A local nonprofit and Leesburg resident have created Loudoun's only support group for those who've lost someone to suicide.
Kelly Cohun of Leesburg experienced suicide first-hand in 2011. Unable to cope with the loss of a loved one on her own and uncertain how to move on, she sought a support group, a search which led her all the way to D.C.
The new group is service previously lacking in Loudoun. Cohun took a two-day training course on how to run a suicide support group and reached out to Friends of Loudoun Mental Health, who jumped on the idea to provide the service. The monthly meeting is free for anyone who might want to attend.
The first meeting was April 15, though turnout was slight.
Cohun and Katrina Cole, vice president with Mental Health, expected the first meeting would have few, if any, attendees.
"This [program] is the kind of thing that kind of ebbs and flows," Cohun said. "I know the support group I went to in the past, participants weren't regular every week. Clearly it's a terribly sad thing when people lose loved ones to suicide. [The immediate aftermath is] when they seek out these groups " I would imagine it will take a couple of months. People need to feel comfortable " Hopefully we will get a larger number of people attending " People come as they need to come. [We want] to be there for people when they need it."
Loudoun's sheriff office reported 144 suicides between 2009 and 2014. So far, six suicides have been investigated by the sheriff's office this year.
Friends of Loudoun Mental Health first arrived in the county in 1955.
Efforts in the 1980s and since to educate about suicide in the county have been uphill battles. But the suicide support group is an opportunity for peer-to-peer swapping of common experiences. The group wants it to be a beginning for people dealing with loss as well as an outlet for understanding.
" ... What they're going through is normal, because you can go between hurt and sadness, disbelief, anger, anger not only at the person for doing what they did but anger at yourself for not picking up signs," Cole said. "Too many times there are no signs " A lot of people won't talk about it, and there is still such a stigma against people who have committed suicide. The loved ones are dealing with that too. So because many time people look at them with pity rather than 'what can I do to help you.'"
It's an uncomfortable subject, but it's not just suicide people don't like talking about, Cole said. It's mental illness altogether.
As recently as the 1960s, the U.S.'s response to mental illness was institutionalization.
Even after, the misunderstanding led to many people with severe mental illness being overlooked in proper treatment, often becoming homeless.
Psychiatrists and psychologists are still trying to solve mysteries of the mind and find the proper balance between medication and therapy for treatment and recovery.
"People can relate to people with breast cancer or any cancer, but mental illness people still don't want to talk about," Cole said. "It's a shame " Part of what we're hoping to do too with the support group is " for prevention of what to look out for and how to get up the courage to talk to somebody about [suicide]. So we're pretty excited about getting this started because we see a real need."
The next meeting is May 20 at 7 p.m. in the lower level conference room of Leesburg Town Hall.