Most people, even on bad days, can sit down and write out a list of things for which they are grateful. Ranging from family to faith to food on the table, most people recognize the blessings in life. Unfortunately, however, not everyone can create such a list. At the extreme, for some individuals, there is literally nothing to write. Our collective goal, in pursuit of saving lives, is to remind those who are suicidal, of the important reasons for living.
But if time were of the essence, which reasons would be most important to discuss? Suicide survivors provide insight into which reasons for living might have enhanced significance and meaning, and therefore be of great value in helping individuals in crisis.
Suicide Survivors Share the Meaning of Life
People who have (thankfully) been unsuccessful in suicide attempts or were able to overcome suicidal feelings are in a unique position to express and explain what turned them around. Jacinta Hawgood et al. in “Reasons for living among those with lived experience entering the suicide prevention workforce,” (2020) examined the reasons for living that prevent suicidal individuals from ending their lives. They studied 110 people who had lived experience of suicide, and were entering the suicide prevention workforce; 79 percent of the sample were female, with a mean age of 46.5 years.
Hawgood et al. employed a broad definition of having a lived experience of suicide, described as: “having experienced suicidal thoughts, survived a suicide attempt, cared for someone through suicidal crisis, or been bereaved by suicide.”
Most Commonly Shared Reasons for Living
Hawgood et al. found that the three most prominent reasons for living shared in their study
among those with lived experience of suicide who entered the suicide prevention workforce were connection, which was endorsed by the vast majority of study participants, followed by service and future orientation.
- Connection. In terms of what type of connection was most important, participants listed family, in particular children, as the most important type of connections.
- Service. Service, as measured in the study refers to a positive construct, namely the desire to contribute to society through positive change and directly helping other people. Indeed, for their study participants, using their own experiences to meaningfully participate in the field of suicide prevention can itself be an experience of promoting recovery.
- Future Orientation. A third of the participants in the study included the future in reasons for living. They expressed an interest in general, being curious, hope that the future will bring better times, and an interest in future experiences.
Interestingly, Hawgood et al. found that none of their 110 study participants listed the reasons for living identified in previous studies: fear of suicide, social disapproval, and moral objections. On the contrary, the expressed reasons for living among their participants were more affirming of life, associated with enjoyment and pleasant experiences, the possibility of having a future, and appreciating the value of life.
How Survivors Share Their Experiences
Although survivors are in a unique position to share their reasons for living and consequent recovery, this can be a delicate discussion. Hawgood et al. acknowledge the need for training within the suicide prevention workforce to include suicide specific “safe” language, because prior research has shown that unsafe discussion of suicide can exacerbate stigma and suicide risk. They also note that ongoing support and self-care must include components specific to suicidality, to account for the reality that it can be emotionally taxing to work as a peer specialist, and can even trigger prior feelings of despair related to one’s own suicidality.
Hawgood et al. note that “resilience-focused suicide-specific support” may appeal more to people with lived experience compared to an approach that focuses more on psychopathology. They note that an approach that focuses on a person’s reason for living is a feasible approach because having more reasons for living is a protective factor when it comes to preventing both suicide attempts and suicidal ideation.
A New Lease on Life
Through care, compassion, and professional counseling, we can prevent suicidal individuals from taking their lives. Survivors, faith leaders, family, and friends can all work together to inspire individuals in crisis to cultivate a renewed appreciation for the value of love, connectedness, and hope for the future, to create a new lease on life.
 Jacinta Hawgood , Jurgita Rimkeviciene , Mandy Gibson , Martina McGrath & Bronwen Edwards (2020): Reasons for living among those with lived experience entering the suicide prevention workforce, Death Studies, DOI: 10.1080/07481187.2020.1788668.