Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Learning from Lived Experience: Bridging the Gap between Mental Health Service Providers and Suicide Attempt Survivors

Photo credit: @ElevatingtheConvo
On February 27th at the University of Denver a historic event took place. Three hundred mental health service providers and people with lived experience with suicidal thoughts and behaviors came together at the annual “Elevating the Conversation” conference to have a better understanding of how to make treatment more effective.

The day began with a panel of suicide attempt survivors sharing their journeys of recovery from their darkest days. All three had attempted as youth or young adults, and all three had been written off by their providers as chronic and deteriorating cases. Today all three are thriving with national level leadership positions in mental health, intact families, and stable mental health states. They talked about how for them, “treatment” often felt like punishment, and how compassion and peer support were often powerful elements in their healing.

The second panel consisted of three mental health providers – two psychologists and a psychiatrist – who talked about their lived experience with suicide loss (family and client) and suicide attempts. Together they addressed the myth of professional distinction so often reinforced -- “us” and “them” – and spoke about how all of us are touched in one way or another by suicide. They talked honestly and openly about how their lived experience informs their clinical practice today.

Following the panels, the presenters shared three sets of national guidelines, designed to make suicide prevention and bereavement support more effective:

Too often fear drives a gap between mental health service providers and suicide attempt survivors. Being sued and losing a client to suicide are two of the biggest fears providers have. Losing one’s dignity and rights are two of the biggest fears people living with suicide intensity have. By coming together and discussing these fears and how to move past them, a bridge begins to emerge.