How Talking About Suicide Can Give People Something to Live For

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From O, The Oprah Magazine: “The only people who really understand what it feels like to want to end their lives are those who have been there.

That’s the basis of survivor peer-support groups, in which people who have experience with suicide come together to talk.

‘To realize that somebody else has known that dark place is the only thing that made me feel less alone,’ says Devon Shearer, a former group facilitator at the Didi Hirsch Survivors of Suicide Attempt Support Group in Los Angeles.

‘The group is where people can share things they can’t bring up with other folks in their lives,’ says Caroline Mazel-Carlton, director of training for the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community and a peer facilitator for Alternatives to Suicide groups.

Family and friends may be angry or bewildered—or rejoicing that their loved one survived, while the suicidal person is overwhelmed with guilt or disappointed to still be alive.

The idea of peer support is met with skepticism by those who fear that when survivors gather, they’ll give one another ideas and escalate their risk. Yet participants say this couldn’t be further from the truth, and talking about the tough stuff may be exactly what they need.

‘The mental health community tends to focus on wellness,’ says Jess Stohlmann-Rainey, director of program development for Colorado’s statewide crisis and peer-support lines at Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners. ‘I think people assume that if you’ve struggled with suicide, you’re fragile. But if you’ve gone through this and you’re still here, then you must be really strong,’ she says.”

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