Suicide: A Community Issue That Doesn’t Discriminate
Recently I concluded another ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) workshop attended by workers of various organisations supporting ‘at risk‘ groups. As a part of the workshops, participants are asked to indicate if they believe suicide intervention skills could have use outside of their working contexts. I am always surprised when some attendees believe these skills would ‘never’ be needed in their personal lives. Instead, some think of suicide intervention as something they would need to utilise only in their 9:00-17:00 careers.
Since having started working with suicide and delivering the ASIST workshops, suicide can sometimes feel as though it is all around me. Perhaps its the nature of the work I do which draws people to disclose to me, or perhaps its that I am hyper-vigilant to the invitations to explore…
Suicide’s reared it’s head among my own family, friends, colleagues & service users over the years. Statistics which once shocked me, like 1 in 20 people having thoughts of suicide in their lifetime, suddenly seem all the more realistic (Sinclair, 2017).
Suicide is a community issue that requires a collective response as a part of the prevention effort.
It is so vital for people to understand that suicide is not limited to the ‘vulnerable members‘ of society one might think of by default, but can effect even those who seem to have it all going for them. Suicide is insidious and we should be alert to it, even in the places we expect to see it the least.
Through the workshops we deliver we support the community to identify persons who might be risk, take action by engaging in empathetic and direct conversation about suicide, and then helping that person to move to a position of staying safe-for-now. ASIST is very much like first-aid; we work with people in the moment, but recognise that we will need to signpost and refer to professional Care Givers as part of the wider safe-plan in the longer term.
So, what are some of the signs?
While it is impossible to define all signs (or invitations as we call them in ASIST), some common ones to look out for include:
- Feelings of hopeless, helplessness or being trapped
- Giving away of possessions & getting affairs in order
- Expressions or feelings of unbearable emotional pain
- Becoming withdrawn and feeling isolated
- Loosing their sense of purpose
How can you respond?
If you think a person is inviting you to talk about suicide, act on that invitation and ask them clearly about this. Asking “is suicide something you think about when you feel this way” will not suddenly make this an option to a person who isn’t already thinking it. Asking the question will feel scary and perhaps awkward for you, but I promise that is nothing compared to the relief a person who needs to talk about suicide will feel.
In ASIST we believe that if a person is looking to talk to you about thoughts of suicide, this could be an indication of their uncertainty – and uncertainty is the key to helping move that person to think about staying ‘safe for now’. From there you can support this person to access professional help via ASIST Care Givers, the GP, Crisis Team or in situations of immediate risk by calling 999 or taking that person to your local A&E.
The more we talk openly about suicide, the less taboo the topic becomes and the easier it might become for those in need of help to speak up. If you’re interested in completing the two-day ASIST Care Giver qualification you can find more details of our next workshop here.