Thinking about your personal readiness to be involved in suicide prevention

If you’ve been touched by suicide, your voice can play an important part in suicide prevention.

Suicide Prevention Australia defines touched by suicide as “having experienced suicidal thoughts, survived a suicide attempt, cared for someone who was suicidal, been bereaved by suicide, or touched by suicide in another way.”

People in our Lived Experience Network know only too well the pain suicide brings and that pain is often accompanied by a desperate need to prevent other people from suffering in a similar way.

There are so many opportunities to can get involved in suicide prevention in this country; ranging from running a community event, to learning how to tell your story of suicide in a public forum; from influencing local government to take action; to seeking employment in the sector itself.

Before you put your hand up, it is important to think about your personal readiness to be involved.

You may have thought about it a lot and are pretty sure that you have the time to get involved and share your lived experience in suicide prevention activities. However, have you thought about whether or not you are emotionally and mentally ready?

Talking about suicide, sharing your insights, learning about research, policy and programs, and so on, can be an incredibly rewarding, healing and hopeful experience. But, it can also be extremely draining and can have an impacts on your physical and emotional wellbeing.

The tips shared in this article have been developed by Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) to help you assess your personal readiness to be involved in suicide prevention activities. It draws on the experiences of other people with a lived experience of suicide, as well as advice from professionals who work every day with people touched by suicide.

For those who are already involved into suicide prevention activities, it is also worth pausing on a regular basis to reflect on how your involvement is affecting your mental and physical health.

How does your experience with suicide integrate with your world view and sense of self?

Every person has their own unique response to suicide and there are no right or wrong responses. Words that are often used to describe an experience with suicide include catastrophic, numbing, devastating, overwhelming, exhausting, confusing, triggering, and so on. These are highly emotionally charged words.

Some people report achieving significant insights about their sense of self and connection to life while others find their world view shattered and confusing.

It can be difficult to find a new balance where you are able to think constructively about your experience and not become overwhelmed by emotions or left feeling vulnerable.

Most people find they need time to reflect on their experience before getting involved in suicide prevention activities.

What words do you use to describe your experience with suicide? Have these changed over time? Do they still carry the same charge of emotion now compared with the immediate weeks or months after the crisis?

What are your energy levels like after thinking or talking about your experience with suicide? If you experience a drop in energy, how long does it take you to regain your energy? Does this have an impact on other parts of your life such as relationships with family, friends or work colleagues, or your physical or mental health?

To what extent does your experience with suicide contribute to your sense of self? How is this different to your sense of self before suicide entered your life?

Think about the length of time since your crisis

There are no hard and fast rules about the length of time that has passed since your experience with suicide however, suicide prevention professionals generally recommend waiting sometime before becoming involved in suicide prevention activities, specifically:

  • If you have lost a loved one by suicide allowing at least 12 months to pass before getting involved in suicide prevention.
  • If you have made a suicide attempt allow at least 6 months to pass since your most recent suicide attempt.

These recommendations help ensure individuals are not vulnerable when making a decision to participate. Levels of vulnerability can change over time as suicidality and grief may resurface.

What would it be like to discuss your readiness to get involved in suicide prevention activities with a trusted person such as a friend, family member, mental health professional, or crisis line?

Are there particular times when you know that you feel more vulnerable? This may be anniversary dates or birthdays, times of increased stress, or special events like Christmas or holidays.

Ask yourself, what’s my motivation?

This can be a tough one. It’s not always an easy and straightforward process to identify your motivation to be involved in an activity. This requires self-reflection and is often best done by talking to a trusted confidant or a mental health professional. Be gentle with yourself and don’t judge or appraise your motivation: there are no right or wrong answers.

One way of helping uncover your motivation is to ask yourself ‘who will benefit from my involvement?’

Two common underlying themes are:

  • I will, for example, this will help me heal, help me make sense of my experience, help me channel my emotional energy.
  • Others will, for example, constructive improvements can be made to suicide prevention via my contribution to research, policy or program design.

Most people will find that their motivation will be a mix of these two themes of motivation. Think about which motivation is currently dominant and try to find suicide prevention activities that will satisfy this motivation.

Find the right type of involvement to match your motivation

There are a broad range of suicide prevention activities available. Your involvement in any activity will add value and help create a community that values and supports everyone.

Some examples matched to these two themes of motivation include:

  • I will: Participation in activities that focus on healing such as community remembrance or awareness events (e.g. walks on World Suicide Prevention Day), involvement in peer support groups, fundraising activities, participation in research (especially where there are good support mechanisms in place such as access to counsellors if you become vulnerable during the research process). These are more likely to require short-term commitment or be one-off activities and allow you time between activities to heal and process your thoughts and emotions.
  • Others will: Activities such as participation in consultation processes or events, involvement in committees or working groups, organising community events, or undertaking speakers training to share your story at public events or in the media. These are more likely to be ongoing activities that require a commitment of time and energy over the medium- to long-term.

Put plans in place for self-care

Sometimes involvement in suicide prevention activities can bring up unexpected emotions, feelings, and memories. It is important that you have a ready set of self-care strategies to draw on that will nurture your wellbeing. You must help yourself before you can help others.

“Self-care” can be understood in many different ways. In its simplest form, it means our ability to function effectively in the world, while meeting the multiple challenges of daily life with a sense of energy, vitality, and confidence. Self-care is initiated and maintained by us as individuals and requires our active engagement.

The term “self-care” spans a full range of issues: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Some conceptualise this construct by considering the dimensions of mind, body, and spirit, or in terms of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It is referred to as “wellness”, a “healthy balance”, “resilience”, and simply, mental health. It is important to note, though, that no matter the dimensions of self-care, in the end, all of these different aspects are interconnected. Failure to take care of yourself in one realm can lead to consequences in another.

There is no formula for self-care. Each self-care plan will be unique and change over time. Ultimately, we must listen well to our own bodies, hearts, and minds, as well as to the voices and messages from trusted friends, as we seek resiliency and renewal in our lives and work.

What are you already doing to practise self-care in the physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and workplace/volunteer realms? What additional strategies can you put in place?

To be in a position to help others with their health and wellbeing, you must take care of yourself. Give yourself permission to take a break from involvement in suicide prevention activities if you find your wellbeing is negatively impacted. It may be that there is a way to contribute that is not necessarily public facing.  Your involvement could be as simple as signing up to the Lived Experience Network to keep up to date with future opportunities to participate. You just need to take the time find what is right for you, and keep checking in with how you are feeling along the way.

If you need a hand thinking through your personal readiness to be involved at any time, try talking about it with a trusted person such as a friend, family member, mental health professional, or crisis line.

For a comprehensive list of support available in Australia, visit www.communitiesmatter.com.au/usefulcontacts

For more information on sharing your lived experience in a safe and supported way, visit www.suicidepreventionaust.org/livedexperiencenetwork

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suicide prevention, consumers and carers, consumers and carers empowerment