Crisis Response Guidelines After a Suicide

Crisis Response Guidelines After a Suicide

By Bob VandePol, MSW

Don’t Let Tragedy Lead to Another Tragedy
Holding Hands in a Circle
Death powerfully jars our concept of the way life is supposed to be. When the death is by suicide, those feeling are magnified. How leaders respond after death by suicide (postvention) is critical to stopping that negative momentum before it leads to additional tragedies.

Many schools, organizations and communities take measures to provide additional support to people whose personal struggles already left them vulnerable and who now in the aftermath of another person’s death by suicide face increased risk for suicide themselves. Without such measures tragedy can beget additional tragedies, with suicide contagion or “Copycat Suicides” taking place.

Postvention can be prevention

“Postvention” is defined by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) as “the provision of crisis intervention and other support after a suicide has occurred to address and alleviate possible effects of suicide.” Effective postvention stabilizes the community, prevents suicide contagion and facilitates the return to a new normal.

Conducting a successful postvention

Nobody ever trained you how to handle this! That’s why when a suicide or other tragedy occurs, organizational leaders often engage critical incident response experts – behavioral health professionals with unique training in response to tragedies – to come alongside them and assist. These critical incident response consultants will:

  • Consult with the organization’s leadership regarding crisis communication strategies that facilitate resilience
  • Draw circles of impact and shape an appropriate response
  • Let people talk if they wish to do so
  • Identify normal reactions to an abnormal event so that people don’t panic about their own reactions
  • Build group support
  • Outline self-help recovery strategies
  • Brainstorm solutions to overcome immediate return-to-function and return-to-life obstacles
  • Assess and triage movement toward either immediate business-as-usual functioning or additional care. Following a death by suicide, the consultants are especially attuned to assess others for self-harm risk.

When your school, organization or community is struck by tragedy such as a suicide, you do have to go through the incredibly painful aftermath. However, you do NOT have to do so alone.

Bob VandePol, MSW, Executive Director of Pine Rest Employee and Church Assistance ProgramsBob VandePol, MSW serves as Executive Director the Pine Rest Employee and Church Assistance Programs which provides Critical Incident Response services to business, organizations, schools and universities as well as faith communities. Active as a keynote speaker, Mr. VandePol has published and been quoted in business and clinical journals, co-authored book chapters addressing workplace response to tragedy and has been featured as subject matter expert in numerous video training series.

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