The Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS) Team of Lewis and Clark County Area provides new suicide loss survivors with practical assistance, resource connection, and an installation of hope on their darkest day.

Created by survivors for survivors, the program is made up of community members who experienced suicide bereavement and local behavioral health professionals.

With words like “I also lost a loved one to suicide,” and “you won’t always feel this way,” volunteers can plant the seeds of hope for life after loss.

Many LOSS Team volunteers around the nation find unexpected healing through their involvement. By helping others, we help ourselves.

LOSS Teams have been in existence since 1999 and the Lewis and Clark County rolled out its services on April 9, 2022. As the first LOSS Team in Montana, we aim to transform Lewis and Clark County into a place where survivors heal.

Interested in volunteering? We’re always recruiting!

Upcoming volunteer information sessions:

(Potential volunteers are asked to attend one info session and then one training to be eligible as a team member. They are not required to attend multiple sessions):

Training:

Can’t find a date that works for you? Contact Jess at 406-457-8970


What is a LOSS Team?

LOSS teams are based on an active postvention model in which trained teams of volunteers go to the scenes of suicides to provide support, resources, and an installation of hope to individuals newly bereaved by suicide. Postvention refers to an organized response in the aftermath of a suicide to facilitate healing associated with the grief and distress of suicide loss. It aims to mitigate other harmful effects of suicide exposure, such as contagion. Research shows that those bereaved by suicide loss are at a higher risk for suicide themselves. On average, survivors take about 4.5 years to access any type of therapy or support due to challenges with stigma and complicated grief. However, with a LOSS Team in place, individuals typically access grief services within 39 days. Support after suicide loss is a crucial part of suicide prevention.

Essentially, postvention is prevention.

Dr. Frank Campbell, a past president of the American Association of Suicidology, developed the concept of LOSS teams in 1998. Through a grief clinic he operated in Louisiana, Dr. Campbell discovered that some patients were experiencing complicated grief years after losing a loved one to suicide. Many times, these suicide loss survivors would later go on to die by suicide. To halt this pattern of ongoing loss, Dr. Campbell pursued the concept of active postvention and created the first LOSS Team. By reaching out and providing resources immediately after a suicide, the bereaved could get help sooner, thereby reducing intergenerational suicides and complicated grief.

There are currently 40 LOSS Teams in the nation, as well as several abroad. LOSS Team LCCA is the first of its kind in Montana and is funded by a grant from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Organizers fully rolled out the local program on April 9, 2022.

How Do LOSS Teams Work?

Every LOSS team operates a little differently. The main structure of a LOSS team is for two to three on-call team members to provide immediate suicide bereavement support to loss survivors following notification from the Coroner’s Office. For most LOSS teams, these members are trained volunteers and typically include a behavioral health professional and trained suicide loss survivor following at least two years of recovery. All potential aspiring team members are interviewed to determine readiness to serve in this capacity. Volunteers receive on-scene etiquette education so law enforcement can process scenes of death without interruption.

When a death is determined to be a suicide, the coroner’s office will notify the LOSS team to respond to the scene. While the coroner’s office works the scene, the LOSS team will provide after-care, including informal peer support, resources, and service connection to those affected by the suicide. The resources provided will include two free sessions with a grief counselor (provided by the Awareness Network) and connection to local suicide loss support groups, as well as funeral homes and restoration services in the area based on need.

Following the initial response, the team will follow up with the suicide loss survivors (with consent) at regular intervals of one week, one month, three months, six months, and one year following their loss. Volunteers and/or a clinician will conduct these calls to determine suicidality, ensure connection to care, and provide additional support for the bereaved.

Why are LOSS Teams Important?

LOSS teams are an essential service for communities for many reasons. First, due to the stigma that suicide carries in American society, many survivors of suicide do not receive the same help and care from their support system that they would if their loved one died in another manner. LOSS teams provide aid both at the time of death and through follow-up calls in the first week and months that follow.

Additionally, Dr. Campbell found in his research that loss survivors who received active postvention accessed help for their grief within an average of 39 days, while those without active postvention took 4.5 years to receive help. Dr. Campbell also discovered that survivors who served as LOSS Team members often gained more healing from their own suicide loss through their experience of helping others.

Perhaps most importantly, research shows that individuals who experience suicide loss are between two and ten times more likely to die by suicide themselves. Since 2015, our LOSS Team counterparts in Denton County, Texas, have interacted with 1,187 individuals who are, by definition, at higher risk of suicide by the nature of their loss. To date, none of the survivors who received LOSS team intervention have died by suicide.

How Do I Learn More About LOSS Teams?

To learn more about LOSS Team and Dr. Campbell, please visit www.lossteam.com. If you’d like to learn more about the LOSS Team of Lewis and Clark Area, or to volunteer, please get in touch with Jess Hegstrom, Suicide Prevention Coordinator, at 406-457-8970 or jhegstrom@lccountymt.gov


Local LOSS Team volunteers act out a visit with a suicide loss survivor.

Volunteer FAQ

The LOSS Team is actively seeking volunteers to assist operations. This includes coordinating volunteers, conducting follow-up calls and day-to-day oversight, and/or providing assistance on the scene of a loss.

If you are interested in learning more about LOSS Team and this exciting opportunity, please reach out to us at 406-457-8970 or by emailing jhegstrom@lccountymt.gov.


On scene response

Q: If I join the LOSS Team, would I be sent to the scene alone?

A: No, volunteers never go out alone. A LOSS Team response always involves two members who respond in pairs. Volunteers always go with a LOSS Team behavioral health volunteer.

Q: How will I know what to say or do? This feels very scary as I wouldn’t really know what to tell a bereaved family member.

A: All volunteers are thoroughly trained before ever responding to a call. Training includes role-playing until the volunteer feels confident and comfortable to assist new survivors. Volunteers also receive multiple opportunities to receive additional education on suicide and grief.

Q: I am not sure I can do this as it feels too scary and overwhelming to be on the scene with a family while the police and coroner are there. Will I actually encounter a dead body?

A: Although the majority of LOSS Team volunteers have concerns about what it would be like to go on a LOSS visit, after finally going out on their first call, most individuals state, “Oh, that was much better than I had made that out to be in my head. I am so glad I got to sit with that family.”

Most LOSS Teams never encounter a dead body on a scene. Sometimes they will see the body, which is covered, being transported from the home to the coroner’s vehicle for a brief moment. If a LOSS Team member is uncomfortable with seeing a covered body, they typically stand or sit where they will not be in view of this. The majority of the time, LOSS Team members do not encounter the deceased.

Triggers

Q: What if I cry or get emotional on-scene? I am not sure I could do this and be of any support to a family member.

A: On occasion, some volunteers have become emotional on-scene and that is OK. We are all human. Typically, this does not occur but if it does, it is also OK to excuse yourself and regroup outside if needed.

Q: What if being on-scene triggers me and brings me back to the day of my own loss? I am in a good place emotionally and do not want to return to that time.

A: This is an understandable concern. Each volunteer debriefs with a clinician or staff member immediately after each response. This allows volunteers to discuss any difficult portion of the call they may have experienced. Volunteers have found this to be very helpful and do not typically need any additional support. However, if extra support were needed, LOSS Team clinicians will ensure this takes place. Volunteers are our top priority!

Other volunteer opportunities

Q: If I want to volunteer, but am not comfortable with visiting survivors at the scene, can I still help?

A: Absolutely. LOSS Team values all kinds of volunteers, including those who can conduct follow-up calls with survivors, assist with community outreach and marketing, and coordinate fellow volunteers, among other tasks. Volunteering your skills, time, and talent will make it possible for our LOSS Team to offer healing, compassionate support to new survivors. If you are interested in getting involved, please email jhegstrom@lccountymt.gov or call 406-457-8970.

Potential volunteer tasks include:

  • On-call support
  • Assembling resource folders and bags
  • Follow-up calls
  • Writing cards
  • Tabling outreach events
  • Visiting local community partners
  • Tracking data
  • Writing articles, and columns and appearing in radio and TV interviews
  • Posting on social media
  • Fundraising

Q: LOSS Team sounds like a helpful service for survivors. Will you share it with any neighboring counties?

A: The program is a pilot project for Lewis and Clark County and is funded by an HB 118 grant to support suicide prevention programs in the state. If LOSS Team thrives in the county and is proven to help as it is intended, LOSS Team leaders hope to expand it to Broadwater and Jefferson Counties. We are also happy to offer presentations of the model to any organization hoping to learn more or start their own.