In a Jan. 15 blog post, Jerry Reed, Director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, says the suicide prevention field "must ... pursue upstream strategies and address environmental issues that may contribute to eventual suicidal behavior" and proposes
The hypothesis I am highlighting is that exposure to suicide is a risk factor for suicidal behavior and, furthermore, that a response focused on supporting the grief recovery of bereaved people is an effective intervention. Instituting such a process would be in keeping with the fundamental principles of a public health approach to suicide prevention, namely addressing a risk factor at its root in a large, identifiable population and expecting that doing so will substantially decrease the number of individuals who develop the malady in question.
Even as I suggest that survivors of suicide loss be considered a "high-risk population," I must also sound a strong warning against treating them as the field has treated other populations, by
- identifying a high-risk group and then
- implementing suicide awareness, screening, and early intervention programs targeted at that group.
On the contrary, I am proposing a public health response to suicide strictly focused on systematically delivering effective grief support to survivors after a fatality. In the parlance of public health,
- the noxious agent to be weakened is exposure to a fatality, and
- strengthening the host is accomplished through interventions that help survivors cope with grief and recover from traumatic loss.
Writing in a 1997 article in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, Frank Campbell, now a past president of the American Association of Suicidology, said,