Cover Image
close this bookPreventing Suicide: How to Start a Survivors Group (WHO, 2000, 50 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentThe importance of self-help support groups
View the documentSurviving a suicide
View the documentImpact of suicide
View the documentSources of help for the bereaved
View the documentHow to initiate a self-help support group for survivors of suicide
View the documentDeveloping the operational framework for the group
View the documentIdentifying and gaining access to resources to support the group
View the documentGauging success
View the documentPotential risk factors for the group
View the documentSurvivor support in developing countries and rural areas
View the documentSurvivor support through “involvement therapy” in other activities
View the documentBack cover

How to initiate a self-help support group for survivors of suicide

There are no predetermined rules for support groups and no guarantees of success. Cultural diversities will, of course, heavily influence their operation. For some, the idea of sharing the very personal feelings evoked by a suicide will create a major barrier to forming a group. However, if two or three people can find a common basis for sharing their experiences and feelings, the group process can begin. Experience gained by support groups that have functioned for a number of years suggests that some guidelines merit consideration by those contemplating starting a group or those interested in evaluating an existing group. No claim is made that the following points are all-inclusive.

Getting started

Starting a support group can take a lot of time and energy. A number of factors need to be considered by the individual proposing to start the group. It is important to recognize that there are costs involved (to pay for meeting space, refreshments, mailing of notices, honoraria for professionals, etc.), and to deal with the issue early in the operation of the group.

· Who will serve as leader or facilitator of the group? If you are one who has been bereaved will you be a lead facilitator or will you seek professional help to support and conduct the meetings? In the early stages of the group, a member of a helping profession may assist in setting up the group. It may be that a mental health professional who has a special interest and skill in working with survivors of suicide will want to start a support group where clients can benefit from the group process. Or, a survivor of suicide may want to join forces with a mental health professional to start a group where the experience of each can contribute to its success.

· Are you at a stage in your grieving that enables you to put the necessary energy into setting up the group? In the early stages of grief people's energies may be needed just to survive on a day-to-day basis. Those who are further along the grieving process, i.e. one to a few years, will have more strength, will likely have made some progress in regaining a purpose and meaning in life, and probably have “integrated” the loss of their loved one or friend enough to be able to reach out to help others.

· If you are a bereaved person and intend to be closely involved in facilitating the group, do you have the support of family members? They may not wish to be part of the group but if they are supportive of your need to form a group this will assist you.

· Do you feel a commitment to help others in the same situation?

· Do you feel the commitment to sustain a group over a period of time? There is a responsibility that goes with the formation of the group; once started, it will need to be sustained.

· Do you have experience - possibly from a work situation, committees or group work - or organizational skills that can help you to get started? Skills in facilitating and working with groups are also useful. You should not hesitate to talk to professionals in your community about ways of obtaining additional skills or assistance. Once the group has been formed, it will have a pool of skills to draw on to so that its members can take on the roles identified for the group to function effectively.

· What kind of bereavement support groups already exist in your local community? You can check likely sources of information by reading local newspapers, talking to your doctor, asking at the community health centre, scanning community notice boards, or visiting your local library. What has been the history or success of these groups? What have the leaders of these groups learned about what works and what does not?

· Is there an organization in the community that could serve as an umbrella organization for your group (for example, in Australia, a religious group, the Salvation Army, supports survivors' groups). The survivors' group should be seen as non-religious, as a religious emphasis may be a discouragement for some individuals. If you are able to operate under a larger structure it will assist in sustaining the group. If that larger organization also provides access to referral services, that is an additional bonus. An agreement will need to be reached with the umbrella organization that sets out mutually approved aims and objectives for the group.

Identifying the Need

The first step in starting a self-help support group for survivors of suicide is to find out if there are others in the community who are in the same situation and wish to get together to form a group. To make contact with tike-minded people and plan an initial meeting, some background work will be necessary. You could begin by preparing a notice/circular that provides the basic details for the intended group.

This notice will need to include:

· The purpose of the meeting, e.g. that a self-help support group is to be formed for friends and families who have been bereaved by suicide.

· The date of the meeting. Sufficient lead-time should be allowed to get the information out to people.

· The time of the meeting. An evening meeting in the first instance will make it easier for people occupied during normal working hours to attend.

· The venue for the meeting. You will need to decide whether to conduct the meeting in a public place or in a private home. Keep in mind that if it is held in a home the needs of family members will have to be considered and also the safety issues relating to inviting strangers into the home. Often a public place can be seen to be more neutral. The venue should be warm, inviting, comfortable and safe. Facilities for tea-making or other refreshments will also need to be available. The room should not be too large or too small, and should be closable to ensure privacy, preferably it should be located close to public transport. Public buildings such as local council premises, community centres, schools, libraries or health centres often have suitable rooms that can be hired free of charge or at low cost by community organizations.

· A contact person for further information. It will not be easy for individuals to come to the group, which can take a lot of courage. It may be helpful for them to talk to those who are organizing the meeting prior to the date. Friends of the bereaved may also wish to make contact.

Copies of the notice will then need to be distributed throughout the community to reach people who might be interested.

Helpful distribution channels might include established organizations that may already support the bereaved such as community health and medical centres, doctors' offices, local hospitals, community centres, religious groups or other support groups, e.g. The Compassionate Friends and The Samaritans.

Other methods of contact will be through the media, and might include: local radio stations that make community service announcements, local and regional newspapers, community notice boards, notices in the local post office, and newsletters relating to an associated area, e.g. mental health.

Preparation for the first meeting

Planning for this meeting is likely to include the following steps:

· Draw up a list of all the things that need to be done;

· Book and confirm the meeting place;

· Prepare an agenda for the first meeting - it is essential that the format of the meeting is planned and that those attending know how it is to proceed (suggestions for a possible agenda are listed below);

· Prepare to collect written information, e.g. contact details for people attending;

· Have name tags available;

· Consider whether the support of a professional or an experienced group leader/facilitator may assist in this first meeting.

A possible agenda would be:

1. Welcome from the meeting organizer;

2. Introductions - those attending may be asked to give their first name and say how they found out about the meeting;

3. Explanation of the broad purpose of the group;

4. Topics relating to formation of the group (see points below);

5. Refreshments and socializing.

Topics to be discussed at the first meeting by the group could include the following:

· Is there sufficient interest to form a group? Having attended the initial meeting, do people wish to continue? Two or three people can usefully support each other and share information and ideas. While some survivors prefer a small group of five or fewer so that each person can talk more, others like a larger group where they can “get lost in the crowd”.

· The frequency of the meetings: should they be held weekly, every two weeks or monthly? Factors to consider are that if meetings are too frequent - e.g. weekly - the individuals may develop a dependency on the group; on the other hand, if meetings are too infrequent - e.g. monthly - bonds may be difficult to form.

· Length of meetings: how long should the meeting last? Most groups find that meetings of one and a half to two hours work well. If meetings are longer they can be too emotionally draining for the participants. A two-hour time-frame allows half an hour for settling in and updating, an hour for the meeting itself, and half an hour for refreshments and socializing. The group size may determine the length of the meeting, as larger groups may need longer group meetings. Keep in mind that if the group is large, it may be suitable to split it into subgroups for part of the meeting.

· What are the expectations of those attending? Develop a clear picture of why people are attending. Are the expectations realistic?

· Contact details of those who wish to continue to meet. The group may also wish to exchange contact numbers for support between meetings.

· Date of the next meeting.