People With Lived Experience and People Bereaved by Suicide
Reflections on Suicide Prevention Awareness Education
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Those bereaved by suicide have played an essential role throughout the suicide prevention movement in North America and most especially in Canada. Loss and human suffering are often at the very heart of social change. It is often survivors who channel their pain and passion to shine a spot light on significant concerns, bring us together in a common cause and challenge us to do something and get involved. Those bereaved by suicide are among the bravest people we know and we are indebted to them for their courage, and the inspiration their stories of hope, healing and resiliency bring.
Suicide prevention, like suicide itself is complex and requires a multifaceted, multidisciplinary collaborative approach that includes academics, researchers, front line workers and health care providers, policy makers and those with lived experience. We all have something to learn from each other and all have unique and important contributions to make. Experience, passion, research and evidence, policy and practice must all be included in the conversation, taken into account and carefully considered when developing and promoting suicide prevention strategies and campaigns.
Grief is powerful. Grieving is necessary and we all grieve differently. Grieving takes time and there are no short cuts. For some grief is private and quiet, for others it may be public and loud, for other’s somewhere in between. We all need to find expression and outlets for our grief. For those of us who know the pain of a suicide death grief often involves looking for answers, making sense of something that refuses to make sense, seeking to regain meaning and purpose, and finding a way to take action. Sometimes such action includes harnessing our pain to mobilize others and get involved in suicide prevention and public awareness campaigns.
Public awareness can be inspired and informed by our grief. However there are concerns if suicide prevention endeavours become the vehicle for expressing or processing our grief as there are good reasons to keep these aspects separate. Remembering and memorializing someone, regardless of how they may have died is important to the grieving process and healing. We should however be cautious that public awareness campaigns themselves do not become the memorial. Public awareness campaigns that feature a particular person who died by suicide may communicate something quit unintended and divert the spot light from the key messages of hope and help. It is important to consider the possibility that when one person is featured, those at risk may either overly identify with that person and increase their risk or conversely may not be able to identify with them at all and therefore feel the message does not apply to them. The potential risks of exposure need to be considered, including what might occur when a vulnerable person feels their life has no value, purpose or meaning; that no one cares and are then confronted with very public images and messages that seem to be a direct response to a specific and very real suicide death. While an individually focused approach may provide comfort to those most directly impacted by that death by suicide it may not be the best way to encourage a vulnerable person to make different choices and change their behaviour.