Thursday, January 30, 2014

Together We’re Better: Suicide Attempt Survivors and Suicide Loss Survivors – Different Groups and Collaborative Partners

Reposted with permission from the American Association of Suicidology         
     When I first entered the field of suicide prevention as a person bereaved by suicide back in 2007, one of the first things I noticed was the lack of “voice” given to suicide attempt survivors. It seemed to me that the experiences of suicide attempt survivors provided the critical “black box” from which the whole field could learn. When I became part of the Healing After Suicide Conference and asked why there weren’t sessions for suicide attempt survivors and their families, I was told that suicide attempt survivors and suicide loss survivors would not work well together because the bereaved would have grief support needs that might be negatively affected by attempt survivors stories of recovery (e.g., “why wasn’t my loved one able to recover?”) and that the two groups would work better separately. While this argument had some face validity, I was always troubled as to why suicide attempt survivors and those who love and support them were not given a proper home within our field. Sometimes the myth that the two survivor groups wouldn’t work well together seemed to perpetuate itself and continued the stigma and misunderstandings.
     This year marks a decade since my brother’s death by suicide, and I am so grateful to both the suicide bereaved and the suicide attempt survivors who have provided me with such inspiration and education on my journey into the Suicidology field. Over the past five years in particular, I have come to the conclusion that not only can the bereaved and those with lived experience have a lot to learn from each other, but also, when we band together we create powerful testimony that can fuel future efforts.
     For example, when we were developing the Man Therapy campaign, we looked closely at the National Violent Death reporting data provided to us by Colorado’s Office of Suicide Prevention. This rich dataset gave us important insights about the life circumstances of the men who died, but it gave us very little information on what might be needed to help prevent this outcome from happening in the future. To augment this data, our in-depth-interviews with men who had survived a suicide crisis and were now thriving, gave us many ideas on what helped them and what they wished they had during their darkest days.
     I felt very honored to be witness to the “coming out” stories, and they helped me understand the thoughts and emotional experiences my brother possibly experienced in his final days. In my heart I believe if Carson had heard role models like these men, he may have held on to hope through the unbelievable psychological pain he was experiencing.
I remember talking with suicide attempt survivors who attended the Healing After Suicide conference, and asking them if there was enough content they found relevant, given that the conference agenda was so heavily focused on bereavement. More than one attempt survivor told me they often attend these types of bereavement-oriented events (e.g., conferences and healing ceremonies), because witnessing the pain of the bereaved helps fuel their reasons for living.
     We are currently in an exciting time of transition as the lived expertise of suicide attempt survivors is becoming increasingly organized and powerful. The Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is preparing to release a groundbreaking document, “The Way Forward” which provides key directions for communities, agencies and all suicide prevention stakeholders to augment support for people who experience suicidal thoughts and feelings, and to engage people with that lived experience as collaborators and messengers of hope. Eduardo Vega, Action Alliance Executive Committee Member and Co-lead of the Task-force points out that, “this is a pivotal moment for changing the world of suicide prevention by including the knowledge of those of us who have been there. People who’ve survived the despair and impacts of suicide attempts need to be at every table in which communities are considering what needs to be done to reduce isolation, stigma and destructive practices that push people away from help and towards suicidal behavior.”
    In March the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, in partnership with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, will host a landmark event and dialogue among the nation’s foremost thinkers and advocates who are disclosed as suicide attempt survivors.  Along with national mental health and suicide prevention leadership and suicide loss survivors summit attendees will engage crucial questions around what really makes a difference when people struggle with suicide personally and in the aftermath of a suicide attempt.
     When I asked the American Association of Suicidology’s Attempt Survivor Task Force’s Chair, Cara Anna to share her perspective on the bridge between the two groups, she said, “At the moment, attempt survivors are on the path that loss survivors know well -- emerging and having their voices heard, respected and included. I think we all can agree on this, and there's certainly room to work together.”
     Craig Miller, a suicide attempt survivor, author and public speakers, emphatically states the common ground between the groups in his video posted on the Attempt Survivors’ blog, “All of us have come together with one common intention, to do all we can to prevent future suicides, but all of us come with different stories.”
     So, today we stand in solidarity. Suicide attempt survivors and suicide loss survivors are shoulder to shoulder looking forward. For instance, suicide loss survivors are supporting suicide attempt survivors in their effort to move from a task force to a Division of the American      Association of Suicidology. This year when you submit or renew your membership with AAS, consider identifying yourself in the “lived experience” category as your primary affiliation to help the group reach the critical mass needed to achieve Division status. One important way to show together we are better.

Renew your membership today and consider registering as “Attempt Survivors/Lived Experience” for your primary affiliation to help this critical division materialize: .