What is Community-Based Suicide Prevention?

the community comes together to offer support inside the communityIn 2023, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death, accounting for 1.4 in 10,000 individuals, or 1.70 million suicide attempts in the year. Those statistics are tragic and every one of them is a person who might have lived if they had better resources, better education, and more help improving quality of life. Today, we know that suicide prevention more and more often requires constant intervention, help with living, and outreach before suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) become a reality. Yet, many of us don’t know how to reach out to get medical help, wait lists for therapists are not helpful in getting treatment for feeling suicidal now, and 56% of suicide attempts are fatal. That means we need local, organized support for individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Often, that means community-based suicide prevention. Here, the community comes together to offer support inside the community, often a neighborhood or large building, with assigned people responsible, training, information, and a means of escalating people to counseling and support in case community support is not enough.

What is Community-Based Suicide Prevention:

Community-based suicide prevention is often defined as non-clinical efforts led by community members such as individuals with experience, leaders, or gatekeepers. This means it is comprised of amateurs who have (hopefully) received some training but who are primarily able to help by having experience and by knowing the community.

Often this means that the individuals involved must know their community, must be able to identify needs, and must be able to get along with and understand the diverse cultures in their community. That also often means having education to help them understand what drives suicide, what quality of life looks like and what wellbeing looks like, and the different approaches to getting to the same result of improved quality of life and mental health outlook.

In practice that often means:

  • Education services available to community members wishing to participate
  • Outreach initiatives so community members know who they can talk to
  • Peer-led drop-in and emergency facilities and numbers as an alternative to emergency services in case of suicidal ideation
  • Peer support groups and meetings
  • Partnerships with clinical counselors and emergency support services for ease of escalation in case additional care or support is needed.

In a community in means:

community support sharing contact details with new people within the group

  • Putting together a plan and choosing people to represent or function as leaders and gatekeepers. These volunteers must often be available around the clock and must be comfortable sharing private contact details via WhatsApp or a similar app.
  • Defining goals including where the community outreach should aim
  • Creating partnerships with local educators and healthcare providers and establishing set protocols with them
  • Identifying necessary learning and training and ensuring that key people and their backups receive it. This means knowing how to talk to someone who is feeling suicidal, being able to recognize opportunities for quality-of-life improvements, being able to offer coaching and assistance, and being able to offer education.
  • Creating community approaches to reducing suicide, such as reducing stigma within the group. This means talking about it, offering education, and creating awareness of suicide, so that people can learn what they are feeling and can figure out the tools they need to get help.
  • Creating a toolbox of resources and options for individuals who are looking for help, even if they don’t want to engage with their local community
  • Creating resources based on quality-of-life improvements, such as social outings, help with home and chores, community engagement, reducing loneliness, etc.
  • Understanding differences in why teens and young people attempt suicide versus older people and being able to navigate those differences.

In short, community-based suicide prevention can mean a lot of things. For a few people, it means learning semi-clinical interventions and being able to deliver those. For most of the community, it means that learning about suicide, destigmatizing it, and being available to offer a helping hand when someone isn’t managing self-care or childcare.

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What Types of Care Are Involved?

group therapy social supportCommunity support stands out because it means that the people who see how you are doing every day have the opportunity to reach out, to ask if you need help, and to offer support in whatever way you need it. In most cases that means pre-clinical support, social support, self-help talking support, and living assistance.

  • Pre-clinical support – If you call a suicide hotline, you normally talk to non-clinical volunteers with training in how to deal with the situation and what to say. That is a form of community support. Pre-clinical support means that members of the community make themselves available for text messages, phone calls, and drop-in visits, typically at all hours. They can then deliver help they’ve been trained to give and can escalate the situation and bring that person to emergency care if the situation calls for it.
  • Social support – Getting social interaction, people to talk to, and a nonjudgemental environment is important for mental health and quality of life. That can mean community activities like BBQs, community chores, games, and reading sessions or lessons. It can also mean gardening, organized walks, organized hangouts, etc.
  • Self-help Talking Support – Organizing a group for people with mental health problems means that people can specifically check in and join a group to talk about mental health and wellbeing if they think they are having problems. These groups should be opt in and should include guest meetings where anyone can drop in and private sessions where you need to be a member to join so that people have more safety to talk about private matters.
  • Living Assistance – People who are struggling with mental health often struggle with self-care including cleaning, cooking, dishes, etc. Having support networks in place so that someone can volunteer to come over and help with housework or cooking or meal prep can be extremely beneficial for improving quality of life.

Eventually, all of these interventions will make a big difference to someone struggling with mental health.

Preventive Care Reduces Suicide Long-Term

Preventive Care Reduces Suicide Long-TermMany medical suicide interventions are geared around treating persons who have attempted and failed suicide. Today, little other than therapy exists for individuals experiencing suicidal ideation. Emergency care does not exist for persons experiencing ideation. Yet, research shows that the most significant impact on long-term suicide risk is in having interventions available for people before they attempt suicide.

Having community-based suicide programs in place means those interventions are available, accessible, and affordable.

At the same time, it’s important to ensure that community-based suicide intervention is seen as a step one. If someone needs mental health help and therapy, they should be encouraged to move towards it, the community should help to provide resources like education, assistance with planning, etc. Therapy and treatment can be extremely powerful interventions and can mean that community efforts like living assistance and self-help groups have the space to make a difference in keeping someone in a healthy state, rather than maintaining their current state. Essentially, you need both – despite the fact that community interventions can be extremely powerful in helping people to improve quality of life and reduce chances of suicide.

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