Alternatives to Suicide Research Project: Exploring the experiences and impacts of a peer-based approach to responding to suicidal distress
Alternatives to Suicide Research Project, Social Work & Policy Studies, University of Sydney. Supported by inside out & associates Australia, funded by the NSW Government, under Towards Zero Suicides.
Please note this summary reflects the views of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of the funder.
“Community. A sense of belonging. A sense of connection, purpose, love… I think often that’s the antidote to distress.”
This report (available here) presents the findings and implications of interviews and focus groups with 19 people who have attended and/or facilitated Alt2Su groups in New South Wales. The majority of participants described positive experiences and outcomes, strongly contrasting Alt2Su with their experiences of mainstream services and biomedical models of suicide.
Co-design principles were embedded at every stage of the project, with Alt2Su participants informing the research design and two peer researchers conducting interviews and focus groups with all but one of the participants. The research was guided by the conceptual frameworks offered by critical mental health and Mad Studies, privileging the direct experiences of people with suicidal thoughts and feelings over diagnostic or ‘mental illness’ models of conceptualising suicide.
Some of the findings…
- Alt2Su groups offer a safe space in which people can share their experiences, hopes, and fears around suicidal thoughts and feelings, free of intervention or coercion.
“If I’m feeling suicidal, then that’s where I’d like to go and talk about that and just to relieve the secret burden.“
- The values of Alt2Su, which seek to normalise and humanise experiences of suicidal thoughts and feelings, provide opportunities for group participants to discover and explore the social contexts and meanings of their distress.
“We are human and often the distress is done to us… It’s not like illness. It’s like something that happened in our lives…. We have been silenced forever… it’s about the injustice.“
- Attending Alt2Su supported participants to develop new ways of understanding and responding to their distress, reducing fear around suicidal thoughts and feelings and increasing people’s capacity to respond with curiosity and self-compassion.
“So, I think what I’m trying to say is that every now and then the idea that I might have a way of thinking about it or dealing with it that might fit a gap in someone else’s search is a really wonderful thought.“
- Alt2Su groups were valued for their unique orientation to ‘risk’, wherein group members are responsible to one another rather than for anyone’s safety.
“It was alternative, it was transformative in the sense it was very different to anything I’d accessed in the past.“
- Alt2Su affords opportunities for group members to heal in relationship. In Alt2Su groups, sharing, listening, and bearing witness to one another’s experiences helped to alleviate shame and isolation.
“It was the first time I’d shared [about suicidal distress] actually, and I was really grateful that I was able to do that… it saved my life.“
Check out the full report here
If you are unable to view the document via the link above, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy be emailed to you.
The research team lives and works on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and in Wiradjuri Nation. The authors would like to extend respect to Elders past, present, and emerging, and to all First Nations people attending or facilitating Alternatives to Suicide groups.
Our deepest gratitude to the people who participated in this study through interviews and focus groups and who contributed to the research co-design process. We thank them for their generosity, vulnerability, and commitment, without which the study would not be possible.