I’d be willing to wager you’ve heard of support groups. I’d also be willing to bet you’ve acknowledged them as a great resource for others… but have you ever considered them as a legitimate tool for yourself?
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicide ideation, survived attempt, or the loss of a loved one, there’s no reason to face it alone. There are people who want to support and encourage you. You probably have family or friends, a faith leader, a teacher, a physician, or mental health provider who care and want to help. This is wonderful. Turn to these resources and accept them into your network of support. However, if you desire to connect with others who have faced a similar experience to your own, you may want to also consider the benefits of a peer-based support group.
For some, this may be easy, but you may feel uncomfortable asking for or accepting help from strangers. You might doubt how listening to or sharing with others, who do not know you, could actually help. Maybe you fear being a burden or feel ashamed or embarrassed. Or, perhaps your reluctance is founded in the belief that they just won’t truly understand. They haven’t lived through or experienced the topic of suicide in the unique, personal, and painful way you have. However, well facilitated peer support groups have been proven to improve one’s sense of belongingness, use of healthy coping skills, and overall mental wellness.
Support Groups – The Many Ways to Connect
Support groups provide different perspectives relating to a similar lived experience. As a participant, there are many ways to connect and grow, in an atmosphere that offers you and others to listen, ask, share, celebrate, and connect without judgment of one another’s journey.
Not ready to talk? | Then listen.
Have a burning problem to resolve? | Then ask.
Feeling ashamed or fearful? | Then share.
Took a step in the right direction? | Then celebrate.
Not sure what to say? | Then relax. You don’t have to say anything.
Connection is possible, simply by being present with another person. It doesn’t require or demand anything else, but welcomes conversation for the purpose of sharing and receiving empathy, knowledge, acceptance, ideas, options, hope, and healing.
The life events that shaped your beliefs – are unique to you; but having suicidal thoughts, helping someone who does, or having lost a loved one to suicide – is not. It’s difficult to know what to do or how to cope. When we work together, we benefit from and help each other. It is through a safe, judgement-free, no pressure environment that we are able to acknowledge our pain, learn how to “live” through it, and grow in healthy, positive ways with others traveling a similar path.
The Benefits Become Endless
Peer-led support groups are an amazing experience because of the give and take, as well as the discussion and sharing, from people at different stages in the healing process. This provides an opportunity for everyone to grow.Coming to understand, “I am not alone”, can provide much needed comfort.Telling your story can be a significant part of the healing process.Hearing about someone’s growth can provide the hope you desperately need.Learning helpful information can help you tackle a once seemingly insurmountable problem.Connecting with others can provide much needed social engagement.Increasing mindfulness can help you establish and reach your goals.
Helping others can build confidence and help you recognize your value.
Sharing your experiences, as a survivor of your circumstance with others, can give purpose to your pain and offer an opportunity to “pass it on.”
360° Support for Positive Recovery
Surround yourself with positive experiences and people who make you feel good. Consider the potential (put proven) benefits of combining traditional recovery practices with peer connection groups. The more you’re invested in others and your community, the more connected and purposeful you’ll feel. This will help you recognize the good that still exists, the survivor within yourself that is fighting for you, and remain on the path toward hope and healing. Joining a peer-based support group is a great way to start.
Take the lead
If, while looking for a peer support group, you find that your community does not offer one relating to your exposure to suicide, contact the leading mental health providers in your area and ask them to start one. Share your personal need to connect with others who are personally living through a similar circumstance. Ask them to consider establishing a free group, led by someone who has also faced the topic of suicide in a similar way to you. The key to a successful peer support group of this kind is having leaders of the group not only have training in peer group facilitation but firsthand experience with healing beyond the affects of suicide ideation, survived attempt, or loss – themselves. If you suffer from the fear, guilt, and shame of a loved one experiencing active thoughts of suicide, you might want to ask specifically for a “Friends and Family” peer support group. If a free group is not possible, ask if they would consider offering a direct pay or insurance accepted peer-facilitated group. Or, if you work within the mental health field, propose adding peer-based suicide support groups to your list of service offerings. Begin with the task of attracting and vetting possible group leaders, preferably certified in peer support connection and group facilitation.
Programs like a Wisconsin based organization, LiFE OF HOPE have proven successful in helping attendees of their HOPE Peers Support Groups, deescalate their felt suffering and improve the healing process for those affected by the topic of suicide.
By Deeatra K and Michele Cherney