New Support Model at Positive Directions Addresses the Increase in Suicidal Ideation

Alternatives to Suicide, a free peer-led support group for adults struggling with suicidal thoughts, comes to the region thanks to funding from United Way of Coastal Fairfield County

More Americans are struggling with mental health conditions since the pandemic began. In February 2021, a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 41% of Americans reported depression or anxiety, which is double the pre-pandemic rate. In the most severe cases, untreated mental health conditions can lead to suicide. In Connecticut, suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 25 to 34 and the third leading cause for ages 10 to 24. 

Suicidal ideation, which is defined as "thoughts about self-harm, with deliberate consideration or planning of possible techniques of causing one's own death,” has increased nationwide as well as locally since 2020. A 2021 national study found 11% of adults reported thoughts of suicide in the last 30 days, up from four percent pre-pandemic. In lower Fairfield County, some towns saw increases in emergency department visits for suspected suicidal ideation by as much as 50% in 2021.  

Many people do not discuss suicidal thoughts because they fear they will be judged by others or hospitalized. That is where Alternatives to Suicide (Alt2Su) come in. 

“Alternatives to Suicide cultivates a space of healing, acceptance, mutuality, and strength,” said Ally Kernan, the TurningPointCT Peer Support Specialist at Positive Directions, who is the trained, lead facilitator for the group. “It provides a safe space to express difficult thoughts and emotions among peers with the same experiences. Our goal is to have discussions and offer support to one another, and during those conversations we often discover what will keep someone alive.”

In this free peer-led support group, people can talk openly about suicide thoughts, attempts, or experiences like self harm. The Alt2Su model focuses on why the person is considering suicide and does not assume that mental illness is the root cause of suicidal ideation. The launch of this group in Westport is significant because it is the first in Fairfield County.  

“Alt2Su is a model that was developed in Massachusetts, and advocates in Connecticut are hoping to build a network of Alt2Su groups. We’re so grateful to United Way of Coastal Fairfield County for providing us with funds to give our communities this invaluable resource,” said Margaret Watt, Prevention Director at Positive Directions. “This group is a tool that can help save lives through empathy and connection. It’s so important to have this model as part of the continuum of care.”

About the Group

  • When: Every Tuesday at 7 p.m., beginning October 4, 2022

  • Where: Positive Directions, 90 Post Road West, Westport, CT

Anyone age 18 or older is invited to share their experiences without judgment or fear of unwanted interventions. Participants do not need to be experiencing a current crisis to attend. Anyone is welcome to join without a referral and there is no requirement to be connected with mental health services. The most reported concern is that there would be a reason that facilitators would contact authorities/mobile crisis. This would only happen if requested by the participant, or if the person expressed wanting to harm someone in the community or group. Having suicidal thoughts will not result in any unwanted interventions. Attendees can simply show up to a meeting, or contact Ally at 203-227-7644 or for more information.

“The number one thing I hear from people I work with who experience thoughts of suicide, is that they wish they could speak openly about it without any interventions. They simply want the space to share wholeheartedly,” said Kernan. After these groups, participants feel relief and connection, and their shame is destroyed each time they attend. “As a survivor of multiple suicide attempts starting in middle school, and as someone who has lived with suicidal thoughts since elementary school, this is something that I truly believe would have prevented many attempts had I had access to it.”


Submitted by Norwalk, CT

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