Practically Speaking: Behind the Episode - Saying Nothing is Worse Than Saying The Wrong Thing - Suicide Postvention for Providers

Practically Speaking: Behind the Episode - Saying Nothing is Worse Than Saying The Wrong Thing - Suicide Postvention for Providers

As providers, we’re trained to do everything we possibly can to prevent suicide. We take continuing education courses, we ask the “right” questions, we provide gun locks, we offer crisis sessions, we collaborate on safety plans, and we document it all. Then we hope and pray that our patients use the tools that we’ve given them and that we don’t receive that dreaded notification. But sometimes all of our best work is not enough.
Click here to listen to the episode! “Saying Nothing is Worse Than Saying The Wrong Thing - Suicide Postvention for Providers”

Behavioral healthcare providers encounter suicide losses in a variety of ways. We may lose a patient to suicide. We may lose a loved one to suicide. Or we may lose a colleague. While we are skilled at prevention efforts and at counseling others after a suicide loss, we are not always skilled at getting help for ourselves.

On this episode of CDP’s Practical for Your Practice Podcast, we are joined by Dr. Megan Harvey to discuss the importance of suicide postvention. Dr. Harvey has worked within the VA Health System for over 15 years. In her current role, she provides consultation and other services as part of the Suicide Risk Management Consultation Program housed at the Rocky Mountain MIRECC.

Briefly, suicide postvention involves strategies implemented after a death by suicide to address its impact on individuals and communities, including providers. It can include the provision of immediate emotional support, facilitating grief and trauma processing, and preventing further distress or potential suicides. There is an emphasis on compassion and understanding in the aftermath of a tragic loss. Ultimately, postvention efforts may help to break down stigma surrounding suicide and foster open conversations about mental health.

As we discuss on this episode, behavioral health providers often feel shame and guilt following the death by suicide of a patient. As a brilliant and compassionate former supervisor once told me, “we don’t want to accept that death is a possible prognosis of mental illness.” While I believe she is correct, I know from experience that it does not erase the shame I have felt following a patient’s self-directed violence.

Why are behavioral healthcare providers more likely to view suicide loss as a personal failure? Why do we treat suicide loss differently than an oncologist thinks about a patient’s death from cancer or a nephrologist thinks about a patient death due to kidney disease? As Dr. Harvey states:

“As much as we would like to prevent suicide, we are also very aware that at this point suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the nation, and within the veteran population this remains a significant challenge and problem…..We can't expect that that will never happen.”

While this is a sobering perspective, I believe that it is a necessary and realistic one. While we should continue to provide best assessment and intervention practices for suicide prevention, we must also be prepared to cope (and support one another) when we face a suicide loss. Listen in on this important discussion to learn more about suicide postvention, how to support colleagues who are coping with a suicide loss, and how to access postvention resources for yourself and your community of practice.

Listen to the full discussion here: Saying Nothing is Worse Than Saying The Wrong Thing - Suicide Postvention for Providers.

If you have a question or topic you want to suggest for a future episode, feel free to drop us a voice-mail message at

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Carin Lefkowitz, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and Senior Military Behavioral Health Psychologist at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Lefkowitz earned her M.A. and Psy.D. in clinical psychology at Widener University, with a concentration in cognitive-behavioral therapy.