For 2 days this week, I went to a suicide intervention workshop. It’s called ASIST, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, and I thought I would share with you the highlights of the program, in case you are ever in a situation where you think the person you are talking with is suicidal. Many people (including me before this workshop) are quite overwhelmed by the thought of what to do when faced with a suicidal person, so I hope this post helps! This is only a summary, and I highly recommend going to an ASIST workshop near you! 🙂
First of all, you’ll see Invitations. When talking to someone, you’ll hear them saying things that portray their desperation and hopelessness, or hints they give off that they are planning to kill themself (like giving away prized possessions, saying how they can’t go on, etc). These are invitations to talk about it, because if they are letting little things slip, they don’t really want to die. So, your job is to EXPLORE these things – ask them why they feel so awful, why they can’t go on. Some things people say could just mean they are depressed, but if you hear enough truly desperate things, and have a gut feeling, then it’s worth moving to the next step.
The next thing to do is come straight out and ASK if they are thinking of Suicide. (It’s important to use the word “suicide” or “killing yourself” because if you just say “hurting yourself” then the person might say yes and you think suicide and they are just thinking doing some form of self-abuse.) So, if the person says yes, then you move to the next step. So far, the person has been only thinking of death, the past, and being alone. This orange section is the connecting phase, and most people feel really relieved to find someone willing to talk to them about suicide.
Now, you move into the Understanding phase. In this phase, you try help the person move into ambivalence (death/life), living in the present, and feeling engaged (not alone). As hard as it may be, you have to thoroughly LISTEN to the person’s reasons for dying. If you don’t listen to their reasons for dying, they can feel like you are rushing them, or don’t really care and are just trying to “get on with your day.” Once they’ve talked themselves out, try to help them see reasons for living.
If the person hasn’t yet told you, find out if they have planned how they will do it. This is called REVIEWING the risk, and there are many things to consider like have they every tried to commit suicide before, how severe is their emotional pain, does the person feel like they have anyone else to turn to, have they ever attempted before and do they have any mental health issues. Depending on the information you find out, you can see how much at risk they are. So, now you help the person see that there is a part of them that wants to live and get them to agree with you to make a plan to keep them safe.
So, you move into the third phase, the Assisting phase where the person is thinking more about life, the future and being linked to others. So you make up a safeplan, where the person CONTRACTS with you not to hurt themself, even if it’s just for a certain period of time. You also work at disabling their suicide plan – getting the person to give you the pills they were going to take, for example – and getting the person connected to others who care about them, will check on them regularly and/or counsel them. If they have attempted suicide before, you try to reinforce whatever stopped them before, and if they need mental health assistance, get them to see a worker or in extreme cases, take them to Emergency.
The only thing that remains to be done is to FOLLOW-UP on Commitments. It’s pretty obvious why that is important to keep the person safe.
So hopefully that will help you if you ever find yourself in a situation needing to help a suicidal person. Don’t be afraid to talk to them, and even if you can’t bring them through these stages, you can keep them safe for now and bring in other people to help. There are even times when the police might need to be called, if there is immediate danger to the person or to you. And although it might be a bit scary, you can do it!