Perhaps you (or someone you care about) have had such significant distress, depression or hopelessness that you attempted to end your life by suicide. However, if you’re reading this, I’m so glad you made it through that incredibly difficult experience. Often there is little support for suicide attempt survivors, so I’m always looking out for helpful resources.
Not long ago, I came across a free publication called “A Journey Toward Health and Hope: Your Handbook to Recovery After a Suicide Attempt,” published by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Although it came out in 2015, I hadn’t taken the time to review it thoroughly. After taking a closer look, I’d like to share a few of the highlights with you, as it’s a very helpful reference.
The guide states its purpose is to “help you take the first steps toward recovery after your suicide attempt.” Additionally, the “tools and stories it contains come from the experiences of others…who have survived a suicide attempt.” Finally, the authors state “it is our hope that their experiences can help you keep yourself safe, develop hope, and most importantly, remind you that you are not alone.”
The guide uses a clear conversational tone peppered with several inspirational quotes and recovery stories from suicide survivors. Some of the key points and themes that jumped out at me include:
- Recovery from a suicide attempt is a process that takes time and hard work.
- It’s completely normal to continue to feel conflicting emotions and pain for some time after an attempt.
- You’re definitely not alone. (It’s estimated that over one million people in the US attempt suicide each year.)
- Your life matters.
- The effort invested in your recovery will be worth it.
A large part of the guide talks about how to manage four important steps after your suicide attempt, including:
- Thinking about what to say to others about your attempt
- Re-establishing connections with supportive friends and family
- Developing a safety plan to help keep you safe
- Working with a counselor to help you with your overall recovery plans.
Considerable detail is provided to help you work through each of these four critical steps thoroughly and effectively. For example, when deciding how to talk with others about your attempt, “it’s your story to tell, or not,” meaning it’s up to you to decide what, if anything you want to share, and with whom. Sharing your story with professional helpers is typically necessary and helpful, but you will likely want to be much more selective about the extent of the information you share with others about your suicide attempt.
When starting to re-establish connections with supportive others, the guide provides a worksheet where you can begin to identify who is important in your life and what your life goals, values, interests, and reasons for living may be.
There is extensive information in the guide about developing a personal safety plan, including a template for a sample plan. Basically, a safety plan is “a written list of coping strategies and resources to help you survive a suicidal crisis.” Mental health professionals routinely help suicidal individuals develop safety plans in a therapy setting, but you can certainly also work on your safety plan independently and then review it with your counselor and other key support persons. The standard core elements of most safety plans include:
- Warning signs or triggers (thoughts, feelings, behaviors, people, situations, etc.) that can indicate a suicidal crisis is developing
- Effective coping strategies to reduce the likelihood of a crisis or manage a developing crisis
- People or settings that provide comfort or distraction when having upsetting thoughts and feelings
- A list of support persons to contact for help or to be with for comfort and safety
- Professionals or agencies to contact if a crisis is occurring, including 24-hour crisis services
- Steps to take to identify and remove potentially harmful items from the environment
The guide also discusses in-depth how to find a counselor for professional support and assistance, including a list of questions to ask potential counselors to assess whether they would be a good fit for you and your needs.
Another practical section outlines several other steps to consider when “moving toward a hopeful future”:
- Maintaining hope, including creating a “hope box” of tools for coping and support
- Staying in control by being organized (with calendars, planners, to-do lists)
- Getting in touch with your spirituality (through faith-based activities, nature, philosophy, music)
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (by paying attention to sleep, nutrition, and physical activity)
- Taking medication appropriately (as prescribed, using reminders, communicating with prescribers)
- Advocating for others (telling your story, getting involved with advocacy groups)
A comprehensive list of additional resources for help is provided, including the SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator, a comprehensive site to find US mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. Another key service to bookmark and use when needed is the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Two other national organizations, the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), provide numerous links to survivor support groups and many other treatment resources. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the award-winning site, Live Through This, which features portraits and personal stories from suicide attempt survivors, along with other resources for suicide prevention.
As you can probably tell by now, I’m very impressed with “A Journey Toward Health and Hope.” It’s a terrific resource for anyone who is a suicide attempt survivor or if you are assisting a survivor. Please check it out and share it with others who may find it helpful.
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