by Ronnie Susan Walker, MS LCPC
When I sat down at my kitchen table eight years ago and dreamed up the Alliance of Hope, I had a simple vision: give loving support to those who had lost a loved one to suicide. There was an urgent need for this kind of support because many survivors of suicide loss had nowhere to turn. I was a survivor myself: my stepson took his own life at age 21.
I went through a long period of darkness and despair and found too few resources existed, to help survivors overcome their profound and complicated grief.
Traditionally, programs that exist have been volunteer-led or operated on shoestring budgets. Although I had deep respect for the organizations working on suicide prevention, their resources have been focused on things like finding the cause of suicide -- not on understanding and serving the ones left behind.
Fast forward to 2015. The Alliance of Hope has thousands of people participating in its forum to support suicide loss survivors. We've still got a shoestring budget, but our reach is beyond what I ever imagined. Researchers are beginning to demonstrate what many of us have long understood: that exposure to suicide includes an increased risk of suicide, mental health issues, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social isolation.
When I attended a national conference on suicide prevention in April, I saw something truly heartening: new guidelines were released saying that organizations in the field had to take "bold and drastic action" to give compassion to those exposed to suicide. They noted that survivors are one of the most high-risk and easily identifiable groups. It was time to focus on survivors.
These guidelines are a small step, but they signal the potential of a huge shift: suicide prevention experts and advocates are beginning to see that loss survivors -- that we -- are an important part of the story. That we cannot be an afterthought. That our grief, our pain, our hopes truly matter.
As the years have passed, I've lost count of how many times forum members have posted a desire to end their life - to join their loved one - or simply to escape the pain they now face. We now know that in the first months following loss, survivors are nearly 10 times more likely to consider suicide than the general population.* Alliance of Hope moderators and stewards surround suicidal forum members with kindness and support -- precisely what's needed to help people through what may be the most difficult time of their life.
With national experts and organizations finally starting to recognize the importance of survivors, the ground has never been more fertile for the Alliance of Hope to keep growing. We must do more, help more. And with your support -- whether through donations, volunteering, or just leaving a note of kindness for a fellow survivor on our forum -- we can expand our work to reach thousands more people around the world who have been hijacked out of their lives. When it comes to helping our fellow survivors, we are the ones we've been waiting for.
*Source: Complicated grief and suicidal ideation in adult survivors of suicide. Mitchell AM, Kim Y, Prigerson HG, Mortimer MK Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2005 Oct; 35(5):498-506
Ronnie Susan Walker MS, LCPC is the Founder and Executive Director of the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors.