ASIST: Creating a U of S community safe from suicide

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According to Statistics Canada, suicide is a leading cause of premature and preventable deaths for people of all ages in Canada, a fact that community members in Saskatoon and at the University of Saskatchewan are working to change.

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training is a program offered by Living Works, an international public service corporation that aims to save lives through the creation, development and delivery of innovative experiences that empower organizations, communities and individuals to be safer from suicide.

In order to build a suicide prevention network in the community, ASIST was hosted on campus by the U of S Students’ Union Help Centre from Oct. 22-23, an event that included 23 participants.

Crystal Lau, Help Centre co-ordinator, shares her opinion about suicide and her experience at the training.

Meaghan Baker and Crystal Lau, with Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, are now equipped to help students in need.

”We don’t talk about [suicide] enough to make it comfortable. I remember one part of the training is that we just have to verbally say it out loud — ‘Are you thinking of suicide?’ … Even [those] who have suicide thoughts, it’s good for them to take [the training] because then they know there are people there to help them, and also it’s kind of like self-help,” Lau said.

Although the training is not free, all USSU Centre volunteers who take part in the whole training session are sponsored. The Help Centre plans to host another ASIST session from Feb. 4-5, 2017.

Meaghan Baker, a second-year master’s student in school and counselling psychology who also attended ASIST, believes that the training is beneficial for everyone, as it provides students with the skills to assist those seeking help. She explains one of the main reasons why people become suicidal.

“The overarching theme is that there’s some kind of loss going on, like whether it’s a friend or a breakup or financial loss or you just don’t feel like you have anything to live for,” Baker said.

Lau also mentions that people should not use words or phrases with positive or negative connotations, such as “failed suicide attempt,” when discussing suicide.

“Fail is such a negative word — but you’re alive. That’s not a failure. You’re not a failure because you are alive right now. So, it’s not like a failed suicide attempt or a successful suicide attempt. It’s just suicide,” Lau said.

Although the training includes lectures about suicide, the trainers also provide scenarios to give participants an opportunity to develop their skills in responding to people who are suicidal.

“You listen, and instead of thinking of what to say next, just listen with full attention and let [the person in need] guide where their story is at … They’re the person who’s leading the conversation, not us. We are helping them [get] those things out, the things that they want to say, not to fix them, not to tell them what to do,” Lau said

Baker believes that it is uncomfortable for many to share their struggles with suicide because most people want to fix the problem right away. However, listening is the most successful way that one can help a person in need.

“The therapeutic part is people are hearing what they’re saying, and they hear what [it is that] means something to them and it really facilitates them discovering their own reasons to keep going,” Baker said.

According to Lau, four main words are central to ASIST: respect, trust, value and care.

“When you’re assisting someone, it’s very important to make sure you respect them — that they can trust you and that they value what they’re telling you and [that you] show that you care,” Lau said

Lau also adds that there are many people in the Saskatoon community who are willing to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts.

“Make sure you know who you could talk to around you, and there is a huge list of resources you could get help from. Please reach out.”

Resources in the community include the Suicide Prevention Centre and the Crisis (Distress) Centre. Contact information can be found online. A list of all resources can also be found in the USSU Help Centre, located in room 105 of the Memorial Union Building.

Photo and text: Jaline Broqueza