Suicide is an event that impacts entire communities. People exposed to a suicide include not just the family and friends, but also first responders, those who discovered the suicide, health care workers and people in the schools, communities and workplaces where the families and friends live and work. Suicide is often referred to as an isolated event of a troubled individual who takes their own life. Media and other information outlets do not usually tell stories about the widespread effect of suicide on communities.
In 2015, 44,193 people died by suicide in the United States. Dr. Julie Cerel suggests that for each death by suicide 147 people, or 6.5 million Americans, are exposed annually. For each suicide death more than 6 people experience a major life disruption as a result, and 26 people likely need some type of intervention. Confronting earlier beliefs made popular by Dr. Edwin Schneidman in the 1970’s that only 6 individuals are impacted, Cerel emphasizes the continuum of impact – those who are exposed, affected, bereaved (short term), and bereaved (long term). Those who are suicide-bereaved (long term) are those one might immediately imagine: family, close friends, therapist, while those who are suicide-bereaved (short-term) include work colleagues in addition to those with close relationships to the individual who has died.
Currently there is a powerful national conversation about trauma and stress: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), toxic stress and trauma, and approaches to teach resiliency and other strategies for healing. ACEs have been identified by Felitti and Anda (1998) as a significant risk factor for suicide later in life, but exposure to suicide has not been included in the mainstream conversation about ACEs, or toxic stress and trauma. Increasingly, advocates have called for a public health approach to trauma and mental health issues.
Complicated grief due to the stigma of suicide and mental health in general, feelings of blame or responsibility, abandonment, or rejection can contribute to an interrupted grieving process for survivors or others impacted by suicide (Hanschmidt et al. 2016). Implementing systematic resources and healing strategies through a health framework is an important step in the process of de-stigmatizing suicide and suicide loss, both for suicide loss survivors and for those in the wider community impacted by suicide.
The Vermont Suicide Prevention Center, American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, Vermont Department of Health and Vermont Department of Mental Health collaborated and created a Survivors of Suicide VT Resource Packet which includes local and national resources, including local support groups. The packets will be distributed to local funeral homes this fall. Visit the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center’s Prevention Platform to learn more about care and support for those affected by suicide (vtspc.org./vt-suicide-prevention-platform/care-support-of-people-affected-by-suicide/).
If you are feeling suicidal, or are concerned about someone else, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text VT to 741741 for the Vermont Crisis Text Line service, or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org to text/chat.
You can support the work of the Center for Health and Learning and VT Suicide Prevention Center by participating in their Global Giving Accelerator crowdfunding campaign! Between September 11th and September 29th, CHL will raise $7,500 from 40 unique donors! Visit the www.vtspc.org and contribute today!