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This week’s post is by Alexis Wortley, a Seattle-area teacher and an emerging young advocate. The post is also a call to action. Many people who’ve been suicidal and are “coming out” are interested in giving back and helping make change. Here’s one way to do it. Consider contacting your local branch of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and asking to join the focus groups the organization has started to hold around the country as it seeks to engage us and create resources. AFSP has recognized it needs to do much more. Your guidance could be crucial.

Alexis explains how it goes:

Feeding off the camaraderie of the nearly 1,000 other walkers trekking through the dark, rainy streets of Seattle, I was able to complete the longest walk of my life June 14-15, participating in the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness overnight walk.

The event is a 17.7-mile nighttime walk through the city with the aim of raising money for AFSP’s research and education programs to prevent suicide. A second walk was held in Philadelphia on June 28-29.

I never thought that I would be capable of such a feat, but I did it, and afterwards I felt like I had accomplished something big, not only for those affected by suicide and mental health issues, but personally, because I am a suicide attempt survivor who only “came out” a few months ago.

What happened after the walk is the reason for this post. The editor of this blog asked if I wanted to meet with Dr. Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer for AFSP, and be part of a focus group in Seattle whose primary goal was to meet with attempt survivors and start actively pursuing how to involve them in prevention and education efforts.

This has become a recent goal of AFSP and many mental health and suicide prevention organizations. The Seattle event was the first of a number of focus groups AFSP plans to hold around the country.

There were six women present for our focus group, including me, eight years from my attempt and still trying to figure out how to get involved in advocacy around this issue.

We were all pretty quiet and nervous at first, definitely anxious, as we all knew why we were there and what brought us together.

The two-hour discussion, however, was very positive. Once we started talking, some of the questions asked were, “Would we have still attempted if our families had known how we were feeling? Would the attempt have been diverted or different for us?” We were asked how medical professionals respond to us, how our hospitalizations were different.

One woman talked about how she felt her rights as a patient and
person were taken away because she was forced into the psychiatric ward, and how her psychiatrist basically stopped treating her because she was “being difficult.” Another woman told us that we all had a right to say “no” or ask for a different doctor if we felt we were being treated unfairly.

One thing we all had in common was our desire to live and let society know that we are no different than anyone else. We hold jobs, we contribute to society, have relationships, etc.; we just have a different brain makeup.

Another common, positive thread was that our families have been there for us and continue to be supportive, which is amazing, because I know that due to lack of education or empathy, or pride or religious/cultural beliefs, that doesn’t always occur.

Dr. Moutier asked if having support groups and education for families and friends would be a beneficial program for AFSP. Every one of us nodded in agreement.

This first focus group was more about getting a feel for what was trying to be accomplished. Dr. Moutier mostly listened to us as we talked about our experiences and how we felt we could help the community, the media and professionals who work in the mental health field treat people with mental health issues, and how to make attempt survivors part of the global discussion to end suicide for good.

I really felt like, in the short amount of time we had, Dr. Moutier came away with some great information that she could take to other focus groups around the country.

Attempt survivors really don’t have much of a voice or a place in
the community due to overwhelming stigma from society. Search the Internet and you will find very little in terms of support groups and research.

But the movement is steadily gaining ground, as I have found in the last few weeks.

AFSP’s goal is to have all doctors and care providers properly trained, empathetic and compassionate towards those who try to end their lives, those who are suffering. Dr. Moutier wants the world to know that we have a place here, and that our stories of struggle and survival are the stories that will ultimately, one day, lead to a world where suicide won’t happen.

Attempt survivors, like myself, are starting to “come out” and realize that we are a force to be reckoned with, and we can’t stay silent anymore. It’s up to us with lived experience to educate and advocate.

It might take years, but staying silent about the struggle is no longer an option.