Jerry Reed, director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, posted to his "Director's Blog" this month an appeal ...
... to expand efforts to encourage and support attempt survivors in bringing their expertise to the struggle against suicide, and their firsthand experience with facing and triumphing over suicide to others at risk through peer support networks.In making his appeal to strengthen peer support efforts for survivors of suicide attempts (people who have made a suicide attempt but lived), Jerry also pointed to the history of survivors of suicide loss (i.e., people bereaved by suicide) as partners in suicide prevention and as peer helpers caring for others who have lost a loved one to suicide:
Those bereaved by suicide loss ... form an essential and active part of the suicide prevention community. It is difficult to think of a major suicide prevention organization or initiative that does not include persons bereaved by suicide. Those who have lost a loved one to suicide are reaching out and supporting one another in support groups as well as providing support and advocacy for suicide prevention.I welcome Jerry's enthusiastic focus on the value of peer support to our field -- the value of peer support both in preventing suicide among those who are at risk and in providing assistance to those bereaved after a fatality -- and I said so in a comment to his post, where I wrote,
Jerry's blog post today sounds like a call from top leadership in the suicide prevention movement to give careful -- and ambitious -- consideration to this challenge of developing the infrastructure, programs, quality assurance, and sustainability necessary to make peer support an essential element of our response to suicide nationally ... It is time, in my opinion, for top-down leadership and bottom-up leadership (namely, among both attempt survivors and loss survivors) to come together and tackle this challenge in earnest.Several other people involved in the suicide prevention movement commented to Jerry's post, as well, including DeQuincy "Quix" Lezine, a longtime advocate for strengthened services to survivors of suicide attempts and author of Eight Stories Up. After linking to excellent background information on the history and effectiveness of peer support programs in the mental health field, Quix wrote:
In suicide prevention, perhaps reflective of the stigma and shame attached to sucide, we have a relatively short history of peer support including support groups and engagement in prevention efforts ... It is certainly time to unequivocally recognize the value of lived experience and experiential knowledge ... I would encourage everyone in our field to join in advancing peer support and participation in all facets of suicide prevention.And Sally Spencer-Thomas of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation added a comment testifying to how helpful peer support was to her and her mother after her brother died by suicide. She pointed out that stories from people who have been helped by peer support are plentiful and said,
Peer-to-peer work does not take the place of professional mental health services when needed, but often it can prevent problems from escalating and sometimes it can provide an excellent complement to professional treatment. While I don't have direct experience as a provider or as a participant with peer support for suicide attempt survivors, I believe that similar outcomes are possible for these peer-to-peer support opportunities as I have experienced with loss support groups.Indeed, between the original post and the comments, three examples were offered of online peer-based support for survivors of a suicide attempt:
• Attempted Suicide Help, a comprehensive site created and managed by Juliet Carr, "whose life has been touched by suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicide completions"
• What Happens Now?, a blog hosted by the American Association of Suicidology and edited by Cara Anna, a New York-based journalist and an attempt survivor herself
• Live Through This, a collection of portraits and stories of suicide attempt survivors, as told by the survivors themselves that is maintained by photographer Dese'Rae Stage, also an attempt survivor
I hope that people at all levels everywhere who are leading efforts to help suicide attempt survivors and suicide loss survivors -- whom I called in my comment, "two of the most vulnerable populations we serve" -- will pick up on this conversation and take it to the next step, for I believe doing so will contribute to our cause more than any other single endeavor we might take on.