Youth suicide impacts every level of your community: it affects individuals, families, schools, neighbourhoods and even institutions. When there’s been a death by suicide in your community, it’s important not only to connect those in need with support, but also to plan a community-wide response.
What is postvention?
Postvention is an important intervention strategy aimed at attending to the needs of those requiring assistance after someone dies by suicide. It helps people grieve, but it also has the potential to help intervene with those who may be at greatest risk of suicide. As a wider community-level intervention, it’s meant to reduce the incidence of suicide contagion through bereavement counselling and education.1 2 Postvention is the first step in continued prevention.
Why is it important?
It’s estimated that for every suicide victim, there are anywhere between 6 and 28 individuals, including family and friends, who are directly affected by the death. In a school, the reach of a suicide can be even greater. These individuals are at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and a worsening of pre-existing conduct problems.2 Those left behind by suicide often report receiving less social support than they felt necessary to deal with the death.2 Your community needs to take measures to provide care to those affected.
Who is most at risk following a suicide?
The circles of vulnerability model can help determine the degree of emotional impact a death by suicide has on members of a community.3 Individuals most at risk following a suicide include those in geographical, social and psychological proximity to the individual who died by suicide.3
A visual representation of Lahad & Cohen’s (2006) circles of vulnerability model.
Geographical proximity refers to physical distance from the incident and includes those who were an eye-witness or exposed to the event. In addition, extensive, sensationalized and repetitive media coverage can broaden the impact of the event.
Psychological proximity refers to those who relate to the victim through cultural connections, shared experiences (e.g. fellow victims of bullying, team members, classmates, etc.) or the perception of having similar characteristics.
Social proximity refers to the relationships someone has with the person who displays suicidal behaviour. This can include family, friends, social circles, or a romantic interest.
- 1. Szumilas, M., & Kutcher, S. (2010). Systematic Review of Postvention Programs. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 102, 18-29.
- 2. a. b. c. Weekley, N., & Brock, S. E. (2004). Suicide: postvention strategies for school personnel. Helping children at home and school II: Handouts for families and educators.
- 3. a. b. Lahad, M., & Cohen, A. (2006). The community stress prevention center: 25 years of community stress prevention and intervention. Kiryat Shmona, Isreal: The Community Stress Prevention Center.