Where Hope Can Triumph After Despair

By Damenica McAlister and Jennika Walton, R2I staffMay 2, 2024

After losing a loved one to suicide, people often feel lost and overwhelmed by different forms of grief. Coping with grief can be challenging and result in intense emotions, leaving many with unanswered questions and pain. There exists a beacon of light, however, to navigate through the darkness of grief: suicide postvention.

“Postvention” is a term often overlooked in conversations about suicide and consists of structured activities, after a suicide attempt or death, that promote recovery and healing among those affected. It is estimated that 135 people are affected, to some degree, by every suicide death. Additionally, research has shown that individuals exposed to suicide may be at an increased risk for suicidal behaviors themselves, also known as suicide contagion. Avoiding suicide contagion involves responsible reporting, preventive measures like promoting help-seeking behaviors, providing support to suicide attempters and/or those affected by a suicide loss, reducing access to lethal means and fostering an environment of empathy, understanding and open communication.

It has been said that good postvention is good prevention. Postvention efforts enhance suicide prevention by encouraging access to behavioral health care and promoting spiritual and community support services to reduce harm and mitigate risk. By combining suicide prevention and postvention strategies, we can work toward a safer and more resilient community.

Postvention has two purposes: to prevent future suicide attempts or loss (e.g., contagion) and to help survivors cope with grief. The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors developed three stages of postvention to help people process deaths by suicide: stabilize, grieve and grow. The Army’s Suicide Postvention Handbook details how unit commanders can support Soldiers through each phase. Anyone can engage in postvention. The following are recommended actions for each phase.

1.      During the stabilize phase, survivors may struggle with guilt and blame over the individual’s suicide. Emphasize to survivors that suicide is complex and not their fault, and address issues specific to suicide to promote healing and minimize risk.

2.      Those who are coping with a loved one’s death will experience grief during the process. It is essential to promote healthy grieving by focusing on the life the deceased lived and their service, rather than on the cause of their death. Grief can arise at any moment, so it’s critical to encourage survivors to find a new routine to accept, feel and convey their grief in a productive way.

3.      Growth after a suicide loss refers to actions and efforts to help survivors move forward, build and sustain connections, and establish a culture that encourages help-seeking behaviors. Actions may include finding meaning through activities such as peer mentoring, developing a deeper appreciation for life and helping survivors re-create their stories using what they’ve learned since the death.

Postvention is not merely about picking up the pieces; it’s about stitching together the broken hearts, fostering resilience and preventing further tragedies. We can make a difference by bolstering Soldiers, promoting mental health awareness and supporting local initiatives. Let’s create a world where hope prevails and everyone feels valued and supported.

These resources offer information and postvention support after a suicide attempt or death:

•        988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

•        Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors

•        American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

•        Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO)’s Postvention Toolkit

•        A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace

•        Military One Source

•        Give an Hour

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, including thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call or text 988 to connect with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The lifeline provides 24-hour confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Support is also available via live chat.