Last week I attended a suicide alertness training session called ‘safeTalk’ put on my Lifeline Aotearoa. It was advertised in my local paper and it was free. What more can a girl ask for? Local and free. So I decided to give up an evening to do some learning, after all, suicide is the ultimate negative consequence.
What I learned, was that one out of every twenty people has thoughts about suicide. And that here in New Zealand, twice as many people lose their lives to suicide as lose their lives on the road, over 500 people every year. This blew my mind considering the constant advertising we get around road safely, compared to one week a year on suicide awareness.
The point of the training was to make me and my fellow trainees ‘suicide alert’. We watched videos with different scenarios and talked through the ‘TALK’ strategy. (Talk-Ask-Listen-Keep Safe). The main gist of the strategy hinges on the fact that most people thinking about suicide don’t actually want to die. There is always a piece of doubt lingering about that makes the person give off signs or hints or what the training calls ‘invitations’. These could be a change in behaviour like giving away all their stuff or something in their words that just makes you think ‘could they be talking about suicide?’. Everyone is different and so everyone will make their invitations in a different way. Being suicide alert just means you are trained to be able to recognise and respond to those invitations.
The first part of the strategy, Talk, is about recognising the invitations. The second part of the strategy, Ask, is about stepping up and directly asking the person ‘You said this, this, and this, or did this, this, and this, sometimes when people say/do these things they are thinking about suicide. Are you thinking about suicide?’ This is the really hard part. I could not imagine saying those words to anyone, but now that I know more, I think I could, if I needed to. According to the training, most people, if thinking about suicide are so relieved that someone has noticed that they just say yes. Which brings us to the next part of the strategy, Listen. This is where you give your time and your attention and just listen to the other person speak. It is not a time for problem solving, that comes later. The last part of the strategy is Keep Safe. This is about passing the ball onto someone trained in suicide intervention, more specifically, not you. Here in New Zealand there is a shopping list of options, but the top of the list is the Suicide Crisis Helpline. I am not saying that it is as simple as following the steps, 1-2-3, but at least it gives you an idea of what to do in a situation where you might feel overwhelmed and powerless.
I am glad I took the time to go through the training. I interact with a lot of people in my daily life as a kindergarten teacher and some of these people are going through a lot of stress, after all modern-day life is really hard! I feel confident that I could at the very least ask the awkward question if I ever got the feeling that I should. Lets just say that the training was empowering.
This week I am off to an information afternoon tea for intergenerational learning (think rest home and early learning centres coming together to the benefit of all). I have some high expectations and can’t wait to share what I learn. Untill then…