AFSP SURVIVOR OUTREACH PROGRAM VOLUNTEER TRAINING HANDOUT

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1 AFSP SURVIVOR OUTREACH PROGRAM VOLUNTEER TRAINING HANDOUT Goals of the AFSP Survivor Outreach Program Suggested Answers To Frequently Asked Questions on Visits Roadblocks to Communication During Visits Ten Common Concerns in Providing Outreach Self-Care For more information: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

2 GOALS OF THE AFSP SURVIVOR OUTREACH PROGRAM Surviving a loss by suicide can be an isolating and confusing experience. Often, the survivor may not know anyone else who has lost a loved one to suicide, and may find that those around them have difficulty understanding. Many survivors who have been introduced to other survivors can attest to the power of those connections. Fellow survivors provide a message of hope that surviving is possible while conveying that they understand all too well the challenges of losing a loved one to suicide. It is often a fellow survivor who can recommend a book, connect an individual to a support group, or simply provide reassurance. Given this, it seems natural that outreach for survivors should be provided by survivors. Through the AFSP Survivor Outreach Program, volunteer survivors of suicide loss from participating AFSP Chapters are available to personally visit newly-bereaved survivors who request it. Typically, the Outreach Visit consists of one in-person meeting conducted by a team of two volunteers, generally lasting from 1-2 hours. The Outreach Visits are intended to provide information and support, but are not intended to provide a clinical or therapeutic service. Therefore, the overall emphasis of the training is to educate volunteers on how to provide appropriate support. Effective survivor outreach: reduces the stigma associated with suicide helps to connect the newly bereaved to resources offers hope and reassurance that surviving a loved ones suicide is possible sends a message that the survivor is not alone dispels myths about suicide i.e., conveys the information that more than 90% of people who die by suicide have an underlying (although not necessarily diagnosed) psychiatric illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or substance abuse. promotes survivor networking and affiliation Survivor outreach does not: take the place of professional services, such as counseling create a burden on the volunteer or organization build feelings of dependence between the volunteer and the newly bereaved survivor serve as a place for the volunteer to do his/her own grief work provide a professional experience for social work, psychology, or other students 1 1

3 The training for the AFSP Survivor Outreach Program is designed to equip volunteers with specific information that will assist them in providing the newlybereaved with appropriate support and information during Outreach Visits. The training will cover: sharing aspects of your loss in a limited and appropriate way in order to best facilitate open communication with the newlybereaved using basic listening skills and empathy to facilitate communication practical strategies for conducting an Outreach Visit (e.g., how to begin and close a visit, how to answer questions without giving advice) how to provide appropriate resource information to the newlybereaved. The volunteer s role is not to give advice or tell the newly bereaved the right way to move toward healing. Rather, the volunteer is there to provide an empathetic ear, to listen to the newly bereaved survivor, to be a symbol of reassurance based on shared experience, and to help connect the newly bereaved survivor to resources and information. The mere presence of a survivor volunteer during an outreach visit can convey that one can begin healing from the tragedy of suicide with appropriate support, information and time. These visits are made upon request only; you will be assigned visits by your local Survivor Outreach Program Coordinator. 2 2

4 SUGGESTED ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ON VISITS Below are some sample responses to questions that newly-bereaved survivors are likely to ask you during outreach visits. This is not meant to be a script but rather to give you some ideas about how you might respond. Why do I feel so guilty? Suggested Answer: It s really common for survivors to spend time thinking about whether there was anything else we could have done or said to change the outcome. Why did your loved one kill himself? Suggested Answer: Like all suicides, my story has a lot of different pieces to it. But I do know that more than 90% of people who die by suicide have some kind of underlying illness like depression, bipolar disorder or substance abuse - in my case, my took his life after a long struggle with. My husband (or teenager) won t talk about it what can I do? Suggested Answer: Everyone grieves in his or her own way. It s not necessary to talk about it in order to heal. Try to give him the space he needs to cope in his own way and at his own pace. I keep forgetting simple things and can t concentrate is that normal? Suggested Answer: It s not uncommon but if you re concerned about it, have you considered speaking to your doctor? What should I tell people about how she died? Suggested Answer: Ultimately, how much you decide to tell people is personal, and may change depending on who you re talking to and when. But we do encourage you to be honest about the fact that it was a suicide you have nothing to be ashamed of. What should we tell the kids? Suggested Answer: Experts who work with children recommend that you be honest, and give them age-appropriate, truthful information. Some people find it helpful to start with language such as, Daddy had a serious illness in his brain called depression. The illness caused him to make very bad decisions, and he decided to end his life. How long will I feel this way? Suggested Answer: Grief is different for everyone, so there no way to predict exactly how long things will take. But most survivors find that over time the intensity of their grief does soften. 3 3

