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American Foundation for Suicide Prevention using safeTALK to train suicide-alert helpers across the United States

LivingWorks Education

Apr 19, 2016

By LivingWorks Education

Established in 1987, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) was the first US nationwide non-profit organization to focus exclusively on suicide research and prevention. As of 2016, AFSP has at least one chapter in every US state and is one of the largest suicide prevention organizations in the world. This month we joined Mary Jean Coleman, Senior Director of AFSP’s Southern Division, to talk about how safeTALK has been instrumental in AFSP’s efforts to help communities become safer from suicide.

Mary Jean has worked in the suicide prevention field since 1979. “I started my LivingWorks journey by becoming an ASIST trainer,” she said, noting her attendance at a T4T in 2007 with a grant provided by the state of New York. When the opportunity to become a safeTALK Instructor became available shortly afterward, she took it. She immediately realized that the half-day program could make a significant impact in a wide variety of organizations and communities—even those not yet accustomed to thinking about suicide prevention.

“At the time my role with AFSP was as their National Director of Field Programs, so I was guiding our chapters across the country with the best programs that they could bring to their local communities,” Mary Jean said. Based on Mary Jean’s recommendations as well as reviews of the trainings’ content and effectiveness, both safeTALK and ASIST were added to AFSP’s approved menu of programs. Interest in LivingWorks programs began to grow throughout AFSP. “Our chapters began to ask for them—what were they all about?—and we started building our network of trainers across the country,” Mary Jean said.

AFSP-organized safeTALK and ASIST trainings are now held regularly across the United States. “I’ve always said that once someone participates in a safeTALK training, they’re sold on it,” said Mary Jean. “It’s the same for the folks that I train to become trainers: once you see the program, you love it. It’s easy to deliver, it’s a set curriculum that’s not altered, so there’s no need to add in your own information, and you’re using an established program.” Furthermore, she added, “The duration is only three hours so that’s doable for just about everyone."

In terms of what she finds most valuable about safeTALK, Mary Jean said: “I love the program, I love it inside and out. I have always believed that the more we are comfortable with talking about suicide, the more open people will be with us should they have those thoughts. The open and honest TALK step teach so beautifully that we need just to listen and care, human being for human being, and to be poised to help find help. It’s so simple and yet so profound.” Finally, reflecting on how far safeTALK has come in 10 years, she added: “I’m glad that I was given the opportunity many years ago to become an Instructor. I love that we’ve embraced it and that it’s really moving through the United States at a pace that I had hoped for several years ago, and is now coming to fruition.”