Hi, my name is Monica, and I am a certified suicide first aid caregiver.
Most people who know me personally probably know that mental health support and awareness and suicide prevention are causes that are really important to me because these are things have affected both me personally and quite a few people who are very important to me. I don't think anyone is "comfortable" talking about suicide, but it's not something I shy away from because I believe that the best way to break down the stigmas about asking for help and support is to start talking about these things. However I also knew that all of my knowledge and skills for handling a situation where someone is at risk of suicide come from experience, with no formal training on the matter, and I really felt I could use some more guidance on how to handle such situations if confronted with them as a professional. That's why when the opportunity arose for me to attend a two-day suicide prevention training course through work, I jumped at the chance. The course was called ASIST--Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. The goal of the ASIST course is to prepare people to support people who are in a crisis and having suicidal thoughts or at risk of suicide. What I love about the course, though, is that it was not just designed for professionals who would encounter such situations regularly. It's designed for anyone who feels like they could benefit from these skills in either their personal or professional lives. In fact, the focus is on getting people educated who may encounter these situations but who do not typically receive formalized training for it--groups like teachers, clergy, charity volunteers, housing officers, etc.
The best thing that I learned from this course was the three-word phrase "safety-for-now"--incredibly simple, yes, but it completely shifted my viewpoint of suicide intervention. As we discussed a lot on the course, when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, asking them about this and giving them the chance to verbalize those feelings can be a really important part of the process for that individual--to no longer be carrying that burden alone. But as the recipient of that person's story, as the listener, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. As the person tells you of the feelings and problems that may be contributing to them feeling that way, it is easy to start worrying about how you can fix everything for them--even when often times many of the contributing factors are not within your power to "fix"). But what ASIST focuses on is helping a person get through a suicidal crisis in the short-term by allowing them to feel and express their feelings, and guiding them towards finding a way to establish a plan to keep them safe in the short-term. There are no promises that this one intervention will make everything better. There is room to acknowledge and accept that person's pain and experiences, but the focus is on the present. While there is of course a part of the plan that does involve getting long-term support in place, the focus on "safety-for-now" allows you (the caregiver) to focus on being in that moment with the person in crisis, which is often what is really needed.
The main reason I'm sharing my experience of the course is because I really think that anyone could benefit from attending. No matter what field you work in, you never know what could happen in either your work or personal life--and I think that raising awareness and knowledge of how to support someone who is suicidal is the first step towards reducing the amount of suicides that occur around the world. An estimated 5% of the population will have thoughts of suicide at some point in their lives. If that seems like a small number to you, it's not--that's 1 in 20 people. The ASIST program was started in Canada in the 1980s and now runs in 23 countries around the world--including the UK (obviously) and the US, so if you're reading this and would be interested in attending, you can find more information on their website. Thanks for reading!
**The format for this post was inspired by this week's writing prompts.**