Let’s talk about suicide intervention

Trigger warning:  This post is about training in suicide intervention.  Out of respect for any difficult feelings that might arise, please consider your own well being before you read on.  

One in Five people in the UK have thoughts of suicide.  That’s around 13m people.

On average, 16 people are affected by a person deciding to take their own life.  That’s 9m people affected in a year (using just the data of reported suicides for 2016).

The phrase to “Commit Suicide” comes from the period before the 1960 when suicide was illegal and considered a crime in the same way that you might “commit murder”, or “commit a robbery”.

As a therapist, the first time someone told me they felt it “would be better if they weren’t here”, I was still working in a supervised student clinic.  I managed to keep calm and I think I did a good job but I had an experienced practitioner in a room nearby to go and download to.  Following that, I was on my own.

So far, a clients darkest thoughts have never left me feeling like they were in danger.  But if I am honest, at this point I breathe a sigh of relief because I was never sure how to take it any further.

But I know that’s not sustainable in practice.  Not if I want to make a real difference to people.

Bach Flowers can be useful in an emotional crisis

I deal with a lot of overwhelm in my clients.  Helping them regain control of their lives and their coping mechanisms is part of empowering them to make positive health choices.  We talk together, they leave better equipped.  But the overwhelm is getting bigger, and the part where I intervene is becoming further downstream and I want to be prepared.

I found the ASIST course last year.  I was supposed to sign up for an earlier training but I admit I was nervous.  I feel a bit silly now as I need not have been.  The structure of the course is lighter than I expected but didn’t shy away from the difficult things.  The people with the very worst of stories brought the biggest amount of hope to the weekend and for that, I admired them enormously.

The ASIST training (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) is a two day course put together by Livingworks Education in Canada as a framework to assisting someone who is having suicidal thoughts at that moment.  The idea is to turn them around to chose life and to put a safe plan into place to keep them safe.  For now.   For now is the most important part.  For now could change the outcome even if you don’t know how to help them in their pain.   Think of it as form of emotional CPR, if you like, until other support can kick in.

Part of the course is about destroying the stigmas or, more precisely, examining attitudes around us that might make us less approachable to someone in need.  More powerfully we learn to override the desperate instinct to help a person in pain and to move at their pace through an intervention, not ours.  To listen for cues, to understand when you have their permission, to empower them to make an alternative choice.

It’s hard, not to talk about suicide, we don’t do that enough, but to sit with their discomfort until they are ready.  Not to let your own enthusiasm or attitudes take over.

The training is expertly put together to come across a range of scenarios where you might need to have this conversation.  In my clinic space, there is a safety and many tools at our disposal, but we explored coming across someone, or a fleeting conversation with a friend and now I feel better equipped to “run the fire drill” as they called it.

From my writing, please take away one thing:  asking someone directly if they are having thoughts of suicide is never going to put the idea in their heads.  There is no evidence to suggest this at all.  If they are suicidal, the very fact that someone asks them directly may be a huge relief to them.  Any sign that they might be looking for help is a sign that a part of them wants to live.  Asking them directly, as scary as it might feel, leaves no room for ambiguity.  It gives them a place to move from.

Asking someone directly if they are having thoughts of suicide is never going to put the idea in their heads…..  as scary as it might feel, [it] leaves no room for ambiguity.

The training is open to everyone, whether you have a story that brings you there, or not.  Professional or concerned friend or volunteer.  The group was the most open and collaborative I have ever experienced, even in our diversity.  I would encourage you to have a look or

ASIST course certificate

have a chat to me if you think you might be interested, I am keen to spread the word.

There’s a pretty comprehensive collection of resources here put together by the trainers Christine Black and Wendy Henry’s (both ASIST certified trainers) for the OLLIE Foundation (One Life Lost is Enough) so all credit to them.  Sharing these to a person in distress could make a huge difference.



Click on the link above or here are some:

Hertfordshire Night Light  (0pen over the weekend 8pm to midnight) 01923256391


Childline 08001111

PAPYRUS (under 35s)

Combat Stress (Help for Heroes)

JOCA (just one click away) 24/7 male focus

Hectors House Information resources for suicidal thoughts