16 May Words That Save Lives
CITC’s prevention programs help you know what to say when confronted with someone who is thinking about suicide
When a staff member of CITC’s Recovery Services (RS) Department heard these words from an individual who had come to CITC seeking recovery support, she knew exactly what to say.
“Because of ASIST training, our staff knew how to actually hear that person’s story and understand where they were at in their suicidal thoughts. They knew how to find out if the person had a plan for ending their life, and they were able to create a plan to keep that person safe until they could get additional help,” explained Kris Green, CITC’s prevention coordinator.
You don’t have to be a CITC employee or an expert in suicide prevention to help stop someone from ending their life. CITC offers Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) to the public — a workshop-based suicide intervention training that teaches anyone how to prevent suicide by recognizing the signs, knowing what to say, and developing a plan to keep someone alive.
Many people take CPR so they can be prepared for an emergency. ASIST functions in a similar way, said Kris.
“We all have neighbors. We all have family members, and we all encounter people as we get out and enjoy Alaska. That means we could all encounter a situation where we happen upon somebody and we could be part of saving their life,” she explained.
Anyone can be affected by suicide, said Kris. “People of all ages, races, cultures, economic backgrounds — it’s across the board. You could be a millionaire, like [actor] Robin Williams, on top of the world, and something can happen to activate suicidal thoughts.”
ASIST equips people with the skills they need to not only prevent a suicide, but to connect someone to additional care. The training, which incorporates discussions and simulations, helps people recognize signs, intervene, and listen for “turning points” — something that gives the suicidal individual hope and can be used as a reason to continue living.
ASIST participants also learn how to create a plan to keep someone safe and how to connect them with additional care.
“[ASIST] was exceptionally life-changing,” said one participant who took the training. “I feel empowered to help my community.”
A Statewide Initiative
Other communities are sending providers all the way to Anchorage to take the training.
“We have people coming in from the Fort Yukon area to attend our Anchorage-based training because it’s not being offered in their region,” pointed out Crystalyn Lemieux, CITC prevention teams manager. “So they’ll fly from rural Alaska just to attend our training because there’s such a need.”
To help fill this need and increase the availability of suicide prevention, Kris co-teaches with individuals from rural regions so they can also become trainers. To date, she has trained about 220 individuals in ASIST.
This month, Kris will travel north to offer ASIST training in Tok, a community that has experienced a string of recent suicides. In rural places, especially, a suicide can sometimes initiate a “contagion” effect, resulting in an increase in suicide or suicidal behaviors in those who are exposed to a suicide.
Alaska has one of the highest rates of suicide per capita in the country. Alaska Native men between the ages of 15 – 24 are the most affected by suicide.
“Alaska Native men at that age — they’re our hunters, they’re our providers, so it really impacts our families,” Crystalyn said. “The families we serve sometimes rely on those men to get subsistence foods. When we lose Alaska Native men, that means less access to our traditional foods, which are also healing.”
As an organization that serves Alaska Native people, CITC is committed to helping make our state “suicide safer.” In addition to providing both ASIST and safeTALK, a half-day training that provides basic prevention tools, to groups and individuals, CITC offers aims to train at least of its two staff members in every department to better serve our participants.
“It’s part of ensuring that more of our participants get the higher level of care that they need because we’re able to provide those interventions,” said Crystalyn.