Following on from my blog about the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course I took in February, I'd like to share my experience of the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop I attended last week. The two day workshop was organised and delivered by Chester-le-Street and Durham City Mind and held the Cragside Education Centre Campus for Ageing (formally Newcastle General Hospital), Newcastle upon Tyne.
What is ASIST?
ASIST is one of several programs developed by LivingWorks Education, a public service corporation focusing on understanding and preventing suicide. Other programs include eSuicideTALK which I have taken and highly recommend to anyone wanting to increase their awareness (see below for details of this and other programs).
The ASIST workshop is for caregivers who want to feel more comfortable, confident and competent in helping to prevent the immediate risk of suicide. The two-day intensive workshops are taught in small groups of no more than fifteen participants to one trainer (our workshop had eighteen participants and two trainers). The emphasis is on how to help a person at risk stay safe and seek further help. The practical training enables participants to recognize someone who is suicidal and gives them the skills and confidence to intervene, but also to deal with the emotional legacy of coming into contact with someone who is feeling suicidal.
After attending the workshop, participants are able to:
- Recognise calls for help
- Reach out and offer support
- Assess the risk of suicide
- Apply a suicide intervention model
- Link people with community resources
The workshop was free to attend but this may depend on location, the organising body, and what funding is available.
Who teaches it?
Our trainers were Emma Power and Charles McCaughey from Chester-le-Street and Durham City Mind. In Charles' own words: "The last training session of ASIST was held at Newcastle General Hospital. Fantastic group all ready and willing to help people stay safe."
Who is it for?
If you look on the LivingWorks website (links below) you will read that the ASIST programme is aimed at mental health practitioners, counsellors, teachers, ministers, police, fire and other emergency service workers, community volunteers, workers in health, welfare or criminal justice, and people concerned about family or friends.
You might be thinking "Oh, I'm not a professional, it's not really for someone like me." Don't let that stop you registering. ASIST is for anyone who wants to feel more comfortable, confident and competent in helping to prevent the immediate risk of suicide. Of the eighteen people on our course, I was the only "civilian". The others worked or volunteered in a variety of care and support roles, and most had considerable experience helping people who are living through extremely hard times.
With few credentials other than my three year friendship with Fran and a passionate desire to learn how better to support her and others, I arrived feeling something of an "amateur", but that soon passed. Everyone brought their own experience to the table. We were all there to share and to learn, and I felt fully included and my contributions valued. If you are interested enough to be reading this, ASIST is for you.
What is it like?
I don't want to give too much detail away but it's fair to say I found the ASIST workshop intense, challenging and powerfully rewarding.
ASIST intervention is based on the principle of helping to keep someone "safe for now", and presents a structured (but flexible) model called the Pathway for Assisting Life. Phase one of the model is called Connecting with Suicide, and focuses on establishing a connection and determining whether the person we are concerned about is actually considering suicide. If so, we move into the second phase, Understanding Choices. Here the emphasis is on hearing the person's story, allowing them to share and explore their situation and options. The focus is on allowing, and if necessary gently guiding, them to find their 'turning point': a moment of awareness that there is some part of them which does not want to die. Having reached this turning point, the care-giver's role is to support them through the third phase, Asisting Life. The aim is to identify specific actions which the person can take to keep them "safe for now", perhaps with assistance from the care-giver or other agencies. These actions are collected into a "SafePlan", which the person is invited to commit to.
The workshop is trainer-led, with slides and video presentations, but also involves active participation from those attending. No pressure was put on us to share or do anything we weren't happy with, but I think we all recognised that in order to get the most from the workshop it was necessary to take an active part. There were a number of role-play scenarios. In each, the person at risk was played by one of the trainers, with the other trainer facilitating as we collectively took the role of the care-giver. Most were conducted with the group as a whole, others in smaller groups.
Inevitably, some of these role-plays brought up powerful emotions, and a good deal of attention was focused on us taking care of our own well-being, not only during the workshop but at other times when we might be faced with such difficult situations in real life. I personally felt safe and supported throughout the two days, both by Emma and Charles and also by all the other participants.
Two of those who attended were kind enough to share their thoughts afterwards.
The ASIST course refreshed my belief in our potential to reach out to each other and truly make a difference. I came away feeling I had been given the skills which could help someone feel less without hope and options. A truly moving course, the sensitivity and encouragement the trainers and participants gifted to me will without doubt remain a very happy memory for me. (Claire Stewart)
I have been a first aider for many years and would encourage all first aiders to get training in mental health. Over the last couple of years, several shouts have turned into mental health urgent responses involving a combination of physical injury, substance misuse and people at risk to themselves. ASIST and MHFA are extremely valuable helping people to care for others. Both are two day courses and include video clips, role play and being able to empathise with people who are at their lowest." (Darren Hodge)
Two days cannot fully equip someone to handle any situation perfectly, but I feel confident in my ability to recognise someone at risk and that I have the tools to intervene effectively. I would recommend ASIST to anyone wishing to contribute to a suicide safer community.
These descriptions are taken from the LivingWorks website.
eSuicideTALK (online, 2 hours self-study)
"The esuicideTALK awareness program is for any individuals, groups, communities or organizations wanting to raise awareness and open discussion about suicide. The program objective is to help make it easier to have open and honest talk about suicide. The desired outcome for this program is to increase awareness of the wide range of activities a person, community or organization can do to help prevent suicide."
SuicideTALK (90 minutes)
"The suicideTALK awareness program is for any individuals, groups, communities or organizations wanting to raise awareness and open discussion about suicide. The program objective is to help make it easier to have open and honest talk about suicide. The desired outcome for this program is to increase suicide intervention skills and build community networks."
SafeTALK (3.5 hours)
"The safeTALK program is for any individuals, groups, communities or organizations wanting to be alert to persons with thoughts of suicide and to connect them to suicide intervention resources. The program objective is to help participants recognize people thinking of suicide, their invitations for help and learn to apply basic TALK steps. The desired outcome for this program is to increase the number of people in the community who are alert to suicide and take the first steps to help a person with thoughts keep safe."
SuicideCARE (one day)
"The suicideCARE program is for those who provide services for people at risk of suicide. The program objective is to introduce advanced clinical competencies beyond first aid. The desired outcome for this program is to increase helpers' self-awareness and knowledge of approaches and roles in providing post-intervention support."
Find ASIST Training
Chester-le-Street and Durham City Mind