The Specialists at the Riverside Trauma Center have developed a set of guiding principles associated with the suicide postvention process. These principles are designed to provide a pathway to assist survivors of suicide of a young person or student in addressing this particularly tragic type of death. The five primary guiding principles are:
- Avoid oversimplifying the causes of suicide
- Emphasize the correlation between suicide and mental illness
- Avoid romanticizing a suicide
- Discourage focus on the method of death
- Provide a solid structure for ongoing prevention support and assistance
Avoid Oversimplifying the Causes of Suicide
A fundamental guiding principle associated with suicide postvention is that every effort must be made not to oversimplify the causes of suicide. For example, when a suicide involves a young person, we oftentimes hear that the death was the result of bullying. In fact, there is always more than just one cause for a death by suicide. In fact, according to experts in the field of suicide prevention and postvention counseling, there are three interconnected components associated with every suicide:
- Underlying vulnerability
- Stress event
- Acute mood change
Using the death by suicide of a student, an example of an underlying vulnerability may be the previous death of a peer by suicide. An illustration of a stressful event could be incidents of bullying. Finally, as suicidal ideations develop, a person will demonstrate an acute mood change.
Emphasize the Correlation Between Suicide and Mental Illness
There is a correlation between mental health issues and suicide. A key guiding principle of suicide postvention is a recognition of this connection. By understanding the correlation, those associated with a person who might be prone to suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideations are in a far better position of understanding warning signs associated with taking one’s own life.
The mental health conditions that render a person more susceptible to suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideations include:
- Depression: On a consistent basis, research demonstrates a strong connection between depression and suicide. The bottom line is that a diagnosis of depression enhances an individual’s risk for suicide.
- Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can result in significant shifts or changes in mood, activity, and energy levels. This mental health condition has been demonstrated to enhance a person’s risk level for suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideations.
- PTSD: Individuals diagnosed with PTSD are also at higher risk for suicide. Individuals with PTSD many times end up feeling (if not believing) that the only escape from their chronic condition is to end their lives.
- Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic brain disorder. Schizophrenia can dramatically alter the way in which an individual acts, thinks, expresses and experiences emotions, thinks, and relates to others. This brain disorder does tend to rather frequently predispose a person to suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideations.
- Borderline Personality Disorder: Yet another mental health condition that enhances a person’s propensity for suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideations is borderline personality disorder. This mental health condition causes unstable moods and behavior. It can also severely impact an individual’s ability to maintain relationships with others. A diagnosis of borderline personality disorder can place a person at higher risk for suicide.
In addition to the specific mental health conditions mentioned here, it is also important to note that a situation involving a dual diagnosis increases an individual’s risk for suicide. A dual diagnosis involves a diagnosis of both a mental health condition and of substance abuse or addiction.
Avoid Romanticizing a Suicide
Every effort must be made to avoid romanticizing a suicide. The iconic Shakespearean play Romeo and Juliet is the prototype for romanticized suicide. The bottom line is that there is nothing romantic about death by suicide. It is an unfortunate, grim way of dying. The avoidance of romanticizing a suicide is crucial to tamp down the prospect that a person at risk of suicidal ideations might be provided with another impetus to take his or her life.
Discourage Focus on Method of Death
There is a natural tendency for survivors of suicide loss to want to know what a person did to take his or her own life. Many people are inclined to want to know the manner of the death and the instrumentality used to end the life of a person who died by suicide.
An important guiding principle of suicide postvention is to consistently discourage a focus on the method of death. The bottom line is that it is sufficient for survivors to understand that a person died by suicide.
There is research that supports the proposition that too much information on the methodology of a suicide provides a process that an individual laboring under suicidal ideations can elect to mimic. In other words, if a person is vulnerable to suicide or has associated risk factors, too much information on the method used by another individual who died by suicide can bring such an individual closer to the brink of acting to end his or her own life.
Provide Solid Structure for Ongoing Prevention Support and Assistance
Finally, when it comes to the guiding principles of suicide postvention, developing a solid structure for ongoing prevention support and assistance is vital. This can include suicide education programming as well as specific protocols to connect individuals laboring under suicidal thoughts with professionals who can provide them with meaningful assistance.
If a school or some other type of organization desires to formulate a comprehensive suicide postvention plan, these guiding principles can form the outline of such an endeavor. Moreover, these guiding principles are invaluable when it comes to the development and implementation of a meaningful, effective suicide prevention plan.