Last month, I attended the national conference of the American Association of Suicidiology. It’s an annual gathering that attracts people involved in suicide prevention and research, as well as those involved with suicide postvention (or aftercare) like ourselves. It was wonderful to meet many of the founders of the survivor postvention movement -- those people who recognized and reached out early on, to serve the needs of those left behind.
Most of these leaders did something similar to what I did when I founded the Alliance of Hope. They saw a need and stepped up years ago, creating local support groups, national newsletters, or programs to fill a void. They are an amazing group of people who’ve worked long and hard with little to no funding for their programs.
When I say “little to no funding” I mean just that. Several years ago, one study confirmed what most of us know -- that survivors are almost 10 times more likely to feel suicidal in the aftermath of suicide loss, than the general public. Yet, there has been -- and still remains an enormous discrepancy between the amount of funding directed toward general prevention programs and research and the funding directed toward helping survivors of suicide.
One speaker at the conference was a survivor who founded a national volunteer program to send trained survivors alongside emergency personnel when a suicide is called in. He highlighted this issue, noting that the “most easily identifiable high-risk group is the one you find standing right next to the body” when the paramedics arrive.
His words stayed with me. Repeatedly, in forum posts survivors have mentioned “wanting to join their loved one” or “having too much pain to go on.” In the beginning, as a clinician, I was surprised by how often survivors mentioned that they too, now considered suicide, but as years have gone by, I’ve become accustomed to it. And where I used to believe that we were a “postvention” organization, I now see that cannot be separated from “prevention.”
Postvention is Prevention.
I think we in the Alliance of Hope community, should congratulate ourselves. Survivors continually write that the Alliance is their lifeline or has saved their life. We need to take these comments seriously. They mean what they are saying. We’ve found what works -- on a shoestring budget.
We are a diverse community. In other circumstances, we might have little in common -- but as survivors, there is an invisible bond. As survivors, we reach out to each other, understanding the searing pain of recent loss and also understanding that in order to go on, we each must find way to recommit to Life.
I’ve come to see that the Alliance of Hope is more than just a prevention or postvention organization. It's about more than staying alive or just surviving. It is about fulfilling the promise of one’s own life.
Ronnie Walker, MS, LCPC is the founder and Executive Director of the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors.