"Young and the Restless" actor Kristoff St. John died on Sunday at the age of 52. The cause of death has been deferred "pending additional investigation" after an autopsy was completed Monday, according to the coroner's official website.
St. John was at increased risk for a number of mental and physical issues due to the the death of his son, Julian St. John, who died of an apparent suicide in 2014 while in a mental health facility. Kristoff St. John became a "suicide loss survivor," part of an unwilling group of millions of Americans left behind by loved ones' deaths, who take on a mantle of grief and often shame and guilt.
Evidence shows exposure to suicide can lead to substance abuse, according to the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Losing any first-degree relative to suicide increases the mourner’s own chance of suicide by about threefold, according to the action alliance.
"No parent should ever have to bury their child, and for those who do, it is a nightmare that haunts you forever," ex-wife Mia St. John said in a 2017 statement to Entertainment Tonight.
Indeed, parents who lose a child to suicide face increased rates of depression, anxiety disorders and marital breakup, as well as an increased rate of physical disorders, such as heart disease and hypertension, a 2013 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found.
On Jan. 21, St. John retweeted a tweet about the loss of a child that reads: "Grieving the loss of a child is a process. It begins on the day your child passes, and ends the day the parent joins them."
He also responded to the tweet, writing: "Never a truer word was spoke. Thanks for posting this."
Suicide loss survivors are at risk of "complicated grief," which is when the intense, painful emotions associated with loss last so long that it interferes with your ability to return to reasonably normal functioning. Parents of suicide loss survivors, especially, may have lifelong needs as a result of their loss and be especially afflicted with feelings of guilt and responsibility, according to a 2012 article in the medical journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience.
When Debbie Baird lost her 29-year-old son, Matthew, to suicide in 2009, she didn't think she would ever let go of her grief.
"If you had told me in the early days that I would feel better again, I would never have believed you," she said.
One of the most painful truths a suicide loss survivor must learn to accept is that they may never get the answer they want most: why?
"I miss my son every single day, and it's just senseless that this had to happen this way and even though I can talk to other loss survivors I still can't understand it myself," Baird said. "I think I still have that 'why?' I have a pretty good idea of why, but the true reason left with him."
After St. John's death, his fiancee, Kseniya Mikhaleva, now a loss survivor herself, shared her grief on Instagram, along with the questions swirling in her mind:
"How did it happen ??? How ??? Why did you leave so early ???? and left me alone ....." she captioned the image, that has since been deleted. "I can’t believe 💔💔💔💔 you were everything to me .... you were a loving father, a loving man,.....how 😢😢😢😭😭😭😭💔💔💔💔 love??we should doing a lot of things in future......"
Don't give up hope
Loss survivors can heal. According to the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, after a suicide loss, many survivors experience what's called, "posttraumatic growth," where they "gain resilience and coping skills, more complex and compassionate attitudes toward life, and/or meaningful aspirations or goals that did not exist before the death.
It's impossible for survivors to return to the way things were before their loved one's death. However, some are able to achieve post-traumatic growth.
"You look at the world in a different way," said, Kim Ruocco, whose husband Marine Corps Maj. John Ruocco died by suicide in 2005. "[I] cherished the world in a different way. My relationships with my children were more intense, more purposeful. I was more present and connected to the outside world, whether that’s nature or other people. I found joy in little things and appreciated little things and moments with people that I may not have discovered prior to my husband’s death, and I was able to honor his life lived by telling other people about him and preventing suicide in honor of him."
Helping others can be part of post-traumatic growth. For Ruocco, she became vice president of suicide prevention and postvention at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). "Postvention" describes efforts to prevent suicide among loss survivors and help them heal. Ruocco said postvention doesn't just decrease risk, it can help survivors find new purpose.
You may also be interested in:
- My partner died by suicide. He doesn't know the damage he left behind.
- How to help someone who's suicidal
- What actually happens when you call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Sheryl Sandberg on grief, death and recovery
If you've lost a loved one to suicide
The American Psychological Association says it's important for survivors to:
- Accept your emotions.
- Not worry about what you “should” feel or do. There’s no standard timeline for grieving and no single right way to cope.
- Care for yourself. Do your best to get enough sleep and eat regular, healthy meals. Taking care of your physical self can improve your mood and give you the strength to cope.
- Draw on support systems.
- Talk to someone. There is often stigma around suicide, and many loss survivors suffer in silence. Speaking about your feelings can help.
- Join a group.
- Talk to a professional.
If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide
The American Association of Suicidology and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline recommend:
- Listening without judgment
- Using the lost loved one’s name to show that person is not forgotten
- Accepting the loss survivor's feelings, which can include shock, shame and abandonment
- Avoiding phrases such as "I know how you feel," unless you, too, are a loss survivor
- Avoiding telling them how they should act or feel
- Being sensitive during holidays and anniversaries
Suicide Lifeline: If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.
Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.
SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCE CENTER: Resources for survivors of suicide loss, including parents (PDF)
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kristoff St. John's death calls attention to risks facing suicide loss survivors