This guide will provide suggestions and considerations for those impacted by suicide who would like to publicly share their experiences.
People who have been impacted by suicide, either through a suicide loss or a suicide attempt, may derive a lot of strength and growth by sharing their experience. They can be passionate advocates for suicide prevention and are in a unique position to influence other people’s attitudes about suicide.
Further, telling one’s story can be cathartic. However, if the story is being told publicly, it is important to assess whether or not the story will be safe for everyone to hear, including others who may have attempted suicide and/or may be thinking about suicide (National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, 2014).
Here are some guidelines to ensure public sharing of experiences will be safe for everyone listening:
- Consider the grief journey
How do we know now is the right time to share? People process grief differently. Processing a suicide loss takes time and energy. Grief work is active, not passive, and there is no time limit to processing grief.
People who have been impacted by suicide can talk with a peer, mentor, or clinician to gauge whether this is the right time to share publicly. If grief hasn’t been sufficiently processed, there is greater likelihood that the story could negatively affect people who are currently considering suicide or people who have recently attempted or lost someone to suicide.
- Follow safe messaging guidelines, including:
- avoid detailed descriptions of method and location that can sensationalize suicide,
- avoid statements of blame that can be stigmatizing,
- avoid statements that could glamourize or romanticize suicide, and
- speak to the complexity of suicide, highlighting that multiple factors are at play and suicide is not a simplistic reaction to life’s difficulties.
- Emphasize the recovery and healing process
Let people know that recovery from suicidal thoughts and behaviours as well as from suicide loss is possible! It’s helpful for people to hear about coping strategies and resources used following the experience that promote for growth and recovery, because it lets them know that no matter what they may be experiencing themselves, there is always hope (American Association of Suicidology, 2012; Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2018; Public Health Agency of Canada, 2018; Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, n.d.).
- Acknowledge that sharing can be difficult
Following any public sharing of experiences, e.g. as a presentation or as part of a panel, debriefing with supportive people is recommended (AAS, 2012; MHCC, 2018).
- In any public sharing scenario, provide a warning for those who are in attendance that suicide will be discussed.
Ideally, additional people would be available to support anyone who is affected and would be identified before the sharing begins.
- People who have been impacted by suicide may:
- Consider having a discussion with family before publicly sharing – your story may be other people’s story, too. Suicide is a very difficult topic for many – in some circumstances it may be best to let one’s family know before sharing, as any public sharing may also affect family members (AAS, 2012).
Storytelling for suicide prevention checklist by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Language matters: Safe language and messages for suicide prevention by the Public Health Agency of Canada
American Association of Suicidology (2012). Special considerations for telling your story: Best practices by suicide loss and suicide attempt survivors. Retrieved from https://suicidology.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Best_Practices_Presentations_Suicide_Loss_Suicide_Attempt_Survivors.pdf
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (n.d.). Four keys to sharing suicide survival stories safely. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/CASPinfographic_4KEYS_ final%2525202_0.pdf
National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention: Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force. (2014). The Way Forward: Pathways to hope, recovery, and wellness with insights from lived experience. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.sprc.org/sites/default/files/resource-program/TheWayForward.pdf
Public Health Agency of Canada. (2018). Safe language and messages for suicide prevention. Retrieved from https://www.suicideinfo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/language-matters-safe-communication-suicide-prevention-pub-eng-1.pdf
Suicide Prevention Australia (2009). Position Statement – Supporting Suicide Attempt Survivors. Retrieved from https://suicideprevention.ca/Im-a-Suicide-Attempt-Survivor?locale=en
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (n.d.). Storytelling for suicide prevention checklist. Retrieved from https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/storytelling-for-suicide-prevention-checklist/