How Communities Respond After a Suicide Matters

A Safe Community Response to a Suicide Death Can Prevent Future Crises and Promote Healing

Trigger warning: this article mentions suicide. If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the suicide prevention lifeline at 800-273-8255.

STATEWIDE UTAH—Suicide deaths can create a ripple effect impacting families, loved ones, and communities. It is important to mourn the loss of a loved one. But how we respond to and talk about a suicide death, or what experts call postvention, matters. Communities that are prepared to respond safely to a suicide death feel confident they have prepared to prevent future crises.

“Each suicide death is a tragedy for family members, friends, coworkers, and a community,” said Allison Foust, suicide prevention program administrator for the Utah Department of Health and Human Services. “Postvention is an important part of the work we do in suicide prevention, but it often gets overlooked because it is ‘not prevention.’ An appropriate response following a suicide death—including sharing safe images, messaging, and social media posts by the media, families, businesses, and schools—is critical to the healing of individuals and the entire community.”

To help Utah communities create successful postvention plans, the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition is announcing the release of the Utah Community Postvention Toolkit. The toolkit guides communities in planning and responding safely in the event of a suicide death.

Postvention refers to a range of activities that help indivdiuals and communities cope with the emotional distress following a suicide. It involves an organized response from an entire community with the goal of preventing further trauma that can increase the risk of suicide for others. Good postvention anticipates communication that prevents suicide contagion or more suicides in the community, helps survivors and family members find appropriate resources, and supports people who are likely to experience suicidal thoughts after exposure to suicide. Postvention, when done appropriately, promotes healing. It reminds people in the community that there is hope.

The Utah Department of Health and Human Services is scheduling regional trainings across the state to support local communities to develop their postvention plan. The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition will be working with local health departments and community mental health centers to play a critical role in the community postvention response. Other community members who will play an important part in building the local postvention plan include: local schools and school districts, law enforcement, racial and ethnic community leaders, organizations who serve vulnerable populations, city and town leaders, media, faith leaders, healthcare professionals, crisis response professionals, and suicide loss survivors.

Taryn Hiatt, area director for the Utah Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said, “The role of postvention cannot be overstated. With proactive postvention planning, communities can promote hope throughout Utah, and prevent future suicides.”

To learn more about the Utah Community Postvention Toolkit, visit Utah’s suicide prevention campaign, Live On:


Spanish release can be found here: