Alternatives to Suicide support group begins in Westport

WESTPORT — A new mental health resource is coming to Westport. Alternatives to Suicide, or Alt2Su, is a peer-run support group for adults with suicidal thoughts starting Oct. 4.

According to Positive Directions, a Westport nonprofit behavioral health organization that will host the support group, participants can talk openly about suicidal thoughts, attempts and experiences.

This will be the first Alternatives to Suicide group in Fairfield County, Positive Directions said.

“Alternatives to Suicide cultivates a space of healing, acceptance, mutuality and strength,” said Ally Kernan, TurningPointCT Peer Support Specialist at Positive Directions. “It provides a safe space to express difficult thoughts and emotions among peers with the same experiences.”

Kernan is the trained lead entertainer of the group.

“Our goal is to have conversations and support each other, and in those conversations we often find out what will keep someone alive,” Kernan said.

Positive Directions also offers prevention, treatment and recovery services, according to Margaret Watt, director of prevention at Positive Directions.

“We know — and research shows — that peer support provides genuine connection and empathy that can help people on the path to mental wellness and recovery,” Watt said.

A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 41% of Americans reported depression or anxiety, double the rate before the pandemic.

“In lower Fairfield County, some cities have seen an increase in ER visits for suspected suicidal ideation of up to 50% in 2021,” Positive Directions said in a news release.

According to Positive Directions, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 25- to 34-year-olds in Connecticut and the third-leading cause among 10- to 24-year-olds.

Each meeting is organized as an open forum, where participants can share, support each other and listen. There is no specific type of participation required, Kernan said.

The meetings are also guided by two trained facilitators who have their own mental health experiences, Kernan said. The inspiration for this support group came from community members and facilitators.

“A lot of people live with thoughts and experiences related to suicide and are looking for a support network to share that with,” Kernan said. “Most reported that an environment to express themselves authentically, without fear of unwanted interference, would help them feel empowered, safe and understood.”

“The Alt2Su model focuses on the person’s reasons for contemplating suicide and does not assume that mental illness is the root cause of suicidal ideation,” Positive Directions said.

This model was originally developed in Massachusetts, although Alt2Su is trying to create a network of groups in Connecticut, Watt said.

Positive Directions received an innovation grant through United Way of Coastal Fairfield County to host the support group. Watt said it allowed the organization to launch the first Alt2Su group in the region and support facilitator training, time, travel and promotion of the group.

Watt said it also enabled a three-day facilitator training which took place at Westport Library last week. Through the training, other nonprofits, peer-led groups, and services such as EMS can come up with their own Alt2Su groups or implement the concepts into their current efforts.

Alt2Su is free and offered to people aged 18 and over. Positive Directions has other options for young people, which can be found on its website.

Meetings will be held every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Postive Directions, 90 Post Road West. Advance notice is not required to attend.

Virginia S. Braud