By Karyna Sitkowski & Seth Allard
In our culture, the topic and even the mere mention of the word “suicide” is shied away from. It’s a taboo subject among many, yet suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US which averages to about 132 deaths per day – and rising. While we pay a great deal of attention to suicide prevention, our community can be at a loss when someone dies by suicide, attempts suicide, or has a crisis involving strong thoughts of suicide. When someone dies by suicide, the grief, pain, and confusion that takes place in the aftermath can cause increased mental health needs for the friends, family members, and even coworkers and fellow students of a person who has died by suicide. In some cases, there is even an increased risk that others in a community or close personal circle will also attempt suicide. This phenomenon is often referred to as a “cluster” of suicides and is a potential reaction after a death has occurred in the community. We don’t just focus our efforts on ending suicides and helping people learn about and cope with suicide in the beginning – we must also use our time, compassion, and resources to help each other after a death by suicide has occurred. This lesser known prevention plan is called “postvention”.
According to the U.S. national guidelines developed by the Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force, Postvention is “an organized response in the aftermath of a suicide to accomplish any one or more of the following – 1)To facilitate the healing of individuals from the grief and distress of suicide loss. 2) To mitigate other negative effects of exposure to suicide. 3) To prevent suicide among people who are at high risk after exposure to suicide”. This devastating aftermath of a suicidal death can be decreased with a well-prepared postvention plan, which is overseen by a postvention team. The shock, trauma, and grief of a suicide can ripple across a community, and that ripple can last from anywhere to a few weeks to even years, effecting people on many different levels. This is where a successful postvention team comes into play.
According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, a postvention team is responsible for providing the community with immediate and long-term support, tailoring responses and services to the unique needs of suicide loss survivors, and involving survivors of suicide loss in planning and carrying out activities that support suicide loss survivors. An additional role of a postvention team is to prepare a plan that assists people with dealing with their grief and mental health after a suicide has occurred, and to be accessible to the community as a source of support and information. At American Indian Health and Family Services we have assembled a postvention team which is constantly updating and improving our postvention plan for the community. Our Postvention team is made up of many different professionals with mixed backgrounds. Our Behavioral Health Director, Suicide Prevention Program staff, Community Wellness staff, Agency leadership, and individuals with lived experience with suicide loss are all represented in our Postvention team. At American Indian Health and Family Services we also urge the community to get involved in both preventative activities and supporting the postvention process. The idea of involving oneself in suicide prevention or postvention can be daunting and even scary at times but when we overcome this fear and look at the bigger picture, we realize that simply listening to someone or asking a question can save a life and improve the lives of those who have been touched by suicide.
If you or someone you know has been effected by a loss by suicide, or if you know of a community member who has attempted suicide and is not receiving the support that he/she needs to recover, we encourage you to reach out to American Indian Health and Family Services to ask about how we can support you, your family and friends, or your organization.
Below are some additional suicide prevention and postvention resources that we encourage the community to explore and use as needed. While everyone is struggling during these difficult times, know that American Indian Health and Family Services is here for you.
National Hotlines & Online Chat
The Trevor Project
Crisis intervention and suicide prevention for teen/young adult LGBTQ individuals.
Trevor Project Life/Text Line 24/7
Trevor LifeLine 1-866-488-7386
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Crisis Text Line
Text “Home” to 741741
Free mental Health services for college students
Text “START” to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Lifeline Crisis Chat
www.crisischat.org to chat online with crisis centers around the US
Disaster Distress Helpline
1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746
American Psychiatric Association Answer Center
Available 8:30am – 6pm EST. Line refers you to local board-certified psychiatrists
American Psychological Association Public Education Line
Follow automated instructions and press 1. Operator refers you to local board certified psychologists
National Online Resources
The National Council for Behavior Health
Search for organizations that are committed to providing mental health services to anyone in the community who needs it regardless of their ability to pay.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
SAMHSA provides information on mental health services and treatment centers through an online service locator. You can search by location, whether or not they provide services for youth, payment options, language spoken, etc.
National Empowerment Center
This site provides information and advocacy resources specifically about mental health recovery.
American Association of Suicidology
The AAS promotes research, public awareness programs, public education, and training for professionals and volunteers.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
AFSP provides information on suicide, support for survivors, prevention, research, and more.
Six Feet Over
Suicide education and advocacy group in Michigan.
Local State Help Lines
State of Michigan, Suicide Prevention Coalitions and Crisis Lines, County Map with Contacts.