OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Hundreds of Oklahomans came together on Saturday who have been affected by or lost a loved one to suicide. One family spoke with KFOR about their loss nine years ago. Unfortunately, Oklahoma is seeing an increase in suicide rates. 

It’s International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day and the CDC reports suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. 

On Saturday support groups from all over Oklahoma rallied behind one another today and shared their experience of losing a loved one to suicide.  

“We know that suicide is a major, major problem in America, especially since COVID and all the difficulties that have been taking place there. So, there is a huge number of people who suffer from suicide, who are not finding the help that they need. This is why we’re putting this on,” said Phil Holeman, lost a loved one to suicide.  

Phil Holeman is the father of KFOR’s own Heather Holeman. He says his son Derek took his life in 2014 at the age of 31, after desperately fighting for nearly nine years against treatment-resistant depression. 

He’s now using Derek’s story to help others in the same boat.  

“It’s like they’re in the ocean, they’re floundering. They don’t know where to go. They can’t see land. They don’t have the energy to get to where they need to be. And so, this is to help them find that they can get in the boat with us. You know where we’re going. And we give them the strength to be able to get to where they need to be,” said Holeman.  

After Derek died, Phil and his wife Dixie started a weekly Survivors of Suicide Loss group at a local group. The main goal is to help prevent suicides globally. 

“Sadness is what they feel before they get here. Here they find that there is hope. There’s a possibility they can get away from the agony and the pain that they’ve been in. And this is why we have this after this,” said Holeman.  

Unfortunately, Oklahoma suicide rates are on the rise. 

Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (ODMHSAS) statistics show Oklahoma has seen over 500 suicides in just the first six months of 2023. Officials say if that trend continues, we will have a record year of suicides in Oklahoma.   

“While we know we might be more than, you know, what’s going on in the rest of the nation, this is a national issue,” said Bonnie Campo, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.    

Oklahoma last year introduced 988, a mental health crisis hot line. Right now, the service is seeing nearly 5,000 calls monthly. 

“We’re stabilizing, 90% of people who reach out for help. Help is available. And that first phone call is so hard. But if you make it, there is hope… When things feel the darkest, it takes all of us working together. And so we want to support families as well,” said Campo.  

If you or someone you know needs help, call 988. There you can get connected with resources and someone to talk to. 

If they’ve lost a loved one to suicide, Holeman recommends visiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website. There you can find a list of organizations that can connect you with a support group.