SHERIDAN — In time, she found her strength through her voice and through action. It was not a journey she had expected she would have taken in life. Twenty-two years later, Sarah Mentock speaks out about her sister’s suicide.
Mentock was a graduate student at the University of Wyoming and in the week of final examinations when she got the news about her sister, Susan.
“My sister had severe mental illness,” Mentock said. “There were probably over two decades of struggling with this. The instant that I found out about Susan taking her life, I was filled with overwhelming grief but also I felt relief because she was so difficult to be around. I felt guilty for feeling the relief.”
It was a struggle getting through the days while in a state of shock and numbness. After a year, Mentock felt that she was coming back to life. But for her mother, Nan Fogel, the journey was longer.
“I think it was by far the worst for my mother. You can’t even begin explaining the devastation to a parent. It’s beyond describing. It was much longer before she felt she could begin living again, maybe three to four years,” Mentock said.
Mentock shared that people who come in contact with those who lost someone to suicide try to avoid them.
“It’s a common reaction but it’s also very, very hard to have people acting like you’re some kind of pariah,” Mentock said.
“As a culture, we don’t know how to talk about it,” said Wendy Bruso who is with the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming in Sheridan.
“A month after Susan’s death, I was having a hard day,” Mentock said. “The guy I was dating then asked me ‘Why?’ I guess there’s a reason why we break up with people.”
In time, Mentock and Fogel found their voices.
“What helped me was coming out and talking about that moment when she (Susan) died. When I verbalized this to my family and friends, this was very healing for me,” Mentock said.
The next step for the two women was action.
“Less than three years after Susan’s passing away we created an art exhibit by artists with mental illness,” Mentock said. The goal was to share the beauty that those with mental illness could share. The exhibit traveled the United States.
What does Mentock advise for those who have lost someone to suicide?
“The advice I would have for people dealing with this is try to get to sleep, try to brush your teeth, try to stay busy,” Mentock said.
What does Mentock advise to those who encounter someone who may be considering suicide?
“Listen,” Mentock said. Then she advised on a step of courage.
“Ask the question, ‘Are you thinking of committing suicide? Not, ‘You’re not considering suicide are you?’ Have the conversation start there and then begin listening. If you are able to ask that question, most often people will answer very honestly,” Mentock said.
Mentock suggested a strategy she learned in training — QPR: Question. Persuade. Refer.
Persuade that individual that they need help and stay with them until they are connected.
“Don’t say, hey let’s talk about this next week,” Mentock said.
Wyoming is leading the nation in suicide according to the National Vital Statistics System with over 29 people per 100,000 committing suicide in the state. In Wyoming, a group most at risk for suicide is elderly men.
“I can’t think of anything more uncomfortable than talking about suicide. Not talking about it is not working,” Mentock said.
What is Mentock’s advice to those who encounter someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one to suicide?
“The day my sister took her life, I had a friend who walked me home from class. I don’t remember her saying anything but it was a lifeline for me,” Mentock said.
If all else fails, give someone a hug.
“One’s reaction to suicide can be so complicated. For those of us left behind, it’s important to us that it isn’t that people who take their lives don’t want to stop living, but they want to stop hurting,” Mentock said.