Yesterday, I posted about how when we are profiting from using another person’s lived experience story, we should be compensating those individuals too. 

A lot of unfollows ensued. 

I would say I’m surprised, but that would be a lie. While this belief shouldn’t be controversial or shocking, for some fields and professionals, it will upend how they have been operating. 

People with lived experience are a marginalized and historically exploited community. The church excommunicated people who died from suicide. Society punished open conversations about those who died from suicide. Families and personal circles would turn their backs on people who struggled with ideation. People with suicide-centered lived experiences have faced discrimination, stereotypes, ostracism, and so much worse. 

Our nonprofit work centers around donations, story-sharing, and building empathy for our causes. Research has been built around engaging stories to understand issues better. We are all familiar with countless ways the stories of lived experiences are solicited in order to build movements. 

Stories help spread awareness, offer practical solutions, and strengthen support. 

But stories should belong to the person who lived through. These individuals have earned priceless insight borne from trauma, pain, isolation, and so on and on. They have suffered for these stories, and to assume we have the right to use these stories, free of charge, whether to further our causes or our own personal motivations, is a continuation of exploitative practices. 

Compensating people should be the standard. We pay every other type of expert, yet for some reason, lived experience is seen as less than. Acknowledging expertise is one part of this, but supporting people so they can live successful and healthy lives is core to it. We don’t know what we unleash when we ask people to share their pain. We don’t know what it might take them to recenter after sharing. We don’t always know what sharing does, and we should do as much as possible to care for people. 

Even when we do compensate people, we’re often not considering paying them a minimum wage for the time it takes for their involvement in whatever effort or project we might be working on. 

It’s important that when we talk about compensation, we realize that we’re not only compensating them for their current time and effort. We’re also compensating them so that they can support themselves and their needs. When we ask for people’s stories, we often expose them to trauma and pain. We may be impacting their safety. We may even ask them to take time off from their paid positions to help us accomplish our goals. This is non-paid work. This can impact their financial ability and even how they are able to be present when they are involved.

For far too long, we have devalued the time, work, safety, and effort of those with lived experiences while adding to their struggle, stress, or unwellness.

Compensation is about care.

It’s a way of ensuring we are supporting these people, strengthening our work, and actually adhering to the primary focus of preventing suicide, which means putting people first.

It isn’t about the money. 

In the end, it’s about stopping exploitative practices, giving credit where credit is due, ending the perpetuation of trauma and pain, and creating a culture of safety for those who need it most.

Suicide prevention should be embedded in everything we do. Let’s prioritize taking care of one another. 

#livedexperienceisexperience #paypeople #livedexperience 


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