Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are mind and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of Oregon Health & Science University, Department of Veterans Affairs, or the United States government. Similarly, I am not speaking on behalf of those with lived experience with suicide but am providing potentially helpful resources.
Note: Talking about suicide can be an emotional topic, and if you’re reading this and not feeling up for it, that’s okay! If you are seeking support, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Line).
Lived experience means many things to many people. In suicide prevention, we talk about lived experience in reference to someone who has personally experienced suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Those with lived experience have often been left out of the conversation in suicide prevention despite the special wisdom they bring. Although some progress has been made, much remains left to ensure that the voices of those with lived experience are heard. I hope to present some facts today and provide some concrete steps you can take to support a more inclusive world for those with lived experience with suicide.
Fact #1: You likely know someone who has lived experience with suicide.
Research shows that approximately 20% of individuals have considered suicide at some time in their lives. Individuals with lived experience are our neighbors, friends, family members, essential workers, and in many other roles in our lives. If we do not know someone, perhaps we have never asked. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, The Trevor Project (LGBTQ-focused), PsychArmor (Service Member/Veteran-focused), and many other groups provide freely available trainings for asking and talking about suicide in a supportive way.
Fact #2: The majority of those with lived experience with suicide do not die by suicide.
Only a small proportion of individuals with suicidal thoughts or behaviors die by suicide. Most live long and meaningful lives. Language is important, and we should be careful not to define or label someone by their lived experience. It is part of their life journey but not all of who they are. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and SAMHSA have lots of great recommendations for how individuals and organizations can help support someone with lived experience with suicide.
Fact #3: We need to do our own work to support those with lived experience.
Before you start asking someone you know about their lived experience with suicide, consider their feelings and challenges in such situations. Their personal stories are sacred to them, and they may not wish to share them. There are however many public resources for learning more about those with lived experience with suicide, such as Live Through This, which was created by a lived experience advocate, or Now Matters Now, which has videos of coping skills made by those with lived experience.
For this Mental Health Awareness Month, take the time to explore more about those with lived experience with suicide. You may find that there is much that we can learn on how to be resilient in difficult times. Every step we take, no matter how small, helps us to be there for each other and create a more supportive community and world.