5 Will I ever get over this? Suggested Answer: You ll never forget the person you loved, but most survivors are able to integrate the loss into their lives. One person explained it this way: you ll always carry the burden on your shoulders, and although the burden won t necessarily get lighter, your shoulders do get stronger. What happens in a support group? Suggested Answer: It s a place where survivors can come together and share their experiences openly. They re not for everyone, but lots of survivors find it helpful to talk to people who really understand. 4 4

6 ROADBLOCKS TO COMMUNICATION DURING VISITS Monopolizing the conversation o If you think you are talking too much, you probably are. o Less is more. Not allowing for silences (or being uncomfortable with silence). Shoulds o Talking about what worked for you as though it s what someone else should do o You should really try going to a support group. Ordering or directing o It s very important that you talk about this. o You have to tell people the truth. Advice-Giving o Wait at least a year until you... o You don t need to worry about that right now. Analyzing o You feel this way because... o The reason he did that is... Glib reassurance o Tomorrow will be better. o It will all work out. Moralizing or preaching o You shouldn t feel that way. o You ought to Ignoring body language and non-verbal cues 5 5

7 TEN COMMON CONCERNS IN PROVIDING OUTREACH 1. How do I begin a visit? You should begin a visit by introducing yourself and noting your affiliation with the AFSP chapter. You should also note that the purpose of the visit is to provide support as a fellow survivor and that you are not a professional helper. A handshake is appropriate for the first greeting. Remember: It is important to give the newly bereaved survivor time to talk, as at first it may take a while for them to feel comfortable. 2. What if I say the wrong thing? Just like there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are also very few things you could say during this visit that would be wrong. However, sometimes volunteers talk too much or find themselves giving advice. Remember: You are there to support the newly bereaved, not the other way around. If you are concerned about something you said during a visit, be sure to debrief with your partner and/or your Survivor Outreach Program Coordinator. 3. What if I don t know what to say? It is not uncommon to have moments of silence during the visit. At times, your presence will convey more support than your words ever could. Allow these moments of silence so that the newly bereaved can gather their thoughts. It is also appropriate during this time to acknowledge how difficult this experience is for them and to convey your support. 4. Do I tell the story of my loss? Since the goal of the visit is to provide support for the newly bereaved, you should spend minimal time discussing your own loss. If you are asked questions about your loss, be truthful, but keep the answers short to avoid having the visit focus on you. Remember: while something may have been your experience, everyone grieves individually. 5. What do I do if the survivor cries or becomes upset? Tears are common, and it is ok to let the person cry if they need to. If this is uncomfortable for you, be sure to discuss this with your volunteer partner and/or your Survivor Outreach Program Coordinator when you debrief. 6. What if I feel myself beginning to cry or become upset? You may find yourself affected by the story and the rawness of the emotion experienced by the newly bereaved. It is ok to let a survivor know that you are moved by their experience or that you feel sad with them. If you find yourself unable to contain your emotion during the visit, it may mean that you need a break from doing visits to tend to your own emotions. Remember: we can only help others when we are feeling strong ourselves. 6 6

8 7. How will I know when to end the visit? Generally, outreach visits may last 1-2 hours. When it appears that there is a natural stopping point (survivor is finished telling their story, for example) begin to transition the conversation to available resources. 8. What if something happens during the visit that concerns me? If you are concerned about something that has occurred during the visit, be sure to discuss it with your partner and/or your Survivor Outreach Program Coordinator following the visit. In addition, when you complete your Volunteer Visit Summary Form after the visit, check the box that indicates that you wish to discuss the visit with a member of AFSP s national Survivor Outreach Program committee. 9. What is the appropriate follow-up contact? Following the initial outreach visit, you may follow up with a phone call (or two). For example, you might call them prior to a support group meeting to inform them of the meeting s location and time. However, it is important to limit these follow up contacts so as not to encourage dependency. It is also important to respect the survivor s wishes if they choose not to have follow-up contacts. 10. How will I know that my visit had a positive effect on the survivor? In some instances you may have some follow-up contact (by phone or at a support group meeting, for example) during which the survivor lets you know the visit was helpful. But it s also possible even likely -- that you may not. Though you may not ever know the actual impact of the visit on the survivor s healing, trust that your very presence did convey support. 7 7

9 SELF-CARE The most effective and compassionate outreach volunteers are the ones who remember to also pay attention to their own needs. Think about how you would answer the following questions: 1. In order to take care of myself, I engage in the following activities: 2. One thing I could do to take better care of myself would be: Taking care of yourself also means paying attention to signs of potential burnout (or compassion fatigue ) such as feeling exhausted or resentful, feeling guilty about saying no or setting limits on your time, or feeling that you are responsible for rescuing someone else from their pain. How would you answer the following question: I know I need to take a break when I start to feel/act: THANK YOU Your willingness to reach out to your fellow survivors is a gift. Thank you. AFSP Survivor Initiatives Department or 8 8

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