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‘It will be less scary’

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A few developments:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has launched a website for attempt survivors, which ought to inspire other organizations to do the same. Eventually, the site will be confident enough to share the full names of people whose stories are shared, but it’s a start. It also has a section on the history of how attempt survivors have come out of the shadows, but its timeline is missing key game-changing developments like the Live Through This portrait project.

And the National Council for Behavioral Health has begun a series of activities around people who’ve been suicidal, starting with a new webinar on the national Way Forward report that came out this summer. The National Council’s leader on suicide prevention work, Cheryl Sharp, speaks openly about her own experience with suicidal thinking and has been a role model.

Finally, a new training program called Suicide to Hope is expected to launch next year. It’s a project of LivingWorks, and a number of people who’ve been suicidal have been involved in field trials. The first trainees will be care providers, though families of suicidal people might join trainings in the future. A focus on working with people to set recovery goals is central to the one-day program.

We spoke earlier this year with Kathryn VanBoskirk, a LivingWorks vice president who is open about her own experience with suicidal thinking. Here are some excerpts:

We’re just really excited. A wonderful convergence. We’ve been working on this for several years. We were field trialing just after the Way Forward document came out. We’ve done all of what is in there, you know?

It was clear to me once I was doing the pilot that it would be important to own the fact that I have lived experience. I didn’t do it during the pilot because I didn’t want to distract from the training experience, because it wasn’t about me. It was clear to me my excitement about Suicide to Hope and what it can be for others partly is funded by the times that I have had thoughts of suicide in my life, and that’s been a number of times, and I’ve come very close to behaviors but got only to rehearsals.

I recognize, from the inside, that this kind of pairing of recovery and growth with suicide, it can be transformational.

The recognition that it fills a gap. I wasn’t quite prepared for the total awareness of that, that people would be so immediately embracing.

In the beginning of the training, we work with having people examine and self-reflect about the kinds of qualities needed to do this work and actively work in small groups to talk about which of these qualities they feel they already have and which they could work to build. So it starts out from looking at attitudes.

We looked at a broad base of research, and there’s some that says it’s really significant to talk about this. Certainly, we have lived experience on all the levels of the development team, the filmers, trainers, even in the shipping! I’m not conscious of feeling that we have to rein in.

It became clear to me I needed to be real if I expected other people to be real.

I don’t have a rule and I don’t have a recipe, but I have guidance. And the guidance has to do with when the purpose of what I’m doing would be aided and not distracted by my sharing. So if I’m going to make someone anxious in the beginning of a training, that’s not the time. And I think it’s important to make sure that I’m still on a healed base. Sometimes if we’re not feeling at that present moment healed, something has re-triggered something, it’s not the time to share.

(Do you feel pressure to give the impression that you’re always fine?) No. That seals things up too much, I believe.

(Will this new training help to open the conversation?) I absolutely think it will. The whole point is to go through suicide, not around it. And so, when people are more able to sit with people, it will be less scary, and more real resources and plans will be made to help people not just recover but grow. So we’re not triggered by the same things and don’t get stuck in the same ways. I think it will do a lot on an individual basis and family basis, and an agency one, and I hope bigger. Community. And the field.

I have to say, early on I was in small communities, and I did not talk about it when I had thoughts of suicide. I did not go for help because of the ramifications to my own professional work in the community. And it’s a sad statement.

(How did you get over that?) Courage. And that’s not a simple answer. It’s a process.

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