Friday, 28 February 2020

Supporting the Providers

Often, when we talk about suicide in our community, we name that the two groups we hear of most commonly making suicide attempts are trans folks (who’ve been rejected by their families, have experienced high levels of discrimination in their communities, etc.) and people living without a home. We raise this issue not to say that individuals linked to either of these two groups (and sometimes linked to both) are somehow more susceptible to psychiatric problems. Rather, we offer it to exemplify the fact that suicide is frequently less about ‘psychiatric problems’ at all, and so often more about alienation, isolation, and not having basic needs met.

While this is all still very real, we’d be remiss in not sharing that another group has emerged. And, in fact, that group represents the only group we’re aware of who has attended our Alternatives to Suicide groups and then gone on to die by suicide: Providers. In fact, there have only been two people we’re aware of who have attended these groups and then died by suicide. They were both providers working in the clinical world who spoke to the pain of having to wear a mask at work, and who also then moved out of the area and away from the only place where they’d been able to talk about that experience. This resonates deeply with our own experience of what it’s like to not have a space in which to speak to and have our pain and dark thoughts truly seen.

The ‘system’ suggests a false binary; That there should be the sick (those of us who’ve been diagnosed and are or have received services) and the well (providers). Yet, whether we choose to say it out loud or not, there is no such clear line. Going through periods of emotional or mental distress, even to the point where it feels like it is interrupting our ability to live our lives in the way that we want, is far more normal than our cultural narrative would have us believe. And contemplating our own deaths – intentional or otherwise – is deeply human.

Unfortunately, this false belief leads providers down a path where they can not only be silenced about their own struggles, but also forced at times to treat those they serve in ways they don’t believe in and that – in some instances – they know to be harmful. This, of course, only makes things worse for all involved.

We have also recently seen a higher than usual influx of providers taking off their ‘provider’ hats as best they can, and entering our Alternatives to Suicide and other group spaces to share more of this from their own perspectives. While wonderful in some ways, it’s also been challenging – particularly when folks in these roles have wanted to process some of the harm they feel they’ve done to those receiving services in the presence of people who’ve   experienced force, and so on. These conversations have provided powerful opportunities, but also seem to speak to the need – at least at times – for separate spaces, too.

While we will never speak as if the harm experiences by those who work in the system is equal to the harm that can be felt by individuals who’ve experienced force and other forms of psychiatric oppression, we know there is harm on all sides. We also know that recognizing that harm – and how we are all impacted – is essential to forward movement. As such, we have recently released a survey intended primarily for providers to explore the idea of developing supports not only where it might be safe to lift that aforementioned mask, but also where               individuals interested in change may be able to get together, share ideas, strategize, and let each other know they’re not alone. (The survey also seeks to help us identify providers who might be interested in helping to coordinate these efforts. Although we are initiating and wanting to support the process, we feel this should ultimately be ‘peer’ led, and in this case ‘peer’ means people in provider roles.)

This survey received over 60 responses in its first five days. We hope to continue to take responses until November 10th, and then we will work to compile the responses and see how we might be able to support people in provider roles to come together in a way that works for them. You can find the survey HERE!



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