Franklin James Cook

Two Communities Highlight ASIST Suicide “First Aid” Training

In Intervention, Prevention on January 27, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Tom Gangel of Steamboat Mental Health delivers ASIST. (Photo by John F. Russell, Steamboat Pilot & Today)

Two recent newspaper articles offer a good look at the two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) as it is being implemented in different communities.

Reporter Sandra Jontz writes about a recent ASIST workshop led by Navy chaplains in Naples, Italy, in an article in Stars and Stripes.

“The training is helping me get over the fear of helping someone, of interfering,” [said Donna Lunsford, a] 54-year-old spouse of a DOD civilian employee … “You can’t help anybody if you don’t ask [about suicide].”

Newly ASIST-trained caregivers join a growing community network of people trained not only to be more aware of suicide risk in another person but who also have the skills to intervene and help keep the person safe.

“The ASIST program provides everyday people with the perspective and skills to empower them to provide effective care for others,” said Chaplain Jason Hefner, the lead ASIST instructor for the Navy’s region, which encompasses Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia.

“You might be aware of someone thinking of suicide. What do you do with that information? That’s what people in the field really struggle with,” [said Dr. (Lt. Cmdr.) Robert Zalewski-Zaragoza, a psychiatrist and head of the mental health department for Naval Hospital Naples].

Education reporter Zach Fridell covers a recent training in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in a story about ASIST in the Steamboat Pilot and Today.

The nine participants, including several school-based mentors … said they hope they never have to use the skills presented by [Tom] Gangel and Sandy Beran, of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Asso­ciation. But unfortunately, the time likely will come when they need to talk to a suicidal person. Survey results of the nationwide ASIST program show that six months later, 64 percent of participants used the training in their lives.

The intervention model learned through ASIST applies a systematic approach to interacting with a person at risk of suicide..

There are several difficult steps along the way, [Rangel] said, including broaching the topic of suicide with a depressed person and getting past the question, “Are you thinking of committing suicide?” After that question is asked, Beran said, the helpers must also “spend time listening to things that are so negative,” often a difficult task.

The workshop features half a day of one-on-one simulation of  the model to help people practice the skills they are learning:

Caroline Beard and Megan Rea, school-based mentors with Partners, sat across from each other. Beard played a single mother with three children. Her eldest son had been in a car accident and was in a coma. The bills are piling up. On a break from her fictional job as a waitress, she told Rea she was contemplating suicide.

Rea gently questioned Beard about whom she could talk to and how she was coping. She established a rapport with Beard and gradually talked her away from her depression.

Derek Kratzer, another Partners mentor, said finding the patience to complete the process can be difficult, especially in stressful situations.

“I’d say (the hardest part) is me not trying to move too quickly through the conversation with them but taking the time to have them tell their story, for them to explain their depression and reasons they do have to live,” he said.

suicidesafer-lw-1According to LivingWorks, the developer of ASIST and safeTALK, a companion training that teaches suicide alertness to the public, the ASIST workshop has been delivered to 750,000 caregivers worldwide in the past 25 years. LivingWorks trainings promote the concept of suicide-safer communities, which are explained in its core beliefs about suicide and its prevention.

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