By Olivia Overman
Sponsored by ACTS
According to the most recent report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the national suicide rate increased 33 percent between 1999 and 2017; 47,000 Americans took their own lives in 2017. Suicide can affect people of all ages, across all demographics and in all communities. This is where Action in Community Through Service (ACTS) can help.
ACTS In The Community
Victoria Graham is Chief Program Officer for Crisis and Trauma services at ACTS. She oversees program areas including domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide services. Starting as a Helpline volunteer 33 years ago, Graham continues to work with trauma services including the Helpline, a free service for anyone who needs it. Listeners assist with crisis intervention for suicide, sexual assault, and abuse, but are also there to listen when times are difficult. With trained staff and volunteers, ACTS 24-hour Helpline is certified by the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) and participates in the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Programs for those Affected by Suicide
Since she first became involved with the Helpline in 1986, Graham has worked to create numerous programs to provide relief and support for those who are affected by suicide. These programs include:
- Surviving After Suicide Support Group – a free, confidential, self-help support group that meets twice a month and provides a safe and supportive environment for those dealing with loss to suicide. Sometimes the people who understand that best are those who have experienced it themselves. Details of the time and location are provided by the facilitator. Graham said, “I had an idea that a group like this was needed but didn’t think anybody would show up on a rainy day in 1991. But four women did, and I knew then it was important!”
- LOSS Team (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) – ACTS sends trained volunteers onsite to provide immediate support and information for family coping with the sudden loss of a loved one. “These are specially trained staff and volunteers,” said Graham. “We are there to provide onsite support and resources for the family if they want it.” Working with Prince William county police, Graham helped establish the local team which supports family and friends of survivors of a suicide death.
- Renewed Hope Support Group – a peer-run group that meets twice a month and offers a caring environment for those who have attempted suicide. Individuals meet with their peers and find strength through sharing their experiences. This is not a place to pressure you into anything or make you feel worse, but a safe environment for recovery.
- Parents of Suicide Loss – the newest support group, established in January 2019, is specifically for parents who have lost children to suicide.
- Traumatic Death Support Group provides support to those left behind after a sudden or traumatic death. The grief process is described as very different than that experienced by those who can be with loved ones at their time of passing. The Traumatic Support Group is a free, confidential, peer led group that allows people to help each other by exchanging experiences and support. Meetings are held on a bi-monthly basis.
“Seeing people get stronger is a marvelous privilege,” said Graham. This is what she and the staff and volunteers at ACTS do through the services they provide.
In addition to providing assistance for suicide-related crises, the ACTS Helpline has a service that caters to the elderly. Senior Link is a program that simply provides a telephone call to the elderly or those who live alone. This call can be the one thing that some people look forward to!
Providing Community Training
Helpline staff not only take and make phone calls, they also provide training on suicide prevention, active listening, stress management and self-care to organizations within the community. A key part of helping and supporting someone when they are hurting is to just listen. “We try not to give advice, but offer information about resources open to them, or we can just listen. Sometimes that is all someone needs,” said Graham.
To reach the Helpline any day at any time, call 703-368-4141.
More information about the services provided by, or to volunteer at ACTS, please visit actspwc.org.
With a mission to instill hope, provide relief and to promote self-sufficiency for our neighbors in crisis in the Greater Prince William area, ACTS is working towards creating a community where no one goes without or suffers alone. Through the services and programs we offer, we believe while people may come to us in crisis, they will leave filled with hope, concrete relief and the tools to succeed without us.
Olivia Overman ([email protected]) is a freelance writer for both online and print organizations. She earned a M.A. in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University, Washington, D.C.