“Alternatives to Suicide” Support Group Forms

“Alternatives to Suicide,” a free peer-led support group for adults struggling with suicidal thoughts, comes to the region on October 4 in a Positive Directions program funded by United Way of Coastal Fairfield County.

The group meets every Tuesday evening at 7:00 at Positive Directions, 90 Post Road West in Westport. It is the first of its kind in Fairfield County.

Anyone age 18 or older is invited to share their experiences without judgment or fear of unwanted interventions. Participants do not need to be experiencing a current crisis to attend. Anyone is welcome to join without a referral and there is no requirement to be connected with mental health services.

Attendees can simply show up to a meeting, or contact Ally Kernan of Positive Directions for more information at (203) 227-7644 or by email to akernan@positivedirections.org.

“A space of healing”

People often do not discuss suicidal thoughts because they fear they will be judged by others or hospitalized. That is where Alternatives to Suicide (Alt2Su) comes in.

“Alternatives to Suicide cultivates a space of healing, acceptance, mutuality, and strength,” said Ms. Kernan, Positive Direction’s Peer Support Specialist and the trained lead facilitator for the group.

The group “provides a safe space to express difficult thoughts and emotions among peers with the same experiences,” said Ms. Kernan. “Our goal is to have discussions and offer support to one another, and during those conversations we often discover what will keep someone alive.”

In this peer-led support group, people can talk openly about suicide thoughts, attempts, or experiences like self harm. The Alt2Su model focuses on why the person is considering suicide and does not assume that mental illness is the root cause of suicidal ideation.

A nationwide problem

Suicidal ideation is defined as “thoughts about self-harm, with deliberate consideration or planning of possible techniques of causing one’s own death.” It has increased nationwide as well as locally since 2020.

A 2021 national study found 11 percent of adults reported thoughts of suicide in the last 30 days, up from four percent pre-pandemic. In lower Fairfield County, some towns saw increases in emergency department visits for suspected suicidal ideation by as much as 50 percent in 2021.

More Americans are struggling with mental health conditions since the pandemic began. In February 2021, a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 41 percent of Americans reported depression or anxiety, which is double the pre-pandemic rate.

In the most severe cases, untreated mental health conditions can lead to suicide. In Connecticut, suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 25 to 34 and the third leading cause for ages 10 to 24.

Relief and connection

“The number one thing I hear from people I work with who experience thoughts of suicide,” said Ms. Kernan, “is that they wish they could speak openly about it without any interventions. They simply want the space to share wholeheartedly.”

After these groups, she said, participants feel relief and connection, and their shame is destroyed each time they attend. “As a survivor of multiple suicide attempts starting in middle school, and as someone who has lived with suicidal thoughts since elementary school, this is something that I truly believe would have prevented many attempts had I had access to it.”

The most reported concern about programs of this nature is that, for some reason, facilitators might contact authorities or mobile crisis. This would only happen if requested by the participant, or if the person expressed wanting to harm someone in the community or group. Having suicidal thoughts will not result in any unwanted interventions.

About Positive Directions

Founded over 50 years ago by people in recovery from alcohol addiction, Positive Directions today is a non-profit behavioral health organization providing a continuum of prevention, counseling, and recovery supports to individuals and families struggling with mental health or substance use disorders. “We believe strongly that prevention works, treatment is effective, and recovery is possible.”

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