Photo from above of several couches and sofa chairs in a circle.

Talking About Suicide Helps Us Stay Alive

One winter evening in early 2019, I relaxed on a blue sofa as about six people trickled into a dimly lit room for that night’s peer support meeting, which I was leading. After greeting each other and grabbing coffee or flavored seltzer, everyone joined the circle of comfy couches and chairs.

I began the session reflecting on how when we mention our suicidal thoughts, people often see us differently. “They typically ask a checklist of questions about plans to kill ourselves, even when that’s not our intention,” I remember saying. “We’re often coerced into situations that make our lives worse, like being locked in the hospital, having belongings taken away, and being mandated to take drugs.”

Others interjected with stories of police being called on them, their medication being altered without their consent, and being forced into sedation and restraints.

I reassured them nothing like that would happen here. The collective sigh of relief was audible.

Normalizing discussion of suicide is the key idea behind Alternatives to Suicide (Alt2Su), peer-led groups intended for adults who have suicidal thoughts or identify as survivors. It’s one of the only peer-to-peer support groups of its kind. Four years ago, I participated in a three-day training to become a facilitator, which involved engaging in debate, roleplay, and discussion, and leading practice sessions. I’ve both led and participated in groups ever since.

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About Marisa Russello

Marisa writes fiction and nonfiction from her home in upstate New York and is working on a memoir entitled Everything You Can’t Control. Find her on Instagram @marisarussellowrites.