Co-written by Sarra Nazem, Ph.D.
Grieving the death of a loved one is never easy. When someone dies by suicide, there can be additional challenges and emotions for those left behind. Many people are profoundly affected when someone dies by suicide, including family, friends, co-workers, and providers. In fact, entire communities can be affected by a suicide loss. Given what we know about the effects of suicide loss, having access to suicide postvention resources is critical to supporting suicide loss survivors. Suicide postvention provides organized, immediate, as well as on-going support following a suicide loss. It promotes healing after suicide loss and in turn reduces suicide risk for those impacted. Ultimately, postvention becomes an important part of successful suicide prevention efforts. Despite the inherent role of suicide postvention in suicide prevention efforts, suicide postvention has been one area of suicide prevention where research and resources have been limited.
Given the importance of suicide postvention, we are pleased to co-write this blog about a new resource that has just been rolled out by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Uniting for Suicide Postvention (https://www.mirecc.va.gov/visn19/postvention/), developed and supported by the Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC) and VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, launched August 29, 2019 at the VA/Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Conference. The website is both evidence-informed and highly engaging with information available in multiple formats (e.g., educational infographics, cinematic films, loss survivor interviews, podcasts, etc.). Uniting for Suicide Postvention developers took a dynamic, creative, and multimedia approach to catch people’s attention to promote and enhance the dialogue around suicide loss. Resources were designed to be shared/disseminated on social media to improve education and support efforts. The goal is to get individuals to come to the website sooner, even before a loss, with encouragement for users to keep coming back to check-out newly added resources.
The videos are especially captivating. They cover a variety of topics from cinematic films portraying the deep impact suicide loss can have across communities of loss survivors to guidance on how to put together a workplace postvention team. There are also videos that share the personal experience of losing a loved one to suicide (both from the perspective of friend/family members and providers). To reach a broader audience, the videos are available in both English and Spanish and are 508 compliant.
The website has information presented in three groups of suicide loss survivors: Providers, Community, and Workplace. Read more about what resources you can find under each category below.
The provider section of the website includes information to help providers consider the personal and professional impact of a patient suicide loss. There is information on ways to manage a patient suicide loss as well as other provider-focused suicide postvention resources. You will be able to hear from others who have experienced a patient’s death by suicide and learn more about other suicide postvention issues such as stigma and practical guidance (e.g., what to do/how to prepare for a patient suicide). One video specific for providers is about the personal impact of losing a patient to suicide, which highlights the importance of compassion for one’s self and for one’s peers. There is also a very helpful podcast for providers on how to manage the legal and ethical challenges after suicide loss, including recommendations for ways to approach challenging topics such as family contact and liability following a patient suicide.
The community section is comprehensive and encompasses anyone in the general community who has experienced a suicide loss. This can be a family member, friend, colleague, neighbor, classmate, supervisor, etc. Evidence-informed infographics highlight the impact of suicide loss, including common reactions to suicide loss. There is also a section on how someone can offer support to a suicide loss survivor to include practical suggestions on how to offer support and ways to honor the person who died. There are also videos and podcasts where you can hear from individuals who have lost someone to suicide and the ways they have sought and received help. Resources in the section include a recommended reading and resource list, a comprehensive manual for starting a suicide bereavement program/group (Friends for Survival; https://friendsforsurvival.org/), and links to organizations to help with postvention. There are also links to grief camps for children who are suicide loss survivors.
The workplace section is broad with a focus on multiple entry points. Given that most of our waking hours are spent at the workplace and with co-workers, it is important to consider and have suicide postvention resources for organizations and co-workers. There is information on how to put together a workplace plan and how to tailor the plan to specific workplaces (e.g., military settings, crisis centers, schools, medical settings, etc.). Additionally, there is a 5-point plan on how to support employees after a suicide. Like the other sections, the workplace section includes videos including one dedicated to ways in which workplaces can put together a suicide postvention team to assist with postvention interventions. In addition to several podcast episodes specific to a range of workplaces, there is also a podcast on general postvention practices applicable to all workplaces. Finally, there are links to two very informative national guidance documents: the Managers Guidebook to Suicide Postvention and the Action Alliance National Guidelines.
As highlighted throughout Uniting for Suicide Postvention, there are several organizations who offer critical resources for suicide postvention support:
- American Association for Suicidology (AAS) http://www.suicidology.org has a “Suicide Loss Survivors” section under their “Resources” tab with multiple postvention resources. They also offer provider-specific support as part of the Clinician Survivor Taskforce: http://cliniciansurvivor.org/
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) www.afsp.org has a variety of resources. Under the “Find Support” tab you can select, “I’ve Lost Someone” and you will find practical information for immediately after a loss, resources for loss survivors, and information on taking care of yourself. There are also links to connect with other survivors and ways to honor a loved one who has died by suicide.
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) https://www.sprc.org/ provides a variety of resources for both immediate and long-term postvention under their “Resources & Programs” tab.
- The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S.) https://www.taps.org/ is a critical resource for military families who have lost a loved one to suicide. Their website includes resources for suicide loss survivors to include organizations and providers under the “Resources” tab of their website.
- PsychArmor Institute https://psycharmor.org/ recently launched an online course on Postvention: Healing After Suicide where Dr. Shauna Springer from T.A.P.S. shares how to support someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. Look for additional courses coming soon!
We would appreciate hearing from individuals about your thoughts on Uniting for Suicide Postvention as well as resources you turn to for postvention guidance. Additionally, please feel free to reach out to the Uniting for Suicide Postvention team if you might be interested in sharing your suicide loss survivor story, an instrumental way to help support and promote healing across loss survivors. You can contact the Uniting for Suicide Postvention team via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us on Twitter @USPVinfo.
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.
Lisa French, Psy.D., is the Chief of Staff at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
Sarra Nazem, Ph.D., is a Clinical Research Psychologist at the Rocky Mountain MIRECC and an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine in the Departments of Psychiatry and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.