Sharing your story, whether you have lived/living experience with suicide behaviours or have been bereaved by suicide, can be meaningful for yourself and others. Telling your story is a way to share information, provide hope, and honor someone who died by suicide.
However, research has shown that sometimes, sharing a personal experience with suicide can be harmful- to ourselves and our audience. In this blog, we will discuss:
- The harm in sharing your story unsafely
- Things to consider before you share your story
- Tips for safe messaging
- Resources for further learning
What’s the Harm?
Regardless of intentions, when stories are shared unsafely it can cause harm to the storyteller, as well as their audience. Stories can be shared unsafely when:
- The storyteller is not emotionally, mentally, or socially prepared for sharing their story.
- The storyteller does not follow safe messaging guidelines for talking about suicide.
The harm that can arise when stories are shared unsafely include:
- Reinforcing stereotypes or stigma of suicide, which can prevent individuals from seeking help.
- If sharing location or methodology, it could give a vulnerable individual an idea for how they might die by suicide.
- It may give the idea that there is no hope for those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide.
(Source: Fitzpatrick, 2016).
Things You May Want to Consider before Sharing
Before deciding to share your story, we suggest that you consider the following:
Consider your Recovery or Grief Journey
Whether you are bereaved by suicide or are have lived experience with suicide behaviours, it is important to know when it is right time in your journey to begin sharing your story. Journeys of recovery and grief are both very personal, and the work involved in both is active, not passive.
If you are unsure whether the time is right to share your story, you can talk with a peer, mentor, clinician or another member of your support team.
Consider your “Why”
It is important to reflect on why you may want to share your story. Is sharing your experiences healing or therapeutic for you? Is your goal to raise awareness about suicide? Do you want to try to provide hope?
All of these reasons (and the many more we didn’t mention) are valid. But they also may require different audiences. For example, if you enjoy sharing your story as a way to help heal, it may be better to share your story in a smaller, professional or peer support group setting.
Consider your Audience
You may be invited to share your story with different audiences. Your audience could be many people or a few; they may be youth, or they may be adults. They could be mental health professionals or individuals with lived experience of suicide.
If you are invited to speak at an event or gathering, try to gain as much information about your audience prior to speaking. The demographic of your audience may change the information you are willing to share, and the way that you share it.
Consider Potential Reactions
Unfortunately, stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness still exists. In addition, social media is only growing, and it is possible that parts of your story could be shared beyond an event or gathering. Before sharing your story, consider what the potential reactions to your story may be, and if you are ready for the wide variety of reactions (both positive and negative) that are possible.
(Source: Suicide Prevention Lifeline, “Storytelling for Suicide Prevention Checklist”; Center for Suicide Prevention, “Guidelines for Sharing Experiences with Suicide”.)
Safe Messaging Guidelines
Safe messaging guidelines have been developed by several different organizations to help protect against harm. Some messaging do’s and don’ts include:
- Don’t provide detailed descriptions (including images) of the method or location of a suicide attempt or death.
- Don’t include statements of blame that can be stigmatizing.
- Don’t include statements that could glamorize or romanticize suicide.
- Don’t use data or language that suggests suicide is inevitable or unsolvable.
- Do emphasize the recovery and healing process.
- Do share the complexity of suicide, highlighting that multiple risk factors can be at play and that suicide is not a simplistic reaction to life’s difficulties.
- Do use non-stigmatizing language, such as “died by suicide” instead of “committed suicide”.
- Do focus and connect to a positive narrative in your story, such as:
- There are actions that people can take to help prevent suicide
- Resilience and recovery are possible.
- Help is available.
(Sources: Public Health Agency of Canada, “Language Matters”; Action Alliance Framework for Safe Messaging).
Remember, sharing your story is a personal decision, but one that you can make with support from your family, friends, or care team. If you are interested in learning more about safe and trauma-informed story-telling, check out the resources below.
Resources for Further Learning
This blog provided a quick overview of safe messaging guidelines and tips for you to share your story safely. For more information and opportunities for further learning, check out the resources below.
Action Alliance Framework for Successful Messaging | Action Alliance Framework for Successful Messaging (suicidepreventionmessaging.org)
- The Framework is a research-based resource that outlines four key factors to consider when developing public messages about suicide: strategy, safety, conveying a ‘positive narrative’, and following applicable guidelines.
Guidelines for sharing experiences with suicide – Centre for Suicide Prevention (suicideinfo.ca)
- This guide provides suggestions and considerations for those impacted by suicide who would like to publicly share their experiences.
Language Matters: Safe Communication for Suicide Prevention – Canada.ca
- This booklet was created buy the Public Health Agency of Canada in partnership with Centre for Suicide Prevention and l’Association Québécoise de prevention du suicide.