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Family and Community Engagement in Suicide Prevention

Suicide does not happen in a vacuum -- it happens in families. Family members must play a role in suicide prevention. To do this, they need to know how suicidality arises and how they can help. They need to know the danger and warning signs of suicide, the risk factors, and how suicidality and mental health are linked.
09/17/2014 08:31am ET | Updated November 17, 2014
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Suicide does not happen in a vacuum -- it happens in families. Family members must play a role in suicide prevention. To do this, they need to know how suicidality arises and how they can help. They need to know the danger and warning signs of suicide, the risk factors, and how suicidality and mental health are linked.

Current research indicates that people often turn to family and friends for help long before seeking help from a mental or medical health professional. The family can play the role of a "first responder" in the prevention of suicide if they are equipped with sound educational information that eradicates the myths associated with mental health problems and suicidal behavior, and provides basic knowledge that will help divert a crisis.

Specialized programming fall short without family and community engagement. Personal support systems that are engaged will promote and encourage well-being and recovery.

Professionals should consider all dimensions of wellness when developing care plans for individuals and/or when working with a family. Respect for the cultural and spiritual beliefs, and traditions within families are important, and need to become incorporated in prevention and intervention programming.

Providing families and communities with mental health education programming that expose the myths surrounding mental health problems and suicide is the first step in suicide prevention. "Mental Health First Aid" is such a course, and should be made available to the public at large as a prevention campaign aimed at saving lives.

Second, there is a need to provide opportunities for dialogue within the community about what constitutes health and well-being. This is vital in engaging families to become change agents, and send the message throughout their communities that suicide prevention is about mental and physical health.

Last but not least, families and communities need to look at the whole person and take into account that wellness is multi-dimensional and a person diagnosed with an illness can experience well-being. Learn more about the eight dimensions of wellness.

Engaging families and communities is essential for individuals to achieve and maintain mental and physical wellness. The Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS) devotes significant resources through a variety of seminars, training workshops and advocacy services to help individuals and families become participants that are well equipped for achieving and maintaining their well-being. Learn more about MHANYS family engagement and wellness tools at mhanys.org and actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org.

Deborah Faust is the Director of Family Wellness and Suicide Prevention Initiatives at the Mental Health Association in New York, Inc. Ms. Faust is a Certified Instructor in Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid and in SafeTALK, a suicide prevention training. She is also an Advanced Level Facilitator in WRAP (Wellness and Recovery Action Plan). In 2009, the New York Association for Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services awarded Ms. Faust the Family Advocacy Award at their legislative conference. You can contact her at 518-434-0439 and Dfaust@mhanys.org

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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.