A young woman in Leesburg is partnering with Friends of Loudoun Mental Health to help teens cope with the devastating loss of suicide.
After Jessica Lincoln’s brother took his own life, Lincoln, then 29, found that it was hard to connect with others who had lost siblings to suicide. She found bereavement groups to be helpful, but they typically drew parents of young people who died by suicide.
“After a while I found myself wondering, if these are parents who’ve lost children, where are their siblings? And friends?” Lincoln said. “No one is equipped to deal with this, let alone teenagers.”
She discovered there were no local support groups specifically targeting teens who have lost loved ones or friends to suicide. In March, she approached Friends of Loudoun Mental Health about launching a first-of-its-kind bereavement group, a safe space for young people to share their stories and listen to others.
The mental health nonprofit loved the idea and worked with Lincoln, who is now a certified bereavement specialist through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, to make it happen.
Together, they’ve launched SB4T (Suicide Bereavement for Teens), a peer support group for teens ages 14 to 18. The group meets 8-9 p.m. every Tuesday at The Music Loft, 20915 Ashburn Road, Suite 210, in Ashburn.
Lincoln, who will serve as the group’s facilitator, said the goal is to provide a space where teens can connect with others experiencing a similar loss, and find hope and healing. Loudoun has seen a rise in suicides among young people in recent years. Anyone who has been exposed to a suicide loss is immediately at a higher risk of attempting suicide, she added.
After she lost her brother she felt completely in shock. “There are elements to that type of loss that’s a little different than others, so there are few people who can relate,” Lincoln said. “The bereavement groups I’ve been in has been incredibly helpful.”
Katrina Cole, president of Friends of Loudoun Mental Health, said the peer support group was a natural fit for the organization, which offers several other support groups.
“Friends is always finding ways to bring those suffering with a mental illness or have a loved one that suffers with a mental illness together. This is just another way to do so,” she added.
Suzie Bartel, who lost her teenage son to suicide in 2014, was encouraged to hear about the new support group for young people. She said her younger son was 16 when he was grieving the loss of his older brother and grappling with the desire to just be a normal teenager.
“They just want to be like anyone else, but after a loss like this, they are no longer like anybody else. This changes their life,” Bartel said.
She described the loss after suicide as different than any other type of loss. Her father died when she was just 13 years old and she remembers grieving, but there’s an element of guilt when a life is taken by suicide. “Knowing there is understanding and compassion for the pain you’re in and the guilt you’re feeling is huge,” Bartel said.
With the goal of helping other teens, Bartel launched the nonprofit Ryan Bartel Foundation in 2014. The foundation has partnered with high schools throughout Loudoun County to create We’re All Human clubs, which equip students to support and help one another. Bartel said she’s seen that peer-to-peer model create resiliency, comradery, hope and healing among young people, and she’s hopeful the new bereavement group will do the same.
“It’s got a lot of potential from that point of view,” Bartel said. “I want these kids to understand there’s help out there—no one should navigate this path on their own.”
Friends of Loudoun Mental Health also hosts a general suicide loss support group; it meets the third Wednesday of each month in the Leesburg Town Hall’s lower level conference room.
Learn more about the organization’s support groups at loudounfriends.org. Questions about SB4T can be directed to Lincoln at SB4TLoudoun@gmail.com.