Suicide. Its an awkward topic blurred in a haze of misunderstanding and stigma. Many of us couldn't fathom the idea of coming right out and asking someone, "Are you thinking of suicide?" The thought alone causes stress. Some might even find it outright ridiculous. The fact of the matter is many of us, when presented with all kinds of signs that someone we know may be thinking of suicide, still don't ask the question staring us in the face.
This week I'm at CMHA Durham to take their ASIST course. ASIST standing for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. Three quarters of the way through I'm still asking myself if the "S" for "Skills" is just there because ASIST sounds better than ASIT or if it's intentionally there because while "skills" can be trained no training can guarantee a positive outcome when it comes to suicide. Perhaps after today I'll be finishing the article with that question answered. There is one thing I've learned that really stood out for me so far.
We need to ask, directly, about suicide once we feel someone is at risk.
The past day and a half I've learned a relatively simple 3 step framework for assessing and intervening with a person in crisis. I say "with" that person because you really don't intervene on your own. It's far from scenes in the movies where the hero distracts a distraught man on the roof of a building and then tackles him to safety. Instead its more like a sales process. First looking for signs of a potential crisis (needs you can help solve) and confirming what you see. Specifically by asking questions and asking about suicide. Then gently guiding the process through questioning and active listening (qualifying). Identifying the hook that can be used to help that person choose safety (buying signals). Adjusting as needed to changes in the persons responses (objections) to remain in-sync. Finally helping them create their safe plan and gaining agreement on it (contract).
"We need to ask, directly, about suicide
once we feel someone is at risk."
Most would assume the hardest part would be confirming the potential for suicide. Coming right out and asking, "Are you planning on killing yourself?" Without asking this question you may never get to the opportunity to guide that person to safety. The reality is, once you come to grips with it, asking is actually the easiest part. It's not that difficult if you just acknowledge the signs that something is wrong.
You see/hear/feel the signs that something is wrong.
You confirm what you see by asking about it.
You ask straight up. "Are you thinking about suicide?"
What I've learned in this training is that so often those signs something is wrong are invitations for you to support someone. When you ask them point blank you can be surprised by the honesty of the response. When someone is able to acknowledge those feelings and ideas it can lift a weight off their chest and make the rest of the process achievable.
There is no guarantee you can stop someone from dying by suicide. You can however, learn "skills" to make sure you do what's in your power to help that person. That's what ASIST is all about. Looks like I did answer my question.
For more information on ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) visit Living Works @ www.livingworks.net
To book ASIST Training or for information on upcoming sessions visit CMHA Durham @ http://cmhadurham.ca/education/applied-suicide-intervention-skills-training-asist/