What Happens Now is a shiny new blog hosted by the American Association of Suicidology, written by and for suicide attempt survivors. Journalist Cara Anna is the editor, inviting other attempt survivors to contribute guest posts, or take part in interviews with her, as well as writing extremely insightful posts herself.
Even the word “survivor” uncovers stigma in the world of suicide prevention. Traditionally it’s been used by those bereaved by the suicide death of someone else, and does not refer to those who have survived suicide attempts.
A few savvy agencies, including the AAS and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, are careful to distinguish between “loss survivors” and “attempt survivors,” but more often organizations will simply refer to “survivors,” and they always mean the bereaved when they do.
This might seem like a quibble with language, but in fact illustrates structural stigma among suicide prevention agencies. Attempt survivors simply don’t exist in their language, or in their activities.
For many reasons suicide attempt survivors have been left out of suicide prevention efforts, beginning with stigma, but there are also clashes with the bereaved who can be angry at attempt survivors. This unfortunate situation means that those who have literally survived suicide are rarely able to contribute knowledge from lived experience to the field. Channels are closed.
In my hometown of Vancouver, BC, for example, not only are suicide attempt survivors explicitly banned from volunteering (for two years post-attempt), those with active mental illness are excluded from Crisis Centre BC. (As of the publication date, Crisis Centre BC hadn’t responded to a request to explain their rationale for this policy. I received an email later explaining that people with mental illness are welcome once they have a year of recovery, and the reason for not having attempt survivors volunteer for two years is to avoid triggering and give time for healing.)
As a suicide attempt survivor, I’ve used the knowledge I gained from my lived experience of pain and recovery to help others, through blogging, by creating the Unsuicide Online Suicide Help Wiki, and sharing links to resources and supports on @unsuicide. I have bipolar disorder, which is cyclical in nature, so I’ve fought many battles with suicidal thoughts. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, not only for me, but by talking with peers I’ve learned what works for them as well. Books (and apps) like Kate Bornstein’s “Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws” and Susan Blauner’s “How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying To Kill Me” are two examples of peer knowledge that have helped many people.
Peers know that bombarding us with trite “inspirational” aphorisms doesn’t help, and can have the opposite effect because it demonstrates a profound lack of understanding and empathy. We know that intentionally guilting us about loved ones makes us feel worse about ourselves (this is one example of how loss survivors and attempt survivors can be at odds). We know all the clichés and why they’re unhelpful. And we know what does help. Not every tip helps every person, but by compiling knowledge we have a lot of powerful wisdom to share.
Why don’t suicide prevention professionals want this knowledge, then? Wouldn’t it provide a tremendous amount of insight, and useful feedback on services? Couldn’t it help save lives? Why are we being overlooked? Are we considered incompetent? Failures? Traitors to life? Contagious?
What Happens Now is a groundbreaking work that explores these themes and more. If you want to keep up with the cutting edge of suicide prevention, this is truly it.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, read this first. Find help near you through the International Suicide Prevention Wiki, or the Unsuicide Online Suicide Help Wiki if you’re not comfortable using a phone. Also check out the Suicide Project, a place to share your suicide story with others.