“Only cannibalism and incest have a greater level of stigma, I think.”
That comment is from Larry Villano, who spoke last week at the national conference of the American Association of Suicidology. He was talking about the suicide attempt survivors group he and others have created in the Phoenix area. These groups don’t form easily. The Arizona one has just six members so far, and some people haven’t joined because they don’t want their mental health case managers finding out that they’ve tried to kill themselves. The group also faces the possibility that the stigma of suicide attempts will limit sources of funding and support.
So, why are support groups for suicide attempt survivors so rare? People are scared to form them, scared to support them and scared to participate.
Changing things will take more people like Katie Ayotte, who helps to run the Arizona group. She remembers “coming out” about her own suicide attempt during a task force meeting where people were whispering about suicide. “Can I have the microphone, please?” she asked them.
In the Chicago area, Stephanie Weber started an attempt survivors support group that inspired others across the U.S. to consider the idea. It took five months just to find the first two members, she told the conference. Now the group is large enough to attract eight interns to help guide it. Still, there’s nervousness.
“Two of the interns came up to me and said they had attempted suicide: ‘Can you still take us?'” Weber said. (“You are so valuable!” she told them.)
The big concern about forming these groups is that people will compare notes on methods and try it again. But people behind the groups say the focus isn’t on war stories. It’s on learning to manage any suicidal feelings. Another concern is that discussions will be overwhelming for some. But “you’re going to have triggers no matter where you are,” said CW Tillman, an attempt survivor and student who has addressed the conference for two straight years.
“Where better to be triggered” than at a support group? Weber added. “People need coping mechanisms, and where else are you going to learn that?” Tillman said.
As always, details of other suicide attempt survivor support groups in the U.S. or elsewhere is welcome here.