A group of area residents met in the St. John Catholic School gymnasium at 9 a.m. Saturday morning, Feb. 28, to learn how to identify those at risk for suicide.
Laura McShane and Wren Diniz, with Canadian Mental Health, did the workshop together.
McShane does the SafeTALK workshops, and Diniz works with young people around mental health issues, and suicide prevention.
Event co-organizer Myrna Hutchison thanked Paula Coffey for organizing the event, and then explained the reasoning behind the workshop, which started a couple of years ago when Hutchison lost her son, who was not diagnosed with any mental health issues, and kept smiling, until he suddenly took his own life.
“We are here to encourage conversation,” Hutchison said.
McShane said their goal is to eliminate suicide within the community, and said it would be great if they could achieve that.
SafeTALK is a suicide alertness program for everyone, and is basically the equivalent of first aid for suicide, the first step in the chain to keep people safe.
The next step, if people are comfortable with the SafeTALK program, is a program called Asist, which is people doing suicide interventions.
“Suicide is hard to talk about, it’s a painful topic,” McShane said.
She said, often people wonder if there is something they could have done, and looking back, many times, there were clues or “invitations.”
Unless you specifically know what you are looking for, she said, these clues can be hard to see.
McShane showed three short videos, to demonstrate the “invitations” others were missing, and then the scenario after one of the participants had taken a SafeTALK seminar.
She said most people do not want to kill themselves, right up until the last second. Even then, they often change their mind after it’s too late.
They actually want to live, she said, and leave these “invitations” hoping for help.
People miss the “invitations” either because they actually miss them, avoid them, or dismiss them.
The purpose behind the seminar, was to learn to identify the “invitations,” and to learn how to put someone in touch with someone who can help.
The TALK in SafeTALK stands for Tell, Ask, Listen, Keep safe.
Diniz said Tell can be looked at in several different ways, she said some people who are thinking about suicide are very direct, but most are not, often because of shame, feeling weak or scared of others’ reactions, afraid of being a burden, and afraid of stigma.
She said direct talk about suicide, and feelings in general, has been frowned upon for too long.
Some of the signs of people asking for help, include dark artwork like drawings or writings, dark memes on social media, adding she was pleased to hear that Facebook now has an awareness of suicide prevention.
Sometimes, Diniz said, the “invitations” can be in the form of pushing people away, by being prickly or mean.
She said, if you feel you are getting “invitations” from someone, ask them outright if they are planning to kill themselves.
McShane said it is a matter of life and death, so you can’t beat around the bush, and you need to dig deeper.
She said you need to “call it like it is” or the person might think you don’t care, or are missing the point.
While it is uncomfortable asking the question, she added you can’t put the idea into someone’s mind if it isn’t already there. People are not that easily led.
If you have a strong gut feeling, and they say no, ask again later, McShane said.
Suicide is not usually about wanting to die, she said, it’s more about struggling to live.
If you do get a yes to the question about suicide, then it’s time to move onto the Keep Safe step, which consists of finding someone with the proper skills to deal with the issue, like a doctor, hospital, therapist, counsellor, police, minister, or someone else with training in suicide prevention.
Worst-case scenario, McShane said, that person is safe as long as you are with them.
And what do you do if you are asked not to tell? she asked. She said you really do have to tell someone, and if the choice is between having that person not talk to you from anger, or not talking to you due to death, which is the better alternative?
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” McShane said.
She added even if they have talked themselves out about their problems, and say they feel better, you can’t determine if they will be okay or not, and they still need a professional assessment.
The only goal of someone in SafeTALK is to keep the person safe, while so many try to fix their problems, which really isn’t a solution, as new problems will come up again in the future.
It is also a priority, she said, to keep yourself safe. If someone has a knife or gun, ask them to put it down and get out of that area, or call 911 if necessary.
She said one of the things is knowing who to reach out to, such as which doctors are available, and what services are available 24/7, such as Here 24/7, a service over the telephone, at 1-844-here247.
Diniz said Canadians are raised to be polite and not nosy, but we are also social creatures. She said people can sometimes get hung up on the listening step, but to remember that we can’t wave a magic wand and fix their problems. She said, you can’t even save their life, that’s up to them.
At the end of the seminar, the group enjoyed a delicious lunch put on by the committee, and had a chance to talk to the presenters privately, or any of the other professionals there, including Sandy Parkinson, the co-ordinator of the Suicide Awareness Council for Wellington Dufferin.