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Labrador workers receive suicide prevention training

CBC News

Feb 1, 2016

By CBC News, Newfoundland and Labrador

A dozen professionals from across Labrador are now fluent in suicide intervention, following a week-long training session in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The training was conducted through the Applied Suicide Intervention Training (ASIST) program, a widely-recognized tool that specializes in helping caregivers learn how and when to intervene at signs of mental health distress.

Faron Sheppard, who works with the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, organized the session.

By training workers throughout Labrador to train others in ASIST, Sheppard believes that more people will be able to spot the signs of a mental health crisis — before it's too late.

"We typically have [after training] a group of caregivers who have confidence and competence to actually spot someone who might be at risk of a suicide, and do an intervention if necessary," said Sheppard.

Faron Sheppard, who works with the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, organized the suicide prevention training session in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Very rewarding

As a former school counsellor, Sheppard said he's seen firsthand the effect ASIST training can have on lives.

"It's very rewarding. I'm very passionate about it," he said.

"It's hard to describe the feeling of knowing that you have a group of people now that are comfortable and confident to not only talk about suicide, but [who] can engage someone and can actually do an intervention and get people to safety."

He said those trained in ASIST are taught to establish 'Keep Safe for Now' contracts with individuals they believe are at risk for suicide.

"If you suspect that suicide might be an issue, then you ask them clearly, directly, unequivocally: 'Are you thinking about suicide?'"

The contract establishes the length of time that the individual will agree to go on without self-harm, said Sheppard, and if the person won't agree to sign the contract, then caregivers are instructed to contact the appropriate medical authorities.

"At the end of the day, you can have a radically different outcome when someone alert to the possibility of suicide can have a direct conversation."

Anyone can learn ASIST

Sheppard said about 12 years ago, a friend took his own life, which forced him to reconsider what he could do to help others who might be suffering silently.

"There was so much heartache and grief associated with that loss for friends and family members, and it was just so tragic," he said.

"I thought ... if there was something I could do in any kind of a small way, be a part of something that made a difference in one life, that would help in even a marginal, peripheral way — it was worth the effort."

While mental health has often been considered a private struggle, Sheppard said it's important people are made to feel comfortable about opening up.

"The clear message from anything we do with suicide intervention is that we're going to talk directly, openly, and honestly about it."

"The beauty of ASIST and the power is that any person can be a caregiver, any person can do a suicide intervention."

With their newfound knowledge of ASIST training and how to train others in it, the hope is that the individuals who have received the training will bring the knowledge back to their respective communities.

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