‘U.S. Guidelines’ Offer Communities Vital Help with Postvention Planning

Communities and organizations looking for assistance either with strategic planning related to suicide postvention or with addressing any issues related to the aftermath of suicide ought to include as vital background reading Responding to Grief, Trauma, and Distress After a Suicide: U.S. National Guidelines. (Postvention involves actions designed to mitigate the negative effects on others caused by a person dying from suicide.) The guidelines were written by a task force of a dozen experts (almost all of whom are themselves survivors of suicide loss) and released in 2015 by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. According to the document’s preface:

The research findings delineated in [these guidelines] … present the cumulative argument that the severity and duration of suicide’s damage for many of our friends and neighbors is far worse than is recognized, and that our society is not even close to responding adequately or effectively to lessen this damage or to help people recover from the tragedy that has befallen them … [This] must compel us to take the bold and drastic action necessary to reinvent postvention in a way that focuses our compassion — and our resources — on answering the call to meet the needs of everyone exposed to a suicide.

The guidelines delineate strategic goals and objectives to help “incorporate more effective care for the suicide bereaved and others affected by a suicide into all postvention policies and practices [and to] … pave the way for increased communications and collaboration between the field of suicide postvention and those working in fields such as grief counseling, trauma care, crisis response, funeral services, spiritual care, and mental health treatment, .

In addition, the guidelines:

  • Argue that suicide bereavement is unique because death by suicide is unique (namely, it involves questions about the deceased’s volition, the effects of trauma, the degree that suicide is preventable, and the role of stigma in people’s treatment of the deceased and of the bereaved)

  • Summarize research evidence showing that exposure to suicide unquestionably increases the chances that those exposed — perhaps especially the bereaved — are at higher risk for suicide as well as for numerous, sometimes debilitating mental health conditions
  • Highlight the effects of a fatality on people beyond family members of the deceased, including friends, first responders, clinicians, colleagues, and others (even entire communities) who may require support in the wake of a suicide
  • Describe a new framework for classifying people who experience a suicide (Exposed, Affected, Short-Term Bereaved, and Long-Term Bereaved) that will help focus research and guide the development of programs and services to meet the unique needs of specific populations (see the graphic at bit.ly/continuummodel)
  • Advocate for a systems approach, through organizing interventions into three separate, overlapping categories (immediate response, support, and treatment)
  • Present an outline of the research needed to expand and enrich what is known about suicide bereavement and other effects of suicide, which should lead to the development of evidence-based practices in suicide postvention (please also see the post on evidence-informed characteristics of peer support)
  • Assert that suicide grief support efforts ought to be informed by research and clinical advances over the past 20 years in the fields of bereavement support, traumatology, and crisis and disaster preparedness
  • Include an appendix outlining numerous, practical resources for the suicide bereaved and those who care for them (please see the online version on Suicide Grief Resources)

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