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Sewickley support group aims to erase suicide stigma for victims' families

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Phil Jamison
Phil Jamison

It's a subject that's not talked about a lot.

Some consider it shameful, and others are convinced that its victims are forever condemned — just two of the reasons why bereavement counselor Phil Jamison said families of suicide victims find it so hard to cope with the way their loved ones died.

Jamison, who will conduct the first “Losing a Loved One to Suicide” support group in the area at Sewickley Presbyterian Church, said he has seen families struggle at the many groups he has led over 20 years.

But, he said, it is time there is a support group designed for these families, especially because there are so few resources for them nearby.

“It's hard, because there still is stigma about suicide, mostly coming from the older generation. No one talks about it. I have never seen in an obituary that someone died from suicide,” he said.

Jamison said the support group can help family members who might be struggling with why they didn't see their loved ones' torment and those who believe they could have prevented their suicides. They might believe others blame them as well.

“Why” the person took his or her own life is a big issue, Jamison said.

“Although the answer to that question might never be known, we want to be there to support that individual with that struggle.”

He said those who participate are encouraged to talk about their loved ones, but no one is forced to talk. Jamison said he provides education about the grieving process and about suicide.

He talks about how things are changing regarding the suicide stigma.

“I also want to let people know that what they are feeling is normal. They aren't crazy.”

Jamison, of Pittsburgh's Lincoln Place neighborhood, has worked 15 years with Samaritan Counseling Center, which often refers clients to his support groups.

He has worked with hospice programs over the years; is an ordained Presbyterian minister, having served several congregations in the Pittsburgh area; has additional training in bereavement care and counseling; and is co-founder of the Children's Grief Network, through which he conducts grief training and workshops for teachers, other professionals and parents and caregivers.

Beth Healey, director of development and marketing, said Jamison's support groups are structured yet comfortable to provide a place where participants can feel safe.

“He helps you find ways to cope. When you enter the class, you don't feel like there is a spotlight on you. There's a lot of sensitivity there, and he has a lot of information,” she said.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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