Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Breaking the Silence – Learning from the experience of Suicide Attempt Survivors

By Doryn Chervin, Action Alliance Executive Secretary

We live during a time, for better or worse, in which suicide is prominently covered in the media. Whether the story is a high-profile suicide, the ongoing fight to prevent military and veteran suicide, or other tragic stories of grief and loss, there is one voice that has been missing – the voice of the suicide attempt survivor. There is a movement underway to change this.  Suicide attempt survivors are emerging with a collective voice and a plan for re-shaping the delivery of suicide care in health care, strengthening community services, and improving suicide prevention efforts.

This Suicide Prevention Week, September 8 – 14, we embrace and support the suicide attempt survivor movement. For far too long, the perspectives of those with lived experience of suicide have not been integrated into treatment services and suicide prevention efforts. Whether this was due to fear, stigma, shame, or other reasons – the important fact is that this is changing.

For the many thousands of Americans who are now living as attempt survivors, their experience of resiliency and lived experience is an untapped resource that could potentially advance suicide prevention and save the lives of others in suicidal despair.  They understand better than providers or researchers how to find meaning in the midst of great darkness.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance) is the nation’s public-private partnership advancing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and championing suicide prevention as a national priority. The Action Alliance’s Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force, recently released a groundbreaking report, The Way Forward, which makes recommendations to improve our nation’s health systems, emergency services, and suicide prevention efforts based on the experience of attempt survivors. This report, which incorporates the lived experience of recovery and resilience, provides the missing bridge between suicide attempt survivors and treatment services, suicide prevention leaders, and policy makers.

The Way Forward marks the beginning of a new era, in which families, communities, clinicians, and health systems do not fear persons with a known history of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Similar fears and concerns were once directed at persons with histories of mental illness, and alcohol or drug abuse; yet we have increasingly benefited and learned from the inclusion of persons with these lived experiences.

Let’s mark this week, 2014 Suicide Prevention Week, as the moment when families, communities, and organizations commit to fully supporting suicide attempt survivors in their recovery and in our efforts.

As the Executive Secretary of the Action Alliance, I welcome this movement. I welcome the stories of survival, hope, and recovery that suicide attempt survivors contribute to the cause of suicide prevention. The era of silence is over. Just as people once whispered about cancer, we will one day look back in wonder that we ever whispered about this.
If you, or someone you know is in crisis (no matter how small or big), help is available. By calling the 24/7 National Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor who will help you find a reason to keep living.
Doryn Chervin, Dr.P.H., M.Ed.
Executive Secretary, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
Vice President and Senior Scientist, Health and Human Development Division, Education Development Center, Inc.