For more than 10 years, Suicide Survivor Group, a Florida-based suicide support group has been saving and rebuilding lives across the country. The group is part of AFSP.org (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) and has supported hundreds of people. This volunteer-lead organization meets twice a month, with up to 20 people in person and 10 to 15 people online from as far as California, New York and New Jersey.
Darin Gull is one of three group facilitators. He is also president and general manager of Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based communications specialist, TRACI.net. Unfortunately, Gull lost his brother to suicide four years ago but is determined to ‘give something back’ and prevent further tragedies. He remarks, “Most people don’t realize how prevalent it is. Losing my brother has made me a better person. It challenged me to give his life meaning and give something back too. I’ve become much more empathetic.” According to Gull, the more people talk and share stories, the pain eases slowly and fond memories come flooding back.
Gull expands on the mission of the support group. He says, “We often get asked by new people in the group about when will the grief go away. The grief never goes away. However, you grow around it so it does seem to diminish. As people become stronger, the grief seems smaller. That’s the goal of our group — to help people cope with day-to-day life, function again and eventually thrive. You will never forget your loved ones.”
The group supports everyone, from children as young as 14 to 16 years of age who have lost a classmate, right up to someone in their 80s who has lost a son or daughter or spouse. Gull continues, “It’s a support group for people who have lost somebody. In addition to that, we reach out on how to look for signs from anyone struggling as well as promoting the 988-suicide hotline. Some of our volunteers do get involved in this too.”
According to Gull, the main goal is getting someone through and preventing a second suicide. He explains, “It’s not uncommon when people lose someone that they feel at the end of the road and shortly thereafter, end up taking their own life too. It’s tragic.”
The group meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month in Boca Raton, Palm Beach County. It switches between the two local County libraries that provide facilities for free. Gull says the pandemic changed things dramatically. “It used to be an in-person group but we needed to continue through the lockdowns online,” he says. “At first, it was just a voice call because people were afraid of the technology until they gradually got more comfortable. I do think seeing someone’s face and expressions matters. We have the chairs in a horse-shoe shape around the camera so everyone has a seat at the table.”
The group has been using a video camera donated by Texas-based conferencing manufacturer Boom Collaboration. The Boom MEZZO is a compact 4K ‘intelligent’ camera that features electronic pan, tilt and zoom and built-in AI functions. It’s linked to a 42-inch HD TV and an external speakerphone. The group now has a Boom AURA video bar which is a complete all-in-one solution for a more convenient and enhanced overall experience.
Pointing to the installation, Gull emphasizes, “The goal is to make sure even those joining remotely feel they are at the meeting. The MEZZO offers phenomenal picture performance and I control the meetings manually with a remote. It’s a crystal-clear picture.”
He adds, “As a company, we sell lots of Boom conferencing equipment, predominantly for huddle rooms. It’s becoming the new way to meet in an age of hybrid working. And we want to accommodate those joining meetings online and those in person to deliver a similar experience. Boom makes this happen. We are hugely grateful for their support and quality equipment.”
Founders Fredrik Hörnkvist and Holli Hulett formed Boom Collaboration in 2020 from a headquarters in Austin, Texas. Hörnkvist remarks, “When we heard about the life-saving work this group performs, we had no hesitation in supporting them and will continue to do so.” Hulett also states, “Conferencing helps keep people talking wherever they are based. It’s crucial they are seen and heard clearly during meetings.”
Over the years the group has saved lives and helped survivors discover tools to cope with their loss, according to Gull. “Often, they come in and are a wreck. They haven’t showered or eaten in days…Over time they start to relax and engage. We have several members who say they wouldn’t be here now without the group.”
He observes, “Many actually go on to thrive. We had a woman who lost her husband at a time when her children were leaving college, and she [started] to think about their future. All of a sudden, she was on her own and her world turned upside down. She was devastated and needed to find some hope and a path to get through it.”
Several people have been in the support group for many years while others may attend as few as four meetings. Occasionally, for some, it’s just not for them although a few have returned a couple of years later. Gull adds, “The group doesn’t need to be long-term. It’s about giving people a platform and tools to cope and grow. If they are struggling, they can come back at any time.”
Gull concludes, “We get people from the tri-county area but we’ve [also] had people call in from California, New York and New Jersey. The reach is broad and particularly during COVID-19, people were looking for support groups. Once people had to go back into the big wide world there was an unfortunate spike in suicides so our work is more vital than ever.”
He explains, “Some of the stats I’ve read show that more than 50% of the population have been affected by suicide which is a staggering number. It’s becoming extremely prevalent in young adults. Life is getting hard, the struggles are real and for too many, the help is non-existent.”
Gull reasons that suicide has a major connection to mental-health struggles. He says, “The way I put it is that it’s not an easy decision to choose to end your own life, so if you see that is your best choice in that moment, how bad was the pain and the struggle to cope.”
Speaking from his own personal experience, Gull adds, “In my brother’s case, OCD haunted him all his life. Nothing [seemed] good enough and led him to bad choices. There is no shame in losing anyone to suicide. Now, I want to give back and help others to stay alive and prosper.”
To find out more about the suicide support group, reach out to Ilene Leese via [email protected] or 856-466-1106.
If anyone is in crisis, please call the Suicide & Crisis Hotline by dialing 988 or 1-800-273–8255. You can also text the Crisis Text Line by sending TALK to 741741.
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