing on gay and lesbian communities, helping family members adjust to the loss, assessment and treatment of a person at risk, and developing a community- and school-based teen suicide prevention program.

One session in particular that will be of special interest to parents is led by Erika’s Lighthouse Director Peggy Kubert and Dr. Danielle Black, director of Child and Adolescent Services at Northwestern University’s Family Institute: “What I Wish My Parents Knew, Adolescents Speak Out.”

Bryan founded the Feeling Blue Suicide Prevention Council after her brother’s death. She is a member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Consumer Survivor Subcommittee and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Suicide Attempt Survivor Task Force.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, more people died from suicide than in car accidents in 2013.

“One thing that I have learned: it can happen to anyone. I don’t say that to scare people, but you don’t have to have this horribly dysfunctional family either,” Bryan says.

Teens are especially impulsive, she says. Parents should watch for signs, such as withdrawing from activities, changes in eating, and anger. Bryan suggests parents ask questions directly, without judgment, and get them help.

If one member of the family attempts suicide, parents can’t ignore it, she says.

“You need to talk about it, and I think the parent needs to have an open mind and just try to be as empathic as possible. This is a big deal, suicide attempts are traumatic.”

After her brother’s suicide, Bryan says her depression worsened. Eventually her husband convinced her to get help for his sake.

“Now I can wake up and look forward to each day instead of the way it used to be, which was waking every day and wondering if today was the day I was going to die,” she says.

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