Local couple forms a suicide support group

Suicide is not a subject people are willing to talk about openly. More often than not, many people you will meet have been affected by this subject. For one local Platteville family, this hits close to home. Patti and Terry Cullen lost their son Ben to suicide when he was just 27.

Following their loss, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen visited Journey Mental Health Center in Madison to start healing. However, it was difficult at first.

“I was appalled that they asked how our loved one took their life,” Patti said. “I thought, ‘well that’s none of your business’, and that was so intrusive. I was just very hurt because that was my child that they were talking about.”

It wasn’t until they met other families who had been impacted that they realized that they weren’t alone in their struggle.

“Part of the introductions were, you state your name, your state, who you loss, and you state how long ago,” Patti said. “That was really amazing though because as you look around the room you see, wow this was a hanging, this was a shooting, this was their grandson.” Terry went on to say that he didn’t feel like he was alone after hearing all the other families speak about their loss.

Mrs. Cullen went on to explain after that she would get “God nudges”, a calling to do something charitable. She called the University of Wisconsin-Platteville counseling services and talked to director of counseling services Deidre Dalsing and asked how she could help them. She told Dalsing how she lost her son 13 weeks ago and wanted to offer help and support to others going through similar things at the school.

For the last two and a half years, the Cullens have worked with UW-Platteville counselor Jason Artz on speaking with different groups and organizations about the topic of suicide.

“Of course, we want to talk about it,” said Terry. They even invited others from their support group, Ben’s Hope, to come with to speak about their loss as well. Patti went on to explain that as tears come, so does healing.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. On average, there are 121 suicides per day, and men die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women. White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015.

It was Artz who was the one who suggested that they have a support group on campus.  After that suggestion, Survivors of Suicide was born. Even though it was originally intended to be just a support group, it ended up being so much more.

“When we first met those kids– the sadness, the experience that we had was very concerning. Because these kids are telling their parents that their fine, and their okay, but they’ve opened up to us and they’re not [okay],” Patti said.

Although suicide is not a comfortable topic to talk about, the Cullens believe it is important to keep discussing it.

“I miss him [Ben] so much, but at the same time now I’m looking at these students thinking what if this didn’t happen to us. Who would be here for these kids?” Patti said. “Not everyone wants to jump into this. It’s not a fun topic to jump into, but it’s definitely a topic that needs to be discussed.”

Survivors of Suicide is set to meet four more times this year: March 23, April 6, April 27 and May 4 from 5-6:30 p.m. All sessions will be held in the Mound Room, at the Markee Pioneer Student Center except for the April 6 session which will be held in room 220 in Royce Hall.