I was lucky enough to find an internship placement during the pandemic that I could complete remotely from my hometown. My placement was unique in that I was given two different placement positions and allowed to work part-time over 6 months. One placement was at the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council (WRSPC), where I helped with content creation, such as #365Convos; and the other placement was at Lutherwood, where I was an assistant to the Equity Leader. Since these two organizations are connected, I was able to split my time between the two roles. What follows is my internship journal on belonging and meaning, written as part of my learning journey through PACS (Peace and Conflict Studies) 390: Internship Course. Please be made aware that topics such as trauma and suicide prevention will be discussed.
In this journal, I will reflect on the concepts of belonging and human contribution to something greater than oneself. In working with the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council (WRSPC), I have been introduced, on more than one occasion, to the Hope, Belonging, Meaning and Purpose Framework (HBMP) (Centre for Suicide Prevention, 2020). This framework was developed as a mental health approach for Indigenous peoples, originally created by the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum, Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, in association Health Canada. This framework is used as an approach for life promotion and suicide prevention.
Interestingly, there are others who find these methods of life promotion to be imperative to human living. For example, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow as cited in Professional Academy, n.d.); which places love and belonging one step above basic needs such as shelter, food, and safety. Love and belonging remain an essential part of human existence. Maslow suggests that we cannot continue to grow until these basic needs are fulfilled.
How does belonging then connect to suicide prevention and life promotion? Thomas Joiner et al. (2009) offer some clarity here:
The dilemma of who will develop a desire for death and who will go on to die by suicide may be better understood through the frustration of our basic needs to belong and contribute, as well as our ability to learn fearlessness.
In 2009, Joiner and others developed a theory called: The Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behaviour in which they stated that:
The fundamental constituents of suicidal ideation- as distinct from suicidal behaviour- are the perceptions that one is alienated from others and that one is simultaneously a burden on others.
Again, belonging (or lack thereof) is noted as an influential part of our existence. In extreme cases, belonging can be a determining factor between life and death.
The question becomes, how can we use this framework, alongside HBMP, to bring about peace? Joiner et al. (2009) suggest that “as suicidal crises resolve, they do so largely as a function of increasing connection to others as well as an improved sense of meaningful contribution to others”. In which case, one may presume that working towards meaningful connections with those we encounter each day, whether positioning ourselves as a friend, or a support person, may prevent feelings of alienation, and consequently act towards life promotion. One suggestion from Joiner et al. (2009) is to create what they call a Hope Box. This, as they pointed out, is:
Literally a box, example, a shoebox in which [someone] collects mementos, objects, photos, letters, and the like, all of which, at times of crisis, remind [them] of reasons for living and for hope.
Similarly, HBMP has some suggestions for life promotion, that comes from understanding and tending to these needs. However, these suggestions are less directive in nature. They bring attention to the need to focus on all aspects, (hope, belonging, meaning, and purpose) to create life promotion.
The course I am reminded of in this work is PACS 331: Trauma, Healing, and Conflict Resolution. This course is intended to examine how conflict resolution can be impacted by trauma. PACS 331 taught me that many times, people believe that growth does not happen from trauma. Authors studied in this course, such as Carolyn Yoder and Judith Herman, write about the potential for healing and growth following trauma. The framework of belonging, burdensome, hope and meaning can then be applied to the concept of connection between trauma and conflict. Following a traumatic experience, one may feel a heightened sense of isolation, burdensome, and lack of hope or meaning in life. As mentioned above, these factors create a higher risk for suicidal ideation. Knowing this, one can imagine that the time directly following trauma is an extremely valuable time for added measures of connection, meaning-making, purpose creation, and hope. If we can inhabit these aspects in a supportive manner for those experiencing trauma (and more generally for everyone), we are likely to aid in harm reduction, life promotion, and suicide prevention.
Conflict is emotional and can be impacted by trauma or other subjective experiences and biases. If we can manage our post-trauma journey, we are more likely to enter a conflict space differently. Similarly, when we can experience belonging and meaning, and purpose in our lives, we are far more likely to harvest life promotion.
In closing, we can promote peace by promoting life. When people are at peace in their own lives, they show up differently in conflict and interactions with others. By being in a place of belonging and meaningful contribution, one where we can see hope and value in life, we can begin to create and hold space for others to do the same. To bring about peace in our world, we need to find ways of helping people bring peace to their own lives. Life promotion and suicide prevention are true measures of creating peace.
In which case, my work with the WRSPC, is putting to use my learning from the PACS program, as it continues to act as one of the many sectors of peacebuilding. Truly, peace is everybody’s business, as one of the PACS courses, PACS 101: Peace is Everybody’s Business, suggests!
Centre for Suicide Prevention. (2020, December 9). Hope, Belonging, Meaning and Purpose. Centre for Suicide Prevention. https://www.suicideinfo.ca/hope-belonging-meaning-purpose/.
Joiner, T. E., Jr., Van Orden, K. A., Witte, T. K., Selby, E. A., Ribeiro, J. D., Lewis, R., & Rudd, M. D. (2009). Main predictions of the interpersonal–psychological theory of suicidal behavior: Empirical tests in two samples of young adults. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118(3), 634-646. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/10.1037/a0016500
Professional Academy. (n.d.). Marketing Theories - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Professional Academy. https://www.professionalacademy.com/blogs-and-advice/marketing-theories-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs.