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Suicide: Aftermath

Helping the survivors heal Add to ...

It was five years ago, almost to the day, that Daniel Siatkowski, a veterinary student at the University of Guelph, took his own life.

His sister, Mandi, is still reeling - and grieving.

"Dan was a wonderful, sensitive, compassionate person," she says. "He was my best friend and my only sibling. I miss him every single day."

After her brother's sudden and unexpected death, - he had no long-term mental-health problems but had gone to a counsellor a few weeks earlier after feeling some social anxiety - Ms. Siatkowski sought psychological counselling. But a big part of the healing process has also been talking openly about suicide and trying to get others to break the silence around an epidemic that is often cloaked in shame.

"I didn't know anything about mental illness and I'm a victim struggling with the aftermath," she says.

There were 3,743 suicides in Canada in 2005, the most recent year for which data are available from Statistics Canada.

Jitender Sareen, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba who has done extensive research on suicide, says the impact on family members is an important but overlooked area.

"After a suicide, family members need mental-health care. They need help to recover from grief and, often, survivor guilt."

Dr. Sareen says the difficulty is that people often feel embarrassed and stigmatized because suicide is a taboo subject.

"Family members need to find a healthy way to grieve. That's essential," he says.

To salve her psychological wounds, Ms. Siatkowski, a musician, has organized a combination memorial and fundraiser, where she will honour her brother's memory (and his love of music), increase awareness of suicide and raise money for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

The benefit, entitled Get Grounded, will be held Tuesday at Toronto's Drake Hotel."Knowing that Dan was sick made the suicide a little more understandable, but it didn't make it any less painful," Ms. Siatkowski says. "I wanted to memorialize him in a positive way."

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