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Meet Joyce Bruggeman of Survivors of Suicide Loss

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joyce Bruggeman.

Joyce, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
In 1981, The Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL) group evolved from a Traumatic Death support group. As the number of survivors in San Diego increased, additional support groups and services were added. A newsletter was created in 1983, and a help-line for survivors was established in 1984 and has been maintained to date. Today, 36 years later, SOSL has one of the premier survivor support programs in the country. The suicide postvention program includes sixteen groups every month in 10 different locations in San Diego and Riverside counties.

In 1993, SOSL became a 501©(3).

SOSL the only organization doing crucial suicide postvention support throughout San Diego County. Postvention refers to activities which reduce risk and promote healing after a suicide death. Peer support groups provide healthy role models for grieving survivors and increase social support. Given the link between the suicide of a family member and the increased risk for family members, this is a critical benefit. Postvention is prevention.

SOSL, an active member of San Diego’s Suicide Prevention Council, reaches out into the community to reduce stigma through trainings, presentations, and motivational/educational talks. We provide trainings for law enforcement, the military, and emergency responders. Our QPR (Question Persuade Refer) trainers speak in numerous businesses, clubs, and organizations throughout the community.

Annually, SOSL holds a walk in Balboa Park, where over one thousand San Diegans come together to honor loved ones, help those left behind, and support those struggling with mental health issues and thoughts of suicide. This year – our 11th year – we are collaborating with Directing Change which sponsors a youth film contest to educate about mental health and suicide prevention. The walk has been renamed – Walk in Remembrance with Hope and will be held on Sunday, November 12th. This is our major fundraiser for our organization, and all of the funds raised stay in San Diego to directly benefit the lives of San Diegans.

In 2016, SOSL held its first ever Ride For Life motorcycle charity run, in connection with Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day. We moved it to El Cajon Harley Davidson in 2017, and had over 85 participants. It is an opportunity to all the motorcycle community to support suicide prevention in San Diego. The event has been well received, and we are looking forward to 2018 being even bigger and better.

Annually, we hold SOSL Day which brings 100 survivors of suicide loss together for a time of sharing, learning, and community. SOSL provides the connections and education that many survivors need to continue on the path of healing.

In the past two years, we have developed more resources for the long-term survivor of suicide loss. Those beyond the initial stage of grief and shock, but who still need support and community to learn to live in the “new normal” suicide has brought to their lives. SOSL has developed an 8 week – closed group curriculum to guide people through the various stages and aspects of living beyond a suicide, to help them move into a life that is good again – even though it will never be the same. We teach them that is possible to move beyond the trauma and experience Post-Traumatic Growth. To that end, this year we also offered some workshops that taught valuable tools to the survivor community.

SOSL also has a warm line available for those who have lost someone – and need to talk with someone. We offer phone and email support as well as a comprehensive website. This year we anticipate over 51,000 visitors to our site – to find resources, comfort, and information. We have become a well sought out resource for many across the nation.

To my knowledge, SOSL is one of only a few of such organizations that encompasses such a large geographical area to provide postvention support to survivors of suicide loss. We are a resource we never want another San Diegan to need, but we want them to know we are here if they do need us!

Just a note about the neighborhood question – doesn’t apply as we are in multiple neighborhoods – Chula Vista, La Mesa, San Diego/Hillcrest, Clairemont/Mission Bay, Encinitas, Rancho Bernardo, Oceanside, MCAS Mira Mar.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It is never a smooth road with suicide. This organization sprung out of a great need for postvention services, but it is a cause that many do not want to think about – the stigma surrounding the issues of mental illness and suicide keep many from seeking our services.

Also funding is a tremendous challenge. The competition for grant funding is rigorous, and many do not understand the importance of the work we do. Because survivors of suicide loss can carry an increased risk of suicide themselves, it is imperative that they find effective services after the suicide. Suicide support groups have proven to be one of the most effective forms of postvention care, and SOSL provides these essential services throughout San Diego.

Survivors of Suicide Loss – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We offer postvention services after someone loses someone to suicide. Not only to help them heal, but also to reduce the risk of suicide in the future.

I am proud that we can offer the breadth and quality of services we do, throughout the San Diego county region.

I am not sure there is another organization in the US that offers the type of services we do. And we do not charge for the majority of services we offer. No one is ever turned away for economic reasons.

The other thing I am proud of, is the people who come to SOSL – and watching them heal. Then taking their tragedies and working towards suicide prevention. They are some of the most passionate suicide prevention advocates we have, and they are willing to share their stories so that others do not share our loss. I get to see great courage and strength up close and personal every day!

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I am not sure you would call it pride, but it brings me great joy when I see a survivor of suicide loss begin to really engage in life again. When they realize that life will never be the same again, but they choose to move forward and make it good again. Our community calls it the “new normal”. To think that I had even a small part in helping them find their way out of the devastation to find hope again humbles me. I count it a privilege to have shared this part of their journey, and I believe SOSL has been instrumental in helping thousands of San Diegans find that hope again. I am proud of the people who came before me, who built this organization and kept it running for over 35 years. I am proud to service SOSL and the survivor community in San Diego.

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