Using Restorative Justice Circles to heal from suicide.

  • Posted on October 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm

In April 2010 the River Falls community held a community forum/panel on suicide.  The panel of presenters included mental health, social services, school and community representatives.  The topic was relevant as our region experienced a high number of suicides.  The program aired on RFC TV, Chn 16.  Near that time SCVRJP was holding a Circle Training.  Circle trainings are two full days, and usually people leave the first day in a positive daze.  We have usually connected in a meaningful way to people who just hours ago were strangers.  It is an experience that leaves you thinking about it, long after it ends.  Day 2 starts with people reporting back on what they thought about the night before.  An idea mentioned was a talking circle around suicide.  I loved it. 

SCVRJP deals with helping heal trauma, usually it is crime, not always.  We help grieving family members by giving them a safe place to tell their story.  Telling your story can have healing effects.  Storytelling can also be very powerful in transforming behavior. 

Stories impact people immediately and both, short and long-term.  This is how we measure if we have impacted change.  The hope is an immediate emotional reaction, followed by short term changes in behavior followed in long-term change in values and principles.  One behavior SCVRJP targets is driving impaired.  If you can have someone change the value system from “It’s okay to do, once in awhile” to “I never, ever drink & drive”, you are transforming individuals and community, increasing public safety and preventing tragic events.

When people share stories and talk about suicide in Restorative Response Circles, there is a deepness.  For those immediately and directly impacted, they share a common loss.  There is a phrase that “healing happens closest to the wound”.  When people who have been wounded by suicide share with each other, they are able to be closer, because they know that wound.  The listeners of story have an automatic empathy because of their own experience.  It is purposeful listening, to understand both yourself, your experiences and the experience of the storyteller.  You really do get to know yourself by getting to know others.

Restorative Justice brings in perspectives and tries to engage victim, offender and community members.  In Restorative Response Circles, we have perspectives from different angles regarding suicide.  We have people share that previous attempts or were hospitalized for their own safety.  This angle brings survivors a little closer to the experience their loved one may have had.  It also gives people a meaningful place to relate these experiences.

I beleive feelings of isolation lead to feelings of suicide.  Restorative Response Circles lift that isolation and go one step further and give people a place for meaningful interactions.  After hearing how a Mother was impacted, the teen pulled up her sleeve, revealed her scars and shared “I am so glad I didn’t suceed, now I know what I would have done to my Mom.”

A school in Ohio is being sued after 4 teens committed suicide (story link).  Our military is seeing high rates of suicide and efforts at preventing this are not successful.  We need to step forward as community members and talk about this, help others and support people in healing.

If you would like more information about Restorative Response Circles or volunteering at SCVRJP please contact the SCVRJP.  (715)425-1100 or

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