NOTE: This post talks about suicide and may be disturbing to vulnerable individuals. Reader discretion is advised.

In a sobering essay in a recent New York Times, staff writer David Brooks lays out an argument for more effective prevention strategies to reduce the ever-increasing number of suicides in the United States. The rates of suicide and suicide attempts are among the highest for people who have Borderline Personality Disorder

The key strategy described in the essay isn’t Brook’s, rather it comes from the heart of a woman whose son ended his own life, Her name is Agnes. Her son’s name is Harrison. He died 4 years ago. Agnes’s recollections of that devastating event and her personal reflections are thoughtful and emotionally moving. But one point she made was particularly noteworthy:

     Agnes believes in professional help but says what’s really necessary is belonging and peer counseling, “people pouring their heart out, and it creates the mentality that, ‘if they can do it, I can do it.” Give folks a feeling of hope that we can rise out of this and we can do it together.

As has been noted in past postings here, the effectiveness of peer support for people who are living with, and struggling with, mental illness is clear: It works, not as a replacement for therapy and medication but as an equal partner in the treatment process.

A recent paper presented by the Mental Health America advocacy organization reviewed the results of several large-scale studies on the effectiveness of this approach:

      Peer support lowers the overall cost of mental health services by reducing re-hospitalization rates and days spent in inpatient services, increasing the use of outpatient services. Peer support improves quality of life, increases and improves engagement with services, and increases whole health and self-management. 

Study results such as those detailed in the MHA paper provide compelling evidence that peer support, in conjunction with professional therapy, counseling and medication can have a powerful effect on the lives of millions of people living with mental illness.

You can learn more about peer support and access resources here.

In addition to patient peer support, peer support programs for families and loved ones of people with mental health challenges are available from other advocacy groups, notably the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEABPD) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Photo credit:Stockbyte/Thinkstock

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