Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s also National Suicide Prevention Week and National Suicide Prevention Month (that’s a lot of awareness!). I thought it would be a good time to talk about suicide attempt survivors.
The term “suicide survivor” isn’t generally used for people who’ve lived through suicide attempts. Rather, it’s the term used for someone who’s lost a loved one to suicide. It seems like a bit of a misnomer to me, although looking it up just now the similar terms “survivors of homicide” and “survivors of homicide victims” are also used.
Historically, it doesn’t seem like much attention has been paid to suicide attempt survivors (i.e. people who’ve attempted suicide). The American Association of Suicidology announced that in 2014, they “took the historic step of approving a membership division for people who have been suicidal and their supporters.” That struck me as odd; how is something so obvious somehow groundbreaking?
It’s not hard to find resources online, but not quite as many as I would have expected.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has a booklet for after an attempt with information for family members following a loved one’s attempt. The Mental Health Commission of Canada also has a post-attempt toolkit.
Save.org has a peer support service called Connections. They have a directory of volunteer peer supporters, and people looking for support can reach out to anyone in the directory. While I certainly support the idea of peer support, I’m dubious about the Connections model. The Mental Health Crisis Angels peer support service on Twitter seems to have a much better setup.
Where’s the mental illness?
I’ve noticed that suicide prevention organizations don’t necessarily focus that much on the mental illness aspect. I’m guessing there might be some sort of deliberate choice or philosophical stance behind that. I haven’t looked into it, but as someone with a mental illness who has attempted suicide, I think it’s problematic when mental illness is taken out of suicide. Granted, not all people who are suicidal have a mental illness, but it still seems too important to leave out.
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline has an attempt survivors page with recommendations for people who’ve lived through a suicide attempt. I found it odd, though, that it suggested seeing a therapist, but made no mention of accessing medical/psychiatric treatment. The Lifeline for Attempt Survivors doesn’t talk about getting psychiatric treatment either. It seems a bit irresponsible not to bring it up when talking about post-suicide attempt supports.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has an after an attempt page. It said: “While you may still have challenges, many people who survive a suicide attempt begin to see those challenges in a new light, and realize that there are people available to support them.” I feel like there’s a myth out there that when people survive a suicide attempt, a magical switch is flipped and they see things differently. And while that’s the case for some people, like suicide prevention activist Kevin Hines, for others (like me), the only regret is about not dying.
Suicide attempt survivor stories
Aside from lots of great mental health blogs here on WordPress, there were a couple of interesting sites I came across while researching for this post.
The site Live Through This is run by photographer and suicide attempt survivor advocate Dese’rae L. Stage, and contains photographs and interviews with attempt survivors.
The site Reasons to Go on Living is run by two Canadian mental health researchers. It shares the stories of people who’ve attempted suicide. The site itself is pretty old-school basic in terms of appearance, but it’s a great project.
What’s known about suicide attempt survivors
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 90% of suicide attempters don’t go on to eventually die by suicide. The article cites a 2002 literature review finding that about 23% attempt again and survive, while about 70% don’t attempt again. At the same time, though, previous attempts are among the strongest risk factors for future attempts.
The Harvard article also states that “This relatively good long-term survival rate is consistent with the observation that suicidal crises are often short-lived, even if there may be underlying, more chronic risk factors present that give rise to these crises.” I’m not sure how I feel about this. I certainly agree that acute crises are time-limited, somewhat along the lines of the way individual panic attacks are time-limited. The analogy isn’t perfect, but the fact that acute crises are relatively short-lived doesn’t change the effect of chronic, or chronically recurring, suicidality on things like quality of life.
And of course, we can’t forget about stigma. In a study by Rimkeviciene and colleagues (2015), suicide attempt survivors reported hearing from others that they didn’t “seriously want to die”, and their attempts were a form of manipulation in order to “get attention”. Some were even denied mental health treatment because they were labelled as attention-seeking. The most common form of discrimination they faced from others was avoidance, including minimization of the suicidality.
There really isn’t a specific point to this post aside from wanting to say something on Suicide Prevention Day, but I think the attempters can sometimes get a bit lost in the shuffle when it comes to suicide awareness and prevention. And we’re here, we exist and what we regret might not be what you expect. And although it’s not considered correct to say, I’ll always view my attempts as failed. Que sera sera.
I’ve just published a new page on my site devoted to suicide. It’s called Suicide and Mental Illness: Let’s Talk About It, and it’s got info and resources related to suicide.