About the Program

The Survivor of Suicide Loss Support Program began in 1979 as the first service of its kind in Canada for those experiencing loss due to suicide and/or homicide. Trained and supervised lay counselors, survivors and staff have combined their skills and insights in an effort to create a safe, caring environment from which to explore the aftermath of suicide. The carefully selected responders are prepared to deal in a sensitive and realistic way with the emotional issues and problems left behind by suicide and/or homicide. They are aware of the full range of normal and complicated grief reactions that survivors may experience.

Lay counselors consist of survivors and non-survivors who receive extensive screening and training.  Those with the experience of suicide and/or homicide loss are now at a point where they can give support back to other survivors.  Those without the experience of suicide and/or homicide loss bring a rich and diverse background in a variety of social support environments.

We offer peer-based face-to-face grief support for individuals and families dealing with suicide and homicide bereavement, fully accessible to all. Both individualized and group supports are offered. Our volunteers create a semi-structured, safe place in which survivors can identify, explore and clarify their thoughts and feelings.

By helping individuals define their situations and acknowledge their emotions, the support process leads survivors to a consideration of what normal grieving is under these circumstances, the meaning of a sudden violent death, and a sense of how they can manage.

We are also interested in supporting other community groups, both professional and non-professional, that wish to learn more about the unique problems faced by survivors of sudden, violent death. Our Community Outreach Program offers information, skills training, and consultation on request. We provide information packages and custom workshops. On-site facilitation is also available to agencies, residents and other groups in the immediate aftermath of a death by suicide/homicide.

The Suicide Resource Centre is available to students, caregivers, survivors and volunteers wanting more information about this special trauma.  A lending library is available in person for requesting and there are many articles and resources available for free on our website's Resource Library.

For more information or self-referral to the program contact Alex Shendelman at 416-595-1716 or by email Alex@torontodistresscentre.com.


FAQ’s on Survivor of Suicide Loss or Homicide Loss Support Program

Q: How many people participate in the Survivor of Suicide Loss or Homicide Loss Support Program?
A: Through a number of support channels, more than 500 individuals are helped annually.
Q: What is the training like for the Survivor of Suicide Loss or Homicide Loss Support Program?
A: We offer an engaging 30-plus hour training format that follows an attitude, knowledge and skills model. Some of the topics covered include:
  • Understanding grief, and unique aspects of grieving a sudden, violent death
  • Challenging emotional reactions - anger and guilt
  • How to support survivors in face-to-face encounters; practicing our skills in interactive situations
  • Suicide risk assessment
The training is very interactive. There are opportunities to practice skills and use knowledge gained in small- and large-group role plays.
Q: What do you discuss in the support sessions?
A: Sessions follow weekly topics (guidelines are provided to volunteers) to create momentum, but the specific needs and concerns of a particular survivor will help set the direction of his/her support. You will have a chance to explore, with the survivor, how the loss has impacted them, and how the loss has affected their family and other members of their support network. You will also have an opportunity to discuss with the survivor their strengths and the challenges they face. It will also be important to explore how they are managing their reactions to the loss.
Q: Where are sessions held?
A: Normally, sessions are held in one of the three offices of Distress Centres: downtown, North York and Scarborough.
Q: How are sessions scheduled?
A: Meetings usually take place during the day and evening, Monday through Friday. Consistent support is appreciated by program participants and an important part of what we offer. Sessions are scheduled after a consultation between members of the volunteer team and the program participant.
Q: How much time is involved in volunteering in the Survivor of Suicide or Homicide Loss Support Program?
A: Each week that you are actively volunteering involves between 3 and 4 hours of your time. This includes the sessions, scheduling, reporting and other activities.
Q: What are some of the volunteer and professional experiences that might be a good fit for the work you do?
A Telephone crisis line volunteer; hospice or palliative care; nursing; counselling.
Q: I am a volunteer on a distress line. Will I be accepted into training for the Survivor of Suicide or Homicide Loss Support Program?
A: It depends. The makeup of our volunteer corps depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to the number of survivors available for training. Additional considerations would include the length of service on the distress line (at least one year) and feedback from references. We do not permit volunteers to train for both the distress line and the Survivor Support Program at the same time.
Q: I am a survivor of suicide or homicide loss. How long should I wait before applying to volunteer?
A: An important consideration for you is timing. Generally, a minimum of two years after a significant loss is preferred. It is sometimes the case that those two years might not be long enough. You must be emotionally available to engage with program participants about complex feelings and be available to share, if asked, elements of your own loss without actively grieving at the same time.
Q: What happens after graduating from Survivor of Suicide Loss or Homicide Loss Support Program training?
A: We hope that you will be ready to start as soon as possible after training. We also encourage volunteers to participate in ongoing education after training. New volunteers will work initially with more seasoned volunteers, who will mentor them in their new role.
Q: How are volunteers supervised in the Survivor of Suicide Loss or Homicide Loss Support Program?
A: Volunteers report to the Program Manager. We encourage volunteers to debrief with us as often as required. We require volunteers to provide updates about session content on a weekly basis